Is Tanking Permissible In Golf?

Tiger from

Unless you live on Pluto, you can’t help but notice the recent trend of professional sports franchises “tanking” one or more consecutive seasons to improve the future prospects for their organization.  Specifically, tanking refers to the deliberate and knowing attempt to lose games or have poor seasons and lower your team’s position in the standings and thereby garner higher draft picks.  It’s commonplace in the four major sports and was most recently on display with the outhouse to penthouse success stories of the 2016 Chicago Cubs and 2017 Houston Astros.   Recently, Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA Dallas Mavericks, was fined $600K for outwardly proposing to his team that they tank games.  Tanking is something you do, but it’s bad form to discuss it.  Personally, I find the practice disturbing.  As a fan, and a paying customer, I’m always looking for my teams to put their best product on the field at all times.

Would tanking be permissible in golf?  Does it happen in unbeknownst ways?  What I love about professional golf is the pure meritocracy.  Nobody better exemplifies this than the greatest player in the 21st century, Tiger Woods.  Whenever asked about his goal for the week or tournament, Tiger responds with the same answer; “Win the tournament.”  I have no doubt given Tiger’s history, he may set winning as a goal every time out, but does he really believe it?  I don’t think so.  Give his recent bout with injuries, he may not think he can win, but that doesn’t mean he’s tanking.  On a few rare occasions, Tiger appears to go through the motions when he’s not playing well, but he’s still trying. He just may not be there mentally.  It’s happened to everyone who’s played the game and is not tanking.

Tanking in golf would be extremely hard because each player is an individual competitor.  You’d have very little to gain and you can’t control the actions of other players.  The most remote example I could conjure up would be a player holding down the final Ryder Cup position on either the US or European team.  If that player wasn’t playing well, and wasn’t injured, they would be expected to play for the team if they secured a spot.  What if that player “took one for the team” and deliberately played poorly enough in the final qualifying events to allow another player to overcome them in the standings.  Would this be a tank?  What would your opinion be of this practice?  I’m a little mixed on this.

For a great article on tanking, check out Dave Sheinin’s piece in the Washington Post.

Play well and no tanking!

6 thoughts on “Is Tanking Permissible In Golf?”

  1. Bian

    Great post! I hate tanking! I think it is deplorable, but understand that in professional team sports it could be construed as a business decision. In golf, tanking would only result in loss of personal revenue. Not sure golfers would go for that at all.

    I also cannot envision a golfer “taking one for the team” and missing out on the Ryder Cup. The stage and prestige is too big. Additionally, the financial gain from playing, even poorly, would never benefit the player. I would suggest that taking one for the team would be to make Ryder Cup and then withdraw by citing personal issues like an injury or family concerns.

    Tanking is alive and well in professional team sports, but I just don’t see it in golf. Love the angle of the post, it is very interesting.


    1. Jim, I’m not sure how these guys who work for organizations that tank can come to work every day. Baseball managers come to mind. How can you give it your best if you know your team is “trying” to lose 100 games for two straight years? Nuts if you ask me.



  2. Brian,

    Wow…really enjoyed reading this. I have a few thoughts on this interesting topic.

    The first being team sports, you mentioned the Cubs and Astros recent success after they had “tanked” and I can understand their decision, however as a fan it would be frustrating to watch them knowing they are looking to gain assets and really have no desire to win. But what about trading players at the trade deadline? This happens in many sports where teams will trade their star player at the deadline to acquire future assets, shouldn’t they be using that star player to benefit the team?

    As for golf, although it is an individual sport, the only scenarios i could think of is the Ryder Cup (which you mentioned)…the other being the FedEx Cup. What if a player needs to only finish second at the Tour Championship to capture the year long title, but they also have a chance to win the Tour Championship. Do you play it safe on the last hole and finish second, or do you go for it and try to win both at the same time? It could pay off, or you could end up hitting it in the water on the 18th when you didn’t need to play aggressive. Would this be seen as tanking? You sacrifice a chance at a win in order to capture the FedEx cup?

    Hope this makes sense to you and anyone else reading this comment! Really enjoyed reading this post!


  3. Sebastien, your course management question at the FedEx Cup is intriguing. I suppose it would come down to if you needed the money that a second place “championship” could bring. If you didn’t care about the money, you could easily go for the win and not concern yourself with the result.

    Thanks for weighing in!


  4. I am not sure if this qualifies as tanking, since it does not involve standings for the season, but I think there is definitely a scenario where some players have the incentive to deliberately underperform that presents itself at every non-major tournament. Let’s say you had a poor outing on the first day while most of the rest of the field did very well. And on day 2, you find that the field is continuing to pull away and you are basically only in position to barely make the cut with no realistic chance of making it anywhere near the top by the end of day 4. I can see a few reasons why a player who is wealthy and/or not concerned about position in standings weighs his or her options and determines that there are better ways to use these 2 remaining days. Since they are already having a poor showing, no one will think twice if they add a few bogeys to make sure that they do not have to stick around. Here are a few reasons why that might seem appealing to some players: they are protecting a recent injury, they are about to begin a vacation or extended time off, there is some personal important life event happening on one of those 2 days that they would have missed, or just a lack of interest when winning is no longer an option.

    1. Bez, you make some very valid points. We all go through the motions and don’t give 100% on the job at one time or another. I suppose you could definitely make the case that professional golfers are no different.

      Thanks for stopping by!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s