Why then ’tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” – Hamlet, by William Shakespeare
Sometimes we are forced to play in adverse conditions, but this article isn’t talking about the weather. No, we are talking about something that is rarely spoken about except for perhaps at the 19th hole after the round – people who are difficult to play with.
Difficult playing partners run the gamut with all sorts of behavior. We can let it affect our own games or we can ignore it. Granted, ignoring certain behaviors can be quite hard to do, but if you or your students want to play your best, you’ve got to figure out a way to work your way through it.
Let’s keep in mind that, absent any sort of physical altercation or making noise in your routine or swing, what someone else does has no direct bearing on what we are doing. We can only let it affect us when we put a negative judgment on a person’s actions, as Hamlet stated. And once we make a negative judgment, it tends to get into our psyche and then, by definition, we are focused on that person and their behavior. When we’re trying to put up a score or just have fun on the golf course, that goes out the window when we do that.
As hard as it may be to not get upset with certain people or their actions, it is imperative that we stay in our own world when that type of adversity strikes. There are several types of difficult playing companions that all of us have encountered at one time or another:
The Club Thrower
Let’s be honest. Most of us have tossed a club in the past. Rory McIlroy famously hurled his 3-iron into a lake at Trump Doral in Miami during the tournament, and other examples abound. Club breakers also fall into this category. But most of us either matured or realized that our stature in the game demanded a better showing of class, so we no longer do it. If we’re paired with a club thrower or breaker, instead of putting a negative spin on it at the time, we have two choices: to let it affect our game negatively or not. Of course, if the club thrower is firing clubs left and right and endangering others, this is not to be tolerated, and at that point we might have no choice but to get worked up about it. But most club throwers are only making fools of themselves, in the end.
The Rules Expert
From anecdotal evidence, it appears women are more guilty of this than men. Stories about where a strict adherence to the Rules of Golf is demanded by the matriarch of the group, and even the most minor violations are met with great scorn and the figurative hammer. If you are the victim of a USGA and R&A wannabe, simply thank them for their information and move on. You’re not going to get them to change their ways, and just make it a point of not playing with them anymore. If they’re part of your regular group and this can’t be avoided, they’ve surely annoyed others, too. A group intervention should be convened for the sanity of all.
The Golf Instructor
You lifted your head” is something you may hear after you hit a poor shot, especially one that was topped, as if that was the sole cause of your poor shot. If keeping your head down was the magic secret to golf, there would be no need for real golf teaching professionals, and everyone could enjoy magical ballstriking for the rest of their lives. Even if you’re not taking lessons from a golf teaching professional (and plenty of teaching professionals take lessons from other instructors), just inform the person you’re working with so-and-so and you and your teacher/ coach are aware of the problem.
Some of us are extroverts; some of us are introverts. Some of us take time to warm up to people; some of us can be lifelong friends after five minutes. Some of us are serious on the course; some of us are fun seekers. Those who tend to be quiet can be very easily rattled by someone who is not, but rarely is vice versa the case. Jim Peters, the winner of the 2018 Harvey Penick Trophy for Excellence in Golf Teaching, said some of the best advice he ever received was that we have two ears and one mouth, so use them in proportion. If you’re paired with the Mouth of the South, let him or her ramble on. Or, with the acceptance of listening to music on the course these days, you can pop some ear buds in and tune them out.
This person thinks mainly of themselves, both through their words and actions. If you’re in the same cart and he’s driving, he’ll often drive right by your ball and go directly to theirs, nevermind that your ball is 30 yards back. Or, at the slightest hint of being in trouble, they make a beeline to their ball, all the time lamenting how he didn’t keep his head down or his left elbow straight. They keep up a running monologue of their game and sometimes their life. It can be exhausting to play with such a person, but remember that you’re not going to change who they are in one round of golf. As best you can, put your focus on something else, maybe the beauty of the course or the interesting design of your current hole.
People new to the game are not going to be very good. There are also some long-time players who aren’t very good, to put it mildly. If they keep it moving, fine. But if they insist on looking for every errant ball and refusing to pick up when they’re on their 10th stroke 100 yards from the green, you have every right to say something, even to the point of abandoning them and going ahead.
There is a difference between cheaters and rule breakers. Cheaters deliberately break the rules, while ordinary rule breakers do so unknowingly. If you’re simply playing a casual round, it’s not a big deal. However, if you’re in a tournament, it can, of course, become a very big deal. But surprisingly, it also may not be.
An example of the latter is a cheater or rule breaker whose score is not going to win them any prizes in the competition. After the round is over and the scorecards are signed, you can advise them of what the rule is that they broke. But be careful that you are 100 percent — and we mean 100 percent — certain that you are giving the correct information. If the cheater/rule breaker is violating a rule and they are in contention for a prize, you have an obligation to say something on the spot. After the scorecards are signed is not the time to speak up. Yet, even here it may be inadvisable to say something. We hate to separate rules into “minor” or “major” categories, but if the person gained absolutely no advantage (such as having his son carry his putter to the green while employing another caddie, a violation of the one-caddie rule), then it might be best to remain quiet. Cheaters/rule breakers who are called out almost always react in a volatile manner, so this definitely calls for extreme discretion and diplomacy.
We are not advocating condoning rude or ill-mannered playing partners. But we are saying that there is often little one can do to change the situation for the better, as we’re dealing with people with long-ingrained habits. Speak up when appropriate, as when someone damages the course or other course property, but keep in mind that most behavior we find distasteful is simply annoying. Play your game and enjoy the rest of the day by focusing on those aspects you find satisfying. Your sanity might depend on it.