Letter from St. Andrews: The 10 Golden Fools

The article in the Fall issue on the 10 Golden Rules of Golf got me thinking—are those really the 10 most important things in my golf life? Hardly. I have my own standards and they don’t have much to do with written regulations.

The truth is, I’m far from a rules maven—and I don’t have particular affection for those who are. Not that I endorse cheating, mind you, I just don’t care to be in the company of insufferable pedants. They’re among my 10 Golden Fools—the golf companions who make this curmudgeon cringe. Herewith the complete list.

By the way, at one time or another I have been all of these characters myself—well, all except the Foot Dragger.

1) Don’t be a Late Show
If you’ve agreed to play at a certain time, be there—in fact be sufficiently early that you can comfortably accomplish all the pre-round rituals—checking in, establishing everyone’s handicaps, setting the teams and terms of the match. During the past year or so Dustin Johnson, Jim Furyk, and Vijay Singh all have missed tee times. I have zero sympathy for them. If I’m ever late, please tee off without me, because I will surely do that to you.

2) Don’t be a Big Swinging Dork
Okay, you’re an investment banker and your annual bonus is enough to buy my house. Don’t swagger to the first tee looking for me to get sucked into a $100 (or even a $10) Nassau. In my regular Monday game in St Andrews the standard bet is 25 pence for the front nine, 25 pence for the back, and 50 pence for the 18. Who needs more than that? Certainly not I who happen to have a very low choking point. If you want to be showy with your money, find a charity that will name a building after you.

3) Don’t be a Lurker
Here I will invoke the rulebook, which says on the very first page: “Players should not stand close to or directly behind the ball, or directly behind the hole, when a player is about to play.”  The fastest way to launch me into a mental meltdown is to stand behind me—so that I can see you with my right peripheral vision—as I address my tee shot. I will be convinced you’re going to move during my backswing and will therefore be incapable of making decent contact. Lurking can also take the form of tagging along and close-standing opposite me (so I can see your feet) as I play my approach and looming in the area directly beyond the cup as I putt. Lurkers are everywhere.

4) Don’t be a Foot Dragger
When it’s your turn, be ready to play—and by that I mean pull the trigger, not start pacing yardages or fiddling with your range finder or tossing blades of grass in the air. Have your shot in mind, your club in hand, and your pre-shot routine in gear. There’s nothing worse than having to watch a player stage an elaborate mumbo-jumbo ballet before delivering clubface to ball.

5) Don’t be Mr. Freaking Know-it-All
Nobody likes a smart-ass, particularly on the golf course. If I should require your advice on how to get 10 more yards or feather my 9-iron to a tight pin, I’ll ask. I’ve been editing and writing golf instruction for 35 years—that doesn’t mean I know what I’m doing but it does mean that whatever tip you may have for me is already rattling around in my head, along with about 30,000 others. Rather than worsen my psychosis, please just shut up.

6) Don’t be Joe Clueless
Alright, as we were holing out at the previous green, you were reminded of a terrific joke someone told you last week. You’ve been dying to share it, so now that we’re all assembled at the tee, you’ve launched away. It’s the one about the priest, the reverend, and the rabbi, each of whom gets three wishes—and your version involves three notably long-winded clerics. I’d love to hear your joke, really, but that’s what the 250 yards between the tee and our next shots is for—meanwhile, we’re holding up the game in back of us and I’ve become apoplectic. So once again, please shut up.

7) Don’t’ be a Rules Cop
I’m ankle deep in a pond, about to play my seventh stroke, I’ve already lost the hole to you, and I’m verging on suicide. So there’s really no need to remind me that if my clubhead grazes the lily pad I’ll incur a one-stroke penalty. Slavish adherence to the Rules is for tournament play. Otherwise, let’s just relax, play fairly and honestly and have fun in a non-Gestapo environment. If you happen know the Rules cold and you feel strongly about enforcing them in every round you play, fine and dandy—just do so in the company of someone other than me.

8) Don’t be a Flatterer
If it isn’t already apparent, let me assure you that I bring a fair number of internal demons with me to every round of golf. That’s why I have so little patience for actual living/breathing fools. Indeed, the most unsetting situation of all is when a fool unwittingly conspires with a demon. This happens when, on the tee of a tight dogleg hole that would seem to favor my right-to-left shot, my companion says, “Ah, this should be your meat,” or when I’m facing a four-footer to break 80 he says, “You haven’t missed one of these all day.” Cue demon, fire evil synapse, launch neural conflagration—utter failure assured. If you’re a well-intentioned partner trying to be supportive, know that this doesn’t work. If you’re an opponent applying some reverse psychology, congratulations. In either case, let’s not tee it up again for a while.

9) Don’t be a Whiner
Okay, your back is acting up, you’ve lost the front side 4 and 3, you haven’t hit a fairway since Nixon was president, and you just four-putted the last hole. Remember, it’s only golf. More important, remember that I am not the most empathetic person in the world. In fact, as your opponent I’m not altogether displeased with your poor play, but I am with your complaining. For the third time, please shut up.

10) The Cheapskate  
Maybe it’s just my imagination, maybe I pay too close attention to such things, or maybe it’s just a fear of being called a tightwad myself—but it seems I buy more than my share of post-round libations. It doesn’t cost much to buy a decent reputation at the 19th hole. Besides, if during the previous four hours you’ve revealed yourself to be a Late Show, a Big Swinging Dork, a Lurker, a Foot Dragger, a Mr. Freaking Know-it-All, a Joe Clueless, a Rules Cop, a Whiner, or a Flatterer, you owe me at least one very strong drink.