Stretching the rules has become so common that athletes make it part of their repertoire, soccer players diving to the turf and basketball players flopping backward in hopes of drawing fouls.
"We all accept it," said Jan Boxill, director of the Parr Center for Ethics at the University of North Carolina and editor of an essay collection titled "Sports Ethics." "There are certain kinds of strategies that everyone has agreed to."
Golf's stubborn refusal to compromise has, over the years, prompted critics to suggest the sport is too strict.
During World War II, as German planes flew raids over London, the nearby Richmond Golf Club demanded a one-stroke penalty for any member wishing to retake an errant shot "affected by the simultaneous explosion of a bomb." Players were also asked to remove shrapnel from the fairways to prevent damage to the mowers.
As recently as this summer, a spate of curious rules and interpretations led to controversial penalties.
Dustin Johnson lost his chance at winning the PGA Championship when his ball landed in what appeared to be a patch of dirt with spectators crowded around. No one realized they were all standing in a haggard sand trap and Johnson violated a rule that prohibits a golfer from letting his club touch the sand before swinging.
Though he arguably benefited from testing the consistency of the surface, other recent violations had nothing to do with actual play.
LPGA veteran Juli Inkster was sent home for slipping a weighted "doughnut" -- an improper training device -- over her club to take a few warm-up swings during a long delay. On the men's tour, officials disqualified Jim Furyk for arriving minutes late to a promotional event before the tournament even began.
"I have no idea how the commissioner let this rule go through," tour pro Phil Mickelson said. "It's ridiculous."
But when two LPGA golfers inadvertently played each other's balls on the 18th fairway, the reaction was markedly different.
Shi Hyun Ahn and Il Mi Chung did not inform officials until after the round had ended and they had signed their scorecards. They were disqualified for not penalizing themselves at the time of the error. The situation worsened when an Internet report suggested they knew of the mix-up on the 18th green and discussed keeping quiet.
Though an LPGA investigation cleared the women of any misconduct, the mere suggestion of cheating caused a stir in the golf world.
"It got a little heated," tour spokesman David Higdon said. "Players are pretty passionate about this stuff."
The demand for honesty extends all the way down to casual play. In a television commercial, a weekend hacker surreptitiously kicks his ball into better position and Mickelson appears from behind a tree to inform him that using the "foot wedge" violates Rule 13-1.
Rickie Nash does not want anyone to think that her oldest son is a saint. Zach talks back to his parents on occasion and fights with his two younger brothers, "just like any teenager does," she said.
His love of golf began about three years ago when his Uncle Sam took him out.
Standing just over 5 feet tall with a slight build, Zach does not hit the ball especially hard but has a reliable game off the tee and an accurate putter. In a relatively short time, his handicap has dipped to five.
"He is so engrossed in the game that he'll go home and watch the Golf Channel all night," golf pro Wood said. "He is trying to absorb all this information."
Just as important, it seems, the young player has embraced the tenets of his sport, allowing older members to play through, showing unfailing courtesy around the clubhouse.
"He recognizes that this is not just about playing," Wood said. "It's about the attitude you portray."
On that August afternoon when Zach realized he had an extra club in his bag, he thought about his earliest days in golf.
"My uncle put it in my head that rules make the game what it is," he recalled. "They're so important."
But he also thought about the way he had performed, shooting a 77 to win his age group by three strokes, and the excitement of having his grandparents there. His error had no effect on the final score.
"I mean, I never used that club," he said.
The Nash family was sitting on the front porch when Zach came home, in no way resembling the proud, happy kid they had last seen accepting a first-place medal. He had decided to make the call.
A part of him wondered whether officials might choose to overlook such a minor indiscretion. But this was golf, and rules are rules. Zack packed up his medal and dropped it in the mail.
"I just knew what I had to do," he said.
It will make him a better player, he hopes. As the days have passed, reporters have called to ask questions, comparing him to Brian Davis.
"I never knew I could get so much recognition for just doing what's right," Zach said.
Then came another tournament, a chance to get back on the course and forget. Well, almost.
Before teeing off, Zach counted his clubs -- four times.