A couple of months ago I had an interesting (I use that word loosely) experience during a tournament with one of my playing partners. He was having a nightmare round, and what followed was the most extreme case of excuse-making I had ever seen.
"I've never played this badly before. I'm a great golfer; I usually make 5-6 birdies every round!"
By the 15th hole, this was about the 100th variation of this statement I had heard. I nodded, told him I had been there before myself, and tried to go back to worrying about my own game. I didn't have the heart to tell him that if he really made 5-6 birdies a round, he'd be the best PGA Tour player. But I was too fatigued by him to talk any more.
The whole round was a one-sided dialogue from this player. Every poor shot was followed by several minutes of him explaining how great of a golfer he usually is, and how this round was a once-in-a-lifetime event. While I'm more than happy to engage in friendly conversation during competitive rounds, it was egregious. In all honesty, I felt bad for the guy. I have had plenty of embarrassing performances, we all have. But I couldn't care less about how he was playing. It was an important tournament for me, and I was worried about my own game.
Every Golfer Deals With This
The experience brought up a scenario (albeit very extreme) that is common amongst golfers. When we play poorly, most of us get embarrassed. Usually, our instincts are to talk a little more, and say things like, "I've never hit shots like that before."
The truth is that no one really cares. Golf is inherently a selfish game. Whenever you tee it up with strangers or even friends, I can all but guarantee you their thoughts are mostly consumed with how they are playing. If you happen to hit a few tee shots out of bounds, shank a wedge, or three-putt from seven feet - they will likely forget about it immediately afterward.
This used to be a huge problem for me, and occasionally still is. Last year I was invited to a tournament by someone who reads my site. He gave me a sponsors' exemption and was hoping I would represent his group well. We had a practice round where I was grouped with two professional athletes that I had watched on TV many times (a Super Bowl MVP & CY Young Award winner).
I was a little more nervous than usual because they played golf at a similar level to me. I couldn't escape my own ego, and wanting to show them I was just as good. They might be immortals on TV, but on the golf course, we were equals.
The first few holes I couldn't hit a straight ball to save my life. I was overwhelmed with thoughts of, "these guys probably think I'm a hack!" Low and behold, I told them I usually don't play like that (regretting the words came out of my mouth). I'm sure in their heads, I was just another guy making excuses. Eventually, I settled down and started playing the kind of golf I usually do, and we had a great match.
I was guilty as charged though.
Don't Worry So Much
Often times when people learn that I'm a scratch golfer they immediately start making excuses about their play before we even tee it up. I always tell them not to worry, we're out there trying to have a good time, and it doesn't matter to me what level of golfer they are. If I'm being completely honest though, there's a little bit of pressure on my end to show them I'm as good as they assume I might be. It goes both ways!
Over the years, I've learned to stop worrying as much about what other golfers think. I know if I play poorly, they know exactly how it feels. I also know how rude it would be if I lost my temper, or kept making excuses the whole round. That's not fun for anyone.
While golf is a solitary game, it's also a shared experience. I believe golfers are mostly focused on how they play, but also want to have a good time without unnecessary distractions. So the next time you feel the urge to talk about how badly you are playing, remember that no one in the group really cares as much as you think they do. We've all been there before, and it will happen to us again.