The pair-up: 10 keys to success

We’ve all been there. If you play in a threesome or as a single long enough, it’s inevitable. You’re going to get paired up with a golfer (or group of golfers) significantly better than you. Nothing can promote stage fright like setting your ball down on the first tee after seeing the previous three shots find the middle of the fairway about 290 yards away.

For my family, it was Walt Disney World’s Magnolia course in the summer of 1998. One of my brothers was still in the Navy at the time, so only three of the Addison men were playing. We pull up to the first tee to find another golf cart sitting next to the starter’s. Turns out that the guy inside was a Nike Tour (now called the Nationwide Tour) pro. I remember it very well because it was the first time I ever saw what a proper drive is supposed to look like – starting out low and then rising gracefully. All we could think about was how we were certainly slowing this guy down, making his day longer and more painful.

He shot 73. I shot 122.

In recent years, though, I’ve developed a certain calm about this kind of occurrence. How you approach the situation, and how you perceive your new friend’s approach to the situation, is half the battle. We can all breathe just a little easier if we’ll follow a few simple rules for the times when dangerous golfers are paired with actual golfers:

Rule 1: Don’t pretend. While waiting to go off at the first tee, don’t share stories of your greatest shots, or how you’ve played three times this week. Limit any and all conversation that makes you sound better than you actually are. Your game is going to reveal itself. In the end, this kind of boasting will only increase the pressure you feel, and won’t do anything to make the round more enjoyable for the guy with whom you’ve been paired.

Rule 2: Don’t confess. At the same time, there’s no need to immediately confess that you’re a 35 handicap. You’re only going to make the other guy dread the next four to eight hours of his life. Instead, ask a little about your new playing partner. Jokingly, ask him what kind of trouble you’re up against, and you may find that you’re not in that deep of a hole. The reality is that most golfers shoot around 100. Your odds are pretty good.

If you do find out that you’re paired with a scratch player, just let him know that you’re a recreational golfer, and you’ll try to keep your pace up the best you possibly can. If he’s that good, he’s used to being paired with a slower player. He’s not too concerned with your round.

Rule 3: Don’t put your name and his name on the same scorecard. You both know who is going to shoot lower, so why do this to yourself? While this may seem like a friendly gesture, it’s just going to add pressure to your round. If you’re looking to practice and have a good time, treat your round and his as separate things entirely.

Rule 4: Don’t shoot from back tees. If your new pal decides to play from the blacks, don’t try to keep up. If you usually play the white tees, play the white tees. Again, this is not a competition. Your round and his round are connected only by the time at which you chose to play, and the etiquette that follows.

Rule 5: Don’t change your game. If you’re thinking about hitting a three iron where you’d usually hit a driver, simply because you don’t want to embarrass yourself, then the only thing you’ll be changing is the way in which you’ll be embarrassed. You paid for your round, and you want to get better, so don’t waste your day by trying to do things you normally wouldn’t do. That is, unless you’ve hit into trees, in which case…

Rule 6: Chip back into the fairway. Generally speaking, all bad golfers should do this when they find themselves behind some trouble, but none of us do. If, however, you really are interested in not upsetting your playing partner, don’t take six shots to get through a batch of pine trees. Take a wedge, chip into the fairway, and move on. He might actually be impressed with your decision making.

Rule 7: Don’t ask for advice. Nobody came out here to give a lesson, so, unless it’s offered, don’t seek advice from the guy you’re playing with. If you want to know where he puts the ball in his stance, or what club he uses to chip from the fairway, watch closely, but don’t ask.

Rule 8: Don’t hurry. Again, you paid for this round so take your time. Take your practice swings, and think about which club to hit. If you have the wrong one, go get the right one. Just because you take more shots doesn’t mean that you’re unreasonably slow. Anyway, poor decisions or rushed shots are just going to get you into more trouble.

Rule 9: Don’t step in his line. Seriously. If you want this guy to have any respect for you at the end of the day, just don’t do it. Please. Trust me on this one.

Rule 10: Understand that he’s not expecting tour play. He paid for his round just like you did. He scheduled a tee time just like you did. So why wouldn’t he expect that there are going to be average golfers on the course? Don’t overestimate anyone’s expectations of you. They are much more worried about their round than yours, so just relax. Play your game, have fun, and everything will be fine.


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