April 1, 2015

How To Stink It Up Gracefully

And 29 other tips for having the most fun you can while playing golf

The hardest questions in golf are the ones that never seem to get asked. Take that cigar-chomping first-tee starter with a wad of cash in his pocket. You're wondering, Is he as up for a bribe as he looks? If so, how do I solicit a magic-carpet ride to the first tee? Another one: When your opponent hits a hosel rocket into the trees, are you obligated to express sympathy, or can you obey your first instinct and just laugh? How do you ask that LPGA Tour player out on a date, anyway?

No guts, no glory. Here are 30 issues you might have pondered but haven't quite had the temerity to query your friends about. You won't find the advice we've assembled here in any golf etiquette guide, but it'll make you more fun to play and hang with. And the starter you greased won't be offended, either.

1. STINKING IT UP GRACEFULLY

Inside, you're burning with frustration, despair and self-loathing. On the outside—the only side that matters in a social setting—your friends should see a person blessed with inhuman patience, dogged persistence and self-deprecating humor.

2. RATTLING YOUR OPPONENT (LIKE SEVE DID)

Stand between him and his golf bag so he has to walk around you to get to it. Cough, sniffle and sneeze during his swing, then blame it on allergies. Insinuate yourself into every rules situation involving his ball. Make him move his ball marker on the greens, even when it isn't exactly on your line. Finally, chip in a lot.

3. HAVING A LITTLE SWAGGER LIKE ARNIE IN HIS PRIME

When you hit it close or jar a long putt, imagine throngs of people cheering wildly.

Tip your cap to these invisible fans. Bow your head humbly. Do not, however, light a cigarette unless you smoke. And only hitch your pants if your waist size is 36 or smaller.

4. DEALING WITH THE RANGER WHEN HE TELLS YOU TO PICK UP THE PACE

You're dying to explain there's a beginner in your foursome, you've just looked for three lost balls, and the group in front is slow. But just thank him, nod, and play faster.

5. TELLING YOUR OPPONENT HIS PUTT'S NOT GOOD

One day you'll have an opponent look at his downhill, breaking two-footer for par and ask, "Is the rest of that good?" Your answer, with a smile: "It ain't bad. That was a beautiful lag."

6. SWEARING AFTER HITTING A BAD SHOT

Color the air blue without actually swearing. Incorporate the words "suck," "idiot," "garbage," "stink" and "moron." Don't yell profanities. Hiss them. Tommy Bolt, the best swearer ever, never screamed.

7. DATING AN LPGA TOUR PLAYER

How do you, a stranger, pull this off without winding up on the receiving end of a restraining order? One way is to write a letter requesting her accompaniment to your prom—it worked for two young fellas who sought respective get-togethers with Lexi Thompson and Belen Mozo. Another way is to be independently wealthy enough to become a regular on the LPGA pro-am circuit. Make trusted friends around the LPGA Tour and the player's hometown. When you do ask, suggest a multiple-couple group outing at a public venue—a concert, or maybe a bustling restaurant. Good luck, and may Cupid's arrows find their mark.

8. HAVING THE MOST FUN IN YOUR GROUP

Make the round enjoyable for your friends, and the karma will boomerang. Ask them if they want to walk or ride.

If it's ride, ask if they want to drive or ride shotgun. Show up with a joke. Be quick with praise and sympathy, slow to complain. Help your buddies. Rake their bunkers, offer yardages, bring over an extra club. They'll treat you the same, and how fun is that?

9. FEIGNING SADNESS WHEN YOUR OPPONENT HITS A BAD SHOT

Never hint that you actually enjoyed watching him skitter one into the gunch, though enjoy it you surely did. Never feign sympathy, either—it indicates you don't care who wins, a transparently phony attitude if ever there was one. Best to react like a courtroom judge: attentive, impartial and nonplussed.

10. TOTING A BEER, HOT DOG AND YOUR GOLF BAG

Drink the beer down a third of the way before you leave the window. With the hot dog, go very light on the ketchup or mustard, especially if you're wearing a white shirt. If you can consume the hot dog in three large bites, it'll be done and out of your way before you reach the 150-yard marker.

11. TELLING YOUR BUDDY TO STOP HELPING YOU

When swing advice from this wannabe Butch Harmon doesn't stop, nod attentively, then hand him your 3-iron, toss a ball into a cuppy lie and say: "Show me." If he happens to hit that shot 220 yards with a high draw, give up. He might be onto something.

12. GETTING GOOD BOUNCES

Call us superstitious, but if you make a habit of whining at the golf gods for bad bounces, the deities will conduct a closed-door meeting and conspire to make things worse. If you accept the occasional rotten bounce as the golf gods just doing their job, they'll be more likely to open the gates of heaven at the right time, and give you a good bounce when you need it.

13. HITTING A SHOT YOU HAVE NO RIGHT HITTING

Have quick retorts ready for when you fail. "I didn't win the Powerball last night, so I just had to give that shot a go." They say the best-looking girls don't get offers because nobody dares ask them out. Same rule applies here: You'll never get at that tucked flagstick if you aim for the fat of the green.

14. TALKING TRASH TO YOUR BUDDIES

Address your pal John as if he were a child. Condescend: "Fellas, don't you think Johnnycakes is improving?" Assign reputations they don't yet have: "The staff might think you're a lousy tipper, but I'll say this: Your swing is looking good."

15. BUYING A USED CLUB ON EBAY

The "buy it now" button on eBay can be a portal to used-club heaven or junk-club hell. A list of musts as you proceed through a listing: sharp photos (the more the better), all the specs (shaft flex and length, loft and lie), reasonable shipping, decent seller feedback and a hassle-free return policy. The idea is to remove any possibility of surprise when the club arrives.

16. PLAYING WELL WHEN YOU'RE HUNGOVER

You brought this on yourself, so don't even think of complaining. Chug water like a parched horse. Take one more ibuprofen than usual. Choke down a burger if you can find one: Hall of Famer Tom Weiskopf used to say the combination of bread and grease does a body good.

17. HUMILIATING YOUR BOSS (AND STILL GETTING A RAISE)

If you sense your boss expects you to lose on purpose, find another job. If you feel he'll tolerate your winning but might take it personally, start updating your résumé. If you sense he wants your best effort because it demonstrates moxy and honesty, oblige. Then wrap him in gold, for he is a rare and beautiful creature.

18. GREASING THE STARTER

Slip him stuff rather than cash. A sleeve of premium balls, with an innocuous, "Have you tried these?" Or a couple of ball markers from your trip to the U.S. Open. He'll understand. Don't make a habit of it—just enough to make him remember you.

19. WINNING A BET ON THE FIRST TEE

Most golf is four-ball match play, so come to the first tee knowing who the best player is, and snag him as your partner. Follow that quickly with the bet you want to make. If you're answering to the other team's proposition, you're already on the defensive. Also, be mindful of the serious edge to be had on side bets—the "junk." If you and your partner are better ball-strikers than your foes, propose larger payoffs for birdies and greenies.

20. KEEPING UP WITH THE BIG HITTERS

After you've squeezed every morsel of distance you can by normal means—practice, lessons and tweaking your equipment—there's one trick left. That's to swing the club faster and a little more recklessly than you're comfortable doing. Golf is a sport in which physicality and some aggression can pay off.

21. SURVIVING A NIGHTMARE ROUND

When you've hit a gazillion bad shots and nothing is working, reset. If you're a teetotaler, summon the beverage cart. If you're not a music person, kick on the tunes. Ask your buddy if you can try his driver. Go left-hand-low. Play a hole barefoot. Anything to get you to the parking lot with a smile.

22. HITTING A GOOD DRIVE WITHOUT WARMING UP

Make a couple of practice swings with drowsy slowness, then tee your ball a shade higher than usual. Swing at 75 percent of your power, concentrating only on making the center of the clubface meet the ball. Regardless of where the shot goes, keep in mind that you aren't warmed up for your second shot, either: Stretch everything out as you walk to your ball.

23. THROWING A KILLER MASTERS PARTY

Serve pimento-cheese sandwiches. (Recipes are all over the Internet.) During commercials, challenge your guests to say, "Hello, friends" in the manner of Jim Nantz. Conduct an eagle pool—$10 to enter, players chosen by blind draw. Have two TV rooms: one for people who yack through the telecast, the other for serious viewers.

24. CONSOLING YOUR PARTNER WHEN HE'S PLAYING LIKE A DOG

Ever see Ryder Cup partners roll their eyes at each other or give the silent treatment? Of course not, except for Tiger and Phil in 2004. The lesson: Never admonish, scold or cold-shoulder your partner. When he's hitting it wild, a squeeze on the shoulder or pat on the butt might get him striping it again.

25. TELLING A GOLF TALE THAT'S ACTUALLY INTERESTING

Here's the outline of a first-person golf story. Read and learn.

Stan got bit by a rattlesnake during our golf trip in Arizona. It was on the fourth hole at Screaming Cactus Country Club. He snaps one into the desert and goes after it. Doesn't even scream. He just runs back to the fairway, takes a drop and hits. The bites are pinholes. One of the snake's broken fangs is sticking out of one of them. But Stan wants to finish the hole. Another guy in our foursome calls 911. The paramedics meet us at the clubhouse—after we finish the round. Stan didn't play any more that trip, but he's fine. Still has the fang and keeps it in his bag for good luck.

See what we did? The story was told backward, punch line first, and kept in the present tense, as though it's happening now. And blessedly, it was over in less than two minutes.

26. PLAYING 18 IN UNDER 3 HOURS

You're going to need an open course, a good set of lungs and people as up for this as you are. Tee to green, ditch the range finder, don't take practice swings, and remember that when you're not hitting, you should be walking. On the greens, if you crouch to read a putt, you're too slow. Don't mark your ball, and be generous with concessions.

27. PRACTICING CHIP SHOTS WITHOUT HURTING ANY BYSTANDERS

You know those "no chipping" signs by the practice green? How they were allegedly put there to protect the turf? The course operators are playing you. They want to prevent 16-handicappers from trying Phil Mickelson's greenside flop shot and blading one into the shin of the guy practicing four-footers. Use common sense. Never try to carry the ball more than two feet or aim at a target farther than 10 feet away. And for all that's holy, don't try to be like Phil and see if you can hit one left-handed.

28. WINNING YOUR OFFICE POOL

Check out recent form and how the player has fared at a venue. Near home, he'll have extra fans—and extra incentive. Nothing beats being comfortable.

29. BREAKING THE ICE WHEN YOU'RE A SINGLE JOINING A THREESOME

Start with: "You guys look easy—want to play for a hundred each?" Just kidding. Be polite and deferential, like a party guest. Keep the conversation light, at least at first. Three keepers: Will Tiger play in the Masters? Ever been to one? When did you get that new driver? It's gorgeous.

30. GETTING YOUR WIFE TO CARE LESS IF YOU PLAY SATURDAY

The real trick is pulling it off Saturday and Sunday, but because we're starting small, here's a primer: 1. Arrive home 30 minutes earlier than you promised, and never be late; 2. When you walk through the door, head to the kitchen and start doing the dishes; 3. Press the $40 you won into her hand and say, "I won this because you make me a happy golfer."