Maybe it’s just me, but this summer I seem to have been paired with a lot more irritating golfers than usual. The worst was the non-stop chatterer I got stuck with in a local competition last month.
Some non-stop chatterers will happily talk about anything— baseball, the weather, French cheeses. They are only mildly irritating because you can always walk down the other side of the fairway, and the content of their chatter doesn’t get into your head.
This guy, however, felt compelled to narrate every shot by everyone in our threesome. Even if you hit from the far side of the next fairway over, he would wait for you to return and then explain what you had done: “Looked like you caught that one a little thin.”
He couldn’t have been a nicer guy. I think he thought he was being helpful, even sympathetic.
One time, as he watched one of my tee shots drift left towards the out-of-bounds markers, he said, “Get right! Get right!” This may seem like a supportive thing to say. But when it’s your ball in the air and you know it’s not drifting—it’s hooking hard and is irreversibly bound to end up far, far left of the white stakes for a certain stroke-and-distance penalty—it’s difficult to perceive such a comment as being helpful or sympathetic in any way. Functionally, it’s the same as if he had observed, “Wow, your shot is headed left out of bounds—way left!” The response that immediately occurs is to wrap the club that hit the shot around the commentator’s neck.
Much of what makes people annoying on the golf course is what makes people annoying anywhere— bad manners, self-centredness, stupidity. But, usually, the general atmosphere of fun around golf tempers the buzz-killing effect of even the biggest jerks, whom you usually only have to put up with once, for four or five hours. That’s better than at the office, where you sometimes have to tolerate nearby cubicle twits for years at a time.
Still, there are certain types of people and behaviour that can ruin even the most promising round. A lot of them have to do with slow play. I wrote a previous column sticking up for people who like to play at a deliberate pace, enjoying the game while not being hounded by people whose only purpose seems to be to play as fast as humanly possible. But there are limits.
My vote for the No. 1 most annoying golfer is the guy who never seems ready to hit when it’s his turn. Sometimes you spot him still in his cart, regaling someone with a lame joke. At other times, he may be in the general vicinity of his ball, absent-mindedly watching everyone else hit, but he hasn’t made any preparations for his own shot. He reminds me of those little old ladies at the store who wait until all their groceries have been bagged before even thinking about digging for their change purse and counting out what they owe, typically $23.48.
The second most annoying species of slow player is the pseudo-pro. Subspecies A makes a dozen or more careful practice swings before stepping up to the ball and topping it. Subspecies B paces off exact distances, tosses grass to test the breeze and hitches up his pants like Arnold Palmer before stepping up to the ball and topping it. Subspecies C does both, often adding an elaborate over-the-ball waggle routine.
It’s not the bad golf per se that makes these players annoying. It’s their obliviousness, both to the insufficiency of their skills and the burning fuses of everyone around them. Bad golfers with great attitudes—those who refuse to get discouraged no matter how many dreadful shots they hit—are especially exasperating. Anyone who has ever watched a hacker chip back and forth across a green three times and then carefully line up his fourth attempt knows what I mean.
I also have trouble playing with happy-go-lucky golfers who don’t buy into the illusion that anything much about golf matters. They don’t keep score, won’t wager and seem out there just to have a good time. Playing a round with one of these characters makes me feel like a fool for even bothering to line up a putt. Extremely annoying.
Another bête noire of mine is complainers, particularly those (like Sergio Garcia after last month’s British Open) who whine that everybody else gets the good luck, never them. Sometimes, these grumblers simply fail to appreciate the difference between, say, a nine handicap and a 14 handicap. Three or four times during a round, with actuarial precision, the former’s drive will end up in the fairway or first cut while the latter’s will end up in the rough, possibly not far away. The latter will nearly always attribute this to bad luck.
At other times, however, the complaints can be more neurotic. Several years ago, I played with a low handicapper who seriously maintained that a certain 40ft tree—the one that had swatted down his drive on an early hole—hadn’t been there the week before. The black cloud of his anger hovered over our group for the rest of the round.
The lesson, I guess, is that when it comes to annoyance, the annoyee is often just as much the problem as the annoyer. A character in one of P.G. Wodehouse’s marvellous stories claimed to have been distracted before a poor shot by “the uproar of butterflies in an adjoining meadow”. I doubt those butterflies were really very loud. It’s all just a matter of coping.
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