Most golfers, anticipating a day of good times and laughs on the course with a couple of buddies, have shared this experience: You walk to the first tee where the starter introduces the single that will be joining you, like it or not.
You pause for a moment: Will he be friend or intruder, great guy or obnoxious straggler who will soon make you long for the dentist rather than endure his poor attitude and behaviour for the next four hours? And if he is really annoying, how will you handle the situation?
One of my favourite golf authors, Bob Rotella wrote the ten commandments for playing good golf in his book entitled ‘The Golfer’s Mind. Commandment number 4 states, “Nothing will bother or upset you on the course and you will be in a great state of mind for every shot.”
An unwanted pest can really test that commandment, so let’s look at three common situations you may have encountered and I’ll tell you how I’ve handled them. Perhaps you have other ideas.
The step on your line guy
I seem to play with this intruder more times than I can count a Leaf loss, and it happened again just this week. A really nice guy and bad golfer, he laughed every time he lost a ball and there was a lot of laughing. He didn’t take the game too seriously, praised almost every shot I took and made me feel like a tour pro. But the good guy also walked on my line often and enjoyed standing almost on top of me admiringly each time I attempted a putt. Hogan would have walked off the course. I could have politely cited golf etiquette rules or bored him to death with an explanation of the negative impact of his carbon and non carbon footprint but I thought about that fourth commandment again, and figured I would challenge myself and focus on my game. So what if I missed a putt or two. My ‘say nothing strategy’ worked well and I had a great round.
OK, that wasn’t too difficult, but how to handle the next possible intruder?
Club breaking temper guy
This is the guy who accompanies club throwing with a few expletives. We know what this game can drive us to but losing your temper in front of total strangers? Man you’ve got problems, animal or wife beating might be among them. My most recent experience occurred at Mystic this summer.
I had to share a cart with Mr. Congeniality, a lousy golfer who at least waited until the second hole before tossing his first club, always followed by continuous swearing. My two friends giggled at my growing discomfort, especially in the small confines of a golf cart. Do I say something and cause a possible altercation? He wasn’t a likeable character like the line walker was and I was in real danger of breaking commandment number 4.
So I started in: “You know, I think you can be a good golfer. I became a good golfer when I stopped allowing my temper to get the better of me and worked on understanding why I hit a bad shot. (and other blah blahs) Did my dissertation work? He quit after nine holes. Enough said. I was happy. This approach may not always work with temper guys but at least one can feel good with the knowledge that an attempt was made at helping a poor suffering soul in need.
The third type of intruder can present a more uncomfortable challenge:
Inappropriate comments guy
This is the guy who sounds like Donald Trump at a news conference. Intellectual giants who love to make remarks about race, religion, and other dicey subjects we’d only say to our closest friends. Unfortunately this guy has clones for I encounter him frequently.
My morning at Lakeridge began as the starter introduced me to a twosome of seniors. He starts in: “Hi, nice to meet you. I’m glad they put you with us. We were afraid they were going to pair us with the Asians. We’d be here all day. Are you retired? Does your wife play golf?”
Perhaps that was my new partner’s way of being friendly. But really, I don’t look that old, and why would he assume I had a wife? For all he knows I’m single or have an Asian wife and kids or friends.
Do people really not think before they speak? Again I heard Bob Rotella’s words etched in my mind: “nothing on the course will bother you.” Sorry but I’m really bothered. And I’ve ignored these kinds of comments in the past and regretted it later, so I decided before the round started to take a stand.
“I don’t have a wife but my boyfriend is Asian and to tell you the truth, he’s not slow at all, he plays in less than 3 hours and is very respectful of others.”
I don’t know what he was really thinking at that moment but he looked at me with a smiling response; “Oh that’s fantastic, that’s great, not all Asians are slow. I didn’t mean anything by it.”
The rest of that day went smoothly with friendly chat between us. I really enjoyed the round, nothing bothered me, and I played very well. Perhaps expressing what’s really on your mind in certain circumstances has its benefits.
I’m not sure if I’ve passed the intruder alert handling guide test, but I can say that obeying Rotella’s commandments has definitely improved my game.