I’m not a beginner anymore, but there are days on the golf course when it feels like the other three players in my foursome are playing a different game. Usually that’s when I’m playing business golf, paired with single-digit media guys and maybe even a scratch-golfing pro. Or, when we’ve teamed up for a scramble benefitting a charity. Other times we’ve been paired in a casual round showcasing the golf course.
Whatever the scenario, everyone else is walloping their drives 300 yards while my best rolls to 150. I’m agonizing over carrying a ravine that they don’t even notice. They’re putting for birdies and I’m putting for bogeys.
Do I have any fun in this situation? Sometimes I do. And I’ve learned that whether I do is usually up to me. Here’s what I try to remember that might help when you find yourself in similarly intimidating settings.
If I am teamed with Justin Thomas, Tiger Woods and Lexi Thompson, I might not be of much use. They’ll drive the ball 350 from the back tees, and when I get to the front tees I’ll say, “Oh, why don’t I just play from where you are?” Then I’ll be hitting 8-iron while they’re hitting wedge, and maybe I’ll get lucky and knock mine close. Maybe they’ll let me go first when we putt, and maybe I’ll get lucky and drop one. Face it, though, mostly I’ll just be going gaga about their games and wondering when I can get autographs.
But this is not typical. If you’re with three men, they’ll hit from the longer tees and one or all of their drives might go astray. So see if you can hit first. You get to hit from shorter tees, and if you put the ball in the middle of the fairway you’ll free the sluggers to swing away. Even if not one of your shots is chosen during the round, you might help with a putt. And even if you’re no help on the greens, you can foster camaraderie by praising your teammates, keeping your sense of humor, and flagging down the beverage cart.
Whether you are host or guest, boss or peon, executive or client, remember that your goal today is to connect with your companions. Should you play from their tee? Only if you can drive the ball as far as they do. Otherwise, go on up to their tee with driver in hand while they’re hitting, so that you don’t miss out on the conversation. Be ready to walk forward or quickly ride to your own tee.
I believe you should also join in on any fair wagers. My husband was shocked recently when I accepted a $5 Nassau wager from a stranger on the first tee. Well, I noticed the man listening as my husband and I used the USGA handicap system and course ratings to equitably work out our own strokes and wager. The stranger realized that by this system he would be giving me a stroke a hole, yet he still wanted a game. It was a fair wager — and I went away with $10 and a new friend.
If you are a mid- to high-handicapper playing with single-digit guys, I do think it is fair to avoid “birdies and greenies” wagers. If you can’t reach most greens in regulation, you can reasonably say, “Sorry guys, I just don’t have that game. How about net birdies and greenies?” And they will then say, “Uh, nevermind.”
Yes, it’s tempting when playing with an LPGA or PGA teaching professional to bombard them with questions about your swing and your short game. But on a rare day when they get to play their own game, wouldn’t it be rude to hit them up for freebies?
Still, you’re probably feeling their eyes on you, critiquing your swing. This can be intimidating. Try this: Early in the round — at about the time when they see you’re not preparing to join the mini-tour — say something like, “Wow, I feel so fortunate to be out on the golf course with a professional teacher, but I want you to take the day off and enjoy yourself. Maybe at the end of the round, you could give me three suggestions about my game?” Now you’re all free to enjoy the day, knowing that at the end (but not before then) the teacher may teach and you may take away a few pointers.
From practice range to 19th hole, women can expect men to try to help them with their game. Golf, however, is not much fun when played with a head cluttered with tips. And many of us already have teachers we consult or philosophies we follow.
So what to say to that unqualified guy who has something to say — “the ball was a little far forward,” “you looked up,” “you didn’t turn your shoulders” — after each of your shots? Maybe “thank you,” if you can ignore the comments to come. Or try, “Uh oh, are you giving me a lesson? Cuz I did not bring my checkbook.”
My line, delivered with a teasing smile, is, “Sorry, but my mom told me never to accept candy or golf tips from strangers.” Think up your own, or be prepared to block out the never-ending barrage.
Nobody else cares about your game. Those three guys you’re playing with, they care about their own game, not yours. And you cannot play their game, you can play only your own. Do not pick up because they are on the green in two and you are about to chip your fourth. Just get over your self-consciousness and focus on keeping pace and being good company.
Sit down for drinks and revel in your companions’ successes, pay off bets, talk business, and trade cards. On a recent Fairmont media invitational, I played Fairmont’s Chateau Whistler course with head golf professional Padraic O’Rourke and two single-digit men. Padraic, a tall, lean bomber, had just returned from a disappointing round at British Columbia’s Club Professional Championship, and he clearly enjoyed showing us his Audubon-certified golf course on a lovely morning on the Coast mountain range.
In the clubhouse, I boasted about Padraic’s round of eight birdies. As for my game? It was enough for me to hear him say, “We had a nice day with good company.”