I t’s a good thing Mr. Steve Fossett doesn’t play golf. Those other CEOs wouldn’t stand a chance. On the other hand, many might do better than they should: In a survey published last week, a staggering 82 percent of top business executives admitted to cheating on the golf course. They shave strokes, improve their lies, take mulligans and surreptitiously kick their opponents’ balls into the bushes. But at the same time, 73 percent of them said that the way a person plays golf is a good test of his or her true character. Confusing, right?

The survey was commissioned not by a church or the U.S. attorney general, but by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, which was researching the feasibility of a golf-vacation program and wanted to know how important golf was in the conduct of business. To no one’s surprise, 97 percent of the CEOs surveyed said they did business on the links all the time. The findings about fuzzy playing ethics were purely secondary. But in this post-Enron world, where every day brings news of another instance of corporate malfeasance, they seemed symbolic.

Some people defended the CEOs. Business golf was a social thing, they said. Everybody fudges. No big deal. Others think differently, including even the CEOs. An impressive 82 percent of them (the same 82 percent who admitted to cheating?) said they hate people who cheat at golf since it’s a sign they will probably cheat in business, too.

As for us, we were shocked to learn that so many business executives miscount swings and misstate scores. In fact, we don’t believe it. Those respondents were fantasizing. Here’s the proof: Eighty-seven percent of them said they routinely bet on a round of golf (you know, those games where they dropped the other guy’s ball in the pond when he wasn’t looking). Well, Starwood might fall for that, but we’re not so gullible. Next thing you know, politicians will be trying to tell us they’ve taken bribes.

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