Recent strange stories lead to skepticism

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Don’t believe everything you hear.

That isn’t just some old adage. It’s a general rule instilled in most of us as young children, one that permeates our subconscious as adults. It implores us to not see the world through rose-colored glasses and innocent naiveté, but to view it through a prism of skepticism.

It’s also a rule that doesn’t often apply in golf.

Hey, this is a game based on an honor system. Competitors don’t foot-wedge their ball out of a gnarly lie; they don’t write 6 on the scorecard when they’ve knowingly hit it seven times.

There are few occasions to not believe what you hear. If a golfer insists he hit the ball great but couldn’t putt it into the ocean, you tend to take him for his word.

Three separate golf-related stories in the past few days, however, have stretched the limits of what we can believe and stirred our collective sense of skepticism.

Robert Allenby said he was kidnapped, beaten and robbed on Friday night after missing the Sony Open cut. Tiger Woods said he was bumped by a cameraman at a ski race, knocking out his left front tooth. Dustin Johnson, while admitting to having personal “issues,” said that he’s never had problems with cocaine or alcoholism.

You’re allowed to believe every word of what these three players have said in regard to their specific stories. You can choose to believe none of it. Or you can think each instance is – like they say in the movies – “based on a true story,” some mixture of accuracy and embellishment and denial that has morphed into their public assertion.

Like trying to prove a false negative, none of these contentions can be deemed unsubstantiated until there exists confirmation to negate them.

In the curious case of Allenby, the investigation is still ongoing. Four days after he sustained facial contusions and a blow to his left eye that left it swollen shut, the Honolulu Police Department issued its first public statement, essentially verifying what we already knew – that no arrests have been made and detectives are still poring over surveillance tape.

Since the story went public Saturday, Allenby has been bewildered by social media postulations that there’s something implausible about the entire scenario. And he has a valid point: Unless you believe those contusions were self-inflicted – a near-impossible assertion even for the most cynical among us – there is proof that something happened to Allenby that night.

And yet, there is a sense of skepticism surrounding the case.

In the hours after the incident, Allenby’s memory was hazy; he insisted he couldn’t remember anything between leaving the Amuse Wine Bar and being rescued in a park by a homeless woman and a military veteran. In the days since, he maintained that he was driven six miles away (reported witnesses have said they found him in a park, around the corner from the wine bar) and suggested that the woman must have been paid off by the assailants to keep her silence (in fact, it was Allenby who later gave her a $1,000 gift card for being a good Samaritan).

Can he be forgiven for failing to know all the details after being beaten and bloodied? Absolutely. But he similarly shouldn’t fail to see how some faraway observers aren’t convinced all the details are true, simply based on those claims.

Woods surprised girlfriend Lindsey Vonn at the Olympia delle Tofane super-G event in Italy on Monday, watching in person as she claimed a record 63rd World Cup victory. The sweet gesture and historic title were quickly overshadowed, though, by another story. When Woods pulled his skeleton ski mask down from his mouth and smiled, photographers caught him without one of his front teeth.

“During a crush of photographers at the awards’ podium,” explained his agent, Mark Steinberg, “a media member with a shoulder-mounted video camera pushed and surged towards the stage, turned and hit Tiger Woods in the mouth. Woods’ tooth was knocked out by the incident.”

Vonn was there, and corroborated the story in a Facebook post.

Never mind the fact that photographs showed no blood and no other damage; never mind that race organizers and security personnel insist they were near Woods the entire time and never witnessed any such incident.

All of which leads to skepticism. Who’s telling the truth here? What really happened? None of it, however, answers this question: If the world’s most famous athlete wasn’t bumped by a photographer, why would he show up in public sans front tooth and just where, exactly, did that gap in his grill come from?

That tooth has always been yellower than his others, a fact which can be determined after examining old video and photos like the Zapruder film. When it comes to Camp Woods, where spin control is often the first line of defense, the normal reaction to such rhetoric is often skepticism – which is why so many are having trouble digesting this assertion.

Of course, it all underscores what this really means: Unlike the Allenby case, a criminal matter in which the authorities are searching for suspects, it was either an accident or some bizarre tale that has yet to be told. It’s a missing tooth that will soon be replaced. That’s all.

Johnson’s story is shrouded in similar mystery, though it holds greater importance to his ultimate well-being. When he first took a curious leave of absence from professional golf last August, it was amid speculation that he was suspended for recreational drug use. That speculation soon became reported as fact, when Golf.com wrote that he’d been banned from the PGA Tour for six months for that very reason.

This week, Johnson broke his silence to Sports Illustrated, speaking in varying ambiguities about his personal struggles.

“I did not have a problem,” he said when asked explicitly about cocaine. “It’s just something I’m not going to get into. I have issues. But that’s not the issue.”

To summarize: Johnson took a leave of absence from competition to – in his words at the time – “seek professional help for personal challenges.” He conceded this week that he didn’t enter rehab and wasn’t addicted to drugs, but did “have issues.” Without directly addressing those issues, though, Johnson has left himself open to public skepticism.

All three of these cases – the assertions by Allenby, Woods and Johnson – have been opened to interpretation. Each allows us to understand what we’ve been told, then issue judgment based on the veracity of the story and the background.

Again, you can choose to believe every word. You can choose to believe none of it. Or you can choose to believe some combination thereof.