You can tell a lot about a person by the way he plays golf. I don’t mean how well he plays, but rather how he approaches the game, how he observes the rules and how he relates to his playing partners. I’ve been playing at the club here near our cottage for nearly 15 years now and I have played with many of the regulars, or members, as well as a lot of perfect strangers in that time. And I think I have experienced enough different players and attitudes to make some observations that ring true more often than not.
Golf is a game that has a backbone of rules that govern every conceivable situation you might encounter during play. It is also a game that requires its players to enforce those rules themselves without benefit of a referee or umpire. Integrity and honesty are the words most often used to describe the behavior expected of its players. So when you are paired up with someone who blatently flauts the rules or interprets them in a cavalier manner, your enjoyment of the game can be considerably diminished. And yet that happens all too frequently.
The most common transgression is improving the lie of the ball. Nearly everyone does it. But the rule states that the ball must be played as it lies. Players who move their ball into a more advantageous position are the kind of people who look for an advantage in everything they do and aren’t above a little cheating to get it. Those are players I think of as sneaky and untrustworthy. I would expect them to look in my medicine cabinet or read my mail when I wasn’t looking.
Then there are the players I think of as the Wanna-be-Never-was-Never will be’s. They talk a good game but can’t seem to produce the shots they are bragging about making yesterday. Their usual refrain is “I never play this bad otherwise. I just can’t get it going today.” Fact is, they can never get it going except in their head. On the course they have trouble hitting the grass. But they sure love to tell you about the great shots they made when no one else was around.
One of the most annoying players you can encounter is the “Know-it-all.” This guy knows everything there is to know about the game, from an extensive mastery of the rule book to a detailed indepth knowledge of the history of the game. He considers himself the definitive arbiter of all things associated with the game of golf. The fact that he is often wrong doesn’t deter him from expounding endlessly and sharing his knowledge. Try to correct him or disagree with him and you will likely spend the rest of the round arguing instead of playing. When I encounter this guy I just keep quiet and laugh behind his back.
If I want a lesson I go to the golf pro and arrange for him to give me the help I need. I don’t necessarily expect my playing partner to offer me his swing advice. But there is always some yahoo who needs to exercise his inner coach and offer you his unsolicited advice about how to correct your lousy swing. The “Coach” may be the most annoying of all playing partners. He has the insatiable need to teach you how to do it right. He knows every crappy swing tip and technique ever written about in any golf magazine. And he wants to share his extensive library of golf knowhow with every swing you make. I find it very difficult to refrain from wrapping my seven iron around his neck or knocking out a few of his teeth with my wedge. Unsolicited advice is no advice at all. It is maddening.
There always seems to be one guy in every group who insists on anylizing every shot he makes or doesn't make. He loves to explain exactly what he did or didn't do. And he assumes that we are all interested in hearing about it. Wrong. We are all only interested in our own shots and how well we made them. We all have our own problems and don't need to be burdened with his as well as our own. His explanations of his swing mechanics is the last thing that anyone is intnerested in. A match made in heaven is to pair him up with the "coach." Then they can bore themselves to death whole we get on with our own games.
Once in awhile you’ll find yourself playing with a newby, someone new to the game, who is unfamiliar with the playing traditions and nuances of the game. They show up at the course without having done the requisite homework, so they don’t know how to act or how to observe the little rituals that inform the game. Not only do they not know how to play they do not know that they do not know. It can become difficult not to fall into the role of “coach” or “know-it-all” at times like that. But everyone has to start somewhere and I, like everyone else who plays the game, was once a newby. I just think it would be the smart thing to do to learn about the game you want to participate in before subjecting your playing partners to your ignorance.
Lest I sound like some overly snooty elitist, let me say that golf is a game for everyone. Even those that irritate and annoy you have a right to play and should be allowed the privilege of participating in one of the greatest pastimes ever invented. The vast majority of the time I spend on the golf course is spent with like minded players who add to my enjoyment of the game. We cheer the good shots and sympathize with the bad shots. We do the necessary dance steps on the greens and replace the divots in the fairways. We play when it is our turn and wait patiently while others take their turns. When one of us hits a ball into the woods, we all help to look for it. We allow faster players to play through. We count all our shots and play by the rules.
All this is, I guess, a metaphor for life. Play by the rules, tolerate those who annoy you, keep your advice to yourself unless asked, replace your divots, repair your ball marks on the greens and enjoy your trip around the course.