10 Sensible Rules for Golfing With Others

After reading Jim Cavan’s excellent piece on the 10 worst pickup basketball blunders last week, I couldn’t stop thinking about what an equivalent golfing list would look like. In a sport so polluted by etiquette and decorum, the possibilities seemed endless.

If you had no idea what golf was, and somebody described it to you in painstaking detail — the absurd amount of practice you need to put in just to be below average, the way a single bad shot can ruin a four-hour round, and the fact almost everybody fails to meet the standard for average well more than half the time — you would never want to play. You’d consciously avoid golf at all costs, because it’s so clearly stupid and frustrating. What makes the game such a wicked temptress is that the feeling of hitting a good shot in the sweet spot and watching it trace a lovely arc in the sky … well, it’s fucking sublime. I’ve been golfing for only a year and change, but it’s easily the best feeling I’ve experienced in sports. Better than hitting a home run, better than swishing a 3, and better than riding a horse and striking a ball with a mallet through a pair of stakes while wearing a clothing brand named after the sport. The perfect golf shot, in all its geometrical purity, is the high that keeps you coming back.

The real-life comparison is obvious; imagine any relationship you’ve had where the sex was good and everything else was deeply miserable and dysfunctional. That’s golf. And while a lot of us escape the damaging cycle of bad relationships when we exit our mid-twenties, let’s be honest with ourselves — as time progresses, our bodies betray us, and real sports become impossible, golf will only strengthen its grip. The best we can hope for is to control our behavior and minimize the damage to our psyche. In the interest of maintaining some semblance of dignity on the links, here are 10 sensible rules for golfing with others.

1. Keep your swearing to a reasonable level

Mild, controlled swearing is not only permissible in golf; it’s a necessary part of the psychological recovery process. If I’m playing with somebody who goes an entire round without swearing, I know I will never be that person’s friend. He or she is obviously so emotionally stifled that any real human interaction is impossible. Not swearing on a golf course is sociopathic behavior, and violators should be committed immediately. Similarly, if some priggish blowhard chastises you for a measured curse or two, it’s OK to run them over with a golf cart, because sanctimonious assholes on the golf course are the worst. They only feed into the stereotype of golf as a sport of exclusion and privilege, rather than a democratic showcase for extreme displays of rage.

However, anyone who has golfed for more than a month has probably run into a really embarrassing display of swearing. I’m talking about the hysterical kind that spirals out of control and makes you feel either really sad or really frightened for the person in question, depending on his size. The closest example on YouTube comes from Dennis Reynolds in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. There’s not much actual swearing here, but his tone is spot-on:

If you notice people looking away when you have a tantrum on the course, your cursing might be gaining control of you. Cool it down, or you risk losing your invitation and being mocked the minute you leave.

(Note: My three favorite things to say when I need to swear are “fuck, fuck, fuck,” “you bastard,” and “goddamnit, Shane.” I reserve these for the moment immediately after a bad shot, and I always keep my voice nice and calm. See? Totally classy.)

2. Never throw or slam your club in anger

I speak from experience here. When I first started golfing, I threw clubs in anger only when I was alone or playing with close friends. I thought that was a fair compromise, considering how wonderfully satisfying it felt to hurl an iron in those rage-filled moments when swearing just wasn’t enough. Then I was playing with a pal last fall when a flubbed 4-iron brought on such a moment. I spat out a four-letter word and attempted to hurl my club down the fairway. Instead, I held on too long and sent it flying to my left, where it disappeared into the woods. Not a huge deal, in the grand scheme, except that somehow the club disappeared. I was forced to search for it for 45 minutes while my friend kept getting more and more annoyed and other golfers played through. It was obvious to them what had happened, and this was easily my most humiliating moment on a golf course. I never found the club.

It taught me a lesson that lasted until this past weekend — perfect timing for this piece but highly inconvenient otherwise. I’m ashamed to admit that I lost my cool while hitting an 8-iron on the range, and threw the club into the ground the way you’d throw a knife to stick it blade-first. Result: The head hit the turf and the shaft snapped in half. Now I have to pay to get it fixed, and throughout the ensuing round there were a dozen times when I needed an 8-iron and had to use the wrong club.

Humiliation and ruined equipment are two good reasons to hang on to your club. Another is that the act makes it seem like you’re blaming the tools instead of yourself, which is never a good look. Learn from my example.

3. When your playing partner is struggling, just shut up

When things are going really badly for your playing partner, you might feel the urge to say something sympathetic or offer advice on how they might improve. “Hey, at least it went straight!” you’ll want to say, after he or she tops a ball and sends it rolling forward pathetically. Or you’ll diagnose the problem: “You didn’t open your hips, and you lifted your head.”

Don’t. Ever. Do. This.

You’re making it worse. All they want is to stew in total rage until things get better. Your little bromides will only feel condescending, and make them want to kill you. Nobody wants your pity, you bastard. And for god’s sake don’t talk about how well you’re playing when someone else is struggling. Just enjoy it in silence.

4. Don’t take forever lining up the arrow on your ball when putting if you’re a bad golfer

I do this. I can’t help it. The pros all do it. It feels smart. And I’m sure the wasted time is massively annoying to others when I still sail the putt 15 feet past the hole and start the process all over again. I’m the worst.

5. Seriously, come up with a system for not forgetting your wedge by the green

Players who use a cart tend to take both the chipping wedge and the putter with them when they get out at the green. The problem is that after they chip, they drop that club, finish the hole with the putter, and then leave for the next hole without picking up the wedge. This goes undetected for anywhere from one to three holes, and then the whole round has to be interrupted while the person commandeers the cart — avoiding the golfers behind — and searches for the lost club. It’s annoying, and golf takes long enough as it is without these delays. Plus, the solution is simple. Just toss the wedge somewhere near the cart, so that when you walk back from the green, you’ll have no choice but to stumble across it … unless you’ve thrown it in the woods.

6. Know the rules for playing through

A. If you’re playing in a foursome, and there’s a quick-moving single or twosome behind you, let them through. Don’t be a douche and make them wait behind you.

B. If you’re playing in a foursome and all of you are really bad or slow, there are times when it’s appropriate to let another foursome pass. If the course is empty, for example.

C. On the other hand, if you’re in a foursome, don’t ever expect to play through. Just chill out and be patient. If you don’t have five hours to waste, don’t go golfing in the first place.

D. If the course is crowded, don’t ask to play through regardless of the numbers situation. It won’t help anything, and there will just be another slow group ahead of you. Weekend golf takes time and, again, super impatient people shouldn’t even take up this sport.

7. NEVER HIT A BALL INTO ANOTHER GROUP OF PEOPLE IN THE HOPES OF ‘SPEEDING THEM UP,’ IDIOT

This is the dumbest, most obnoxious thing that happens on a golf course. You can seriously hurt somebody if you hit them with a golf ball. What the fuck are you even doing? Are you such a shitty Neanderthal that you can’t just ask them to play through? Or even tattle to the marshal that they’re taking too long so he can reprimand them? DON’T HIT A GOLF BALL AT ANOTHER HUMAN BEING.

8. Don’t be intimidated by people who can hit the shit out of the ball

Since none of us are professionals, I’m going to let you in on a little truth: 80 to 90 percent of the time, it doesn’t mean a damn thing if somebody can hit a ball 320 yards off the tee. There’s a phrase in golf that’s been around a long time, and it survives because it’s true: “Drive for show, putt for dough.” More than half your shots in a given round will be from inside 50 yards, so if some mega-jock hopped up on testosterone can outdrive you, it makes very little practical difference in terms of your score. This is especially true when you take into account the fact that really big hitters tend to have absolutely no touch from in close. They lack subtlety and grace. You can compete with these people. (Unless they are also subtle and graceful, in which case you’re totally fucked.)

The problem is — and this is especially true for dudes — we have a thing inside our brains that makes us want to prove that we’re the manliest man in the vicinity. So when someone hits the ball a mile, we have a conscious and unconscious need to copy it. That golfer is not a better man than me! We can’t process the idea that distance doesn’t really matter in a golfing context; we want to keep pace for the sake of our own egos. And that takes a huge psychological toll, because the worst thing you can do in golf is try to swing too hard; duck hooks, whiffs, and low, embarrassing worm-burners will soon destroy your game. So chill out, play within yourself, and realize that you are a man of nuance who is too clever and skilled to be judged by something as superficial as how big your pen— er, how far you drive a golf ball.

By the way, in case you were curious, I hit 350 off the tee. With my 5-wood.

9. Don’t worry about your score until after the round

“You never count your money when you’re sitting at the table … there’ll be time enough for counting when the dealing’s done.” — Kenny Rogers, the Ben Hogan of country music

It’s the same old principle — if you’re constantly checking your score, it means you’re looking for instant feedback. And golf is the wrong sport for that. You’ll live and die with every hole, and that will kill your swing, wound your self-confidence, and derail your momentum. Personally, I have never taken this advice. Not once in my entire life. And I pay for it dearly all the time. You’ve probably noticed by now that the “do as I say, not as I do” approach is required for many of these tips. I’m assuming, and hoping, that many of you have a much lower neurotic frequency than me.

10. Wear some weird golf clothes

Dress like an old-timey Scottish guy. Wear American flag pants. Go Euro-chic. Deck yourself out in straight pink. Put on a straw hat and complement it with an argyle sweater vest. To me, it’s all part of the charm of golf. And where else can a normal person just go crazy with clothing options? Is it weird that I even want to do this? Am I destined to become the next Buzz Bissinger? God help me. I’m still working my way up to the real Ian Poulter–esque outfits, but in my mind, everything’s in play for the future. Wearing odd golf-centric clothing serves a purpose beyond just looking flamboyant, I think. Once you get past the stage where you’re slightly self-conscious, wearing “golf clothes” will help trigger your brain into that golf-specific place, and good results will follow. Sort of like how rich heroin addicts have a special room where they feel safe chasing the dragon. (Bizarre comparison, or keen insight into the nature of golf’s addictive powers?)

As a last word of caution, don’t dress like Rickie Fowler (even if he did just star in one of the all-time great SportsCenter commercials). Because, man, skate-punk just doesn’t work.

Filed Under: Golf and Stuff

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Shane Ryan is a contributing writer for Grantland. His book about the young stars of the PGA Tour will be published by Random House in early 2015.

Archive @ ShaneRyanHere