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10 dos and don’ts when your playing partner is having a career round

October 18, 2022
golfer-walking-ahead-of-group

J.D. Cuban

It looks different for every golfer, but we all know it when we see it. The bounces keep going the right way. A couple of long putts lip in. The seemingly inevitable “blow-up” hole is nowhere to be found. No matter your handicap, you’ve had a round where you can’t seem to do much wrong. And you’ve undoubtedly been in a group where one of your partners is having the round of their life.

Like baseball players avoiding a pitcher in the dugout when he’s throwing a no-hitter, there are basic dos and don’ts to handle playing with someone going low. Though we certainly don’t recommend the baseball approach—icing your partner is a bit extreme—it’s essential to understand the important role you play in their success (or failure).

If your partner is on track for a personal best, these guidelines might help you do your part to carry them to the finish line.

Don’t: Ask about their score

We start with the cardinal sin of playing with someone going low. No matter how bad you’d like to directly acknowledge their low round, avoid the urge to offer up the “You’re playing really well today, what are you at?” This gets the partner thinking about their score—and what it could add up to in the end—which we all know can throw a wrench into a great round.

It also encourages them to evaluate their own play, which gets them out of the rhythm of executing shots. Try and save the reflection for the 19th hole.

golfers-walking-push-carts

J.D. Cuban

Do: Keep focusing on your own game

When your playing partner starts to string a few quality holes together, it can be tempting to turn all of your attention to the developing situation. But it might do more harm than good: A player on a roll will sense when the other members of the group are acting less like playing partners and more like spectators. This can throw them out of their routine and create heightened expectations.

Focusing on your own game and trying to play as well as you can will help your partner feel as though this is just another day on the course, which will keep the expectations (and the score) low.

Don’t: Give your commentary about future holes

Mental coaches continually preach the importance of staying present, which is especially key during a low round. You might be thinking: “If they get through this stretch, 16 through 18 are gettable!” Keep that to yourself. Don’t get them thinking ahead of wherever they’re at. The last thing someone needs is an outside disruption to their focus.

Do: Engage in conversation

A common theme here is to keep the player in their routine and prevent them from overanalyzing. If it’s getting a little quiet or tense as the round progresses, start up some conversation in between shots. And no, not conversation about how well their round is going. Sports. Family. Upcoming Trips. Politics (well, maybe not). Whatever will keep them relaxed and prevent them from getting too far ahead of themselves.

Don’t: Create awkward conversation

Your partner will notice if you’re creating conversation for the sake of creating conversation. Your job is to be normal … and as obvious as it sounds, bringing up random stuff you wouldn’t normally bring up in a casual round will just make your partner realize you’re trying too hard to stay out of the way.

Don’t: Give any advice (even if asked!)

As obvious as this one may be, when we desperately want our friend to finish off the round of their life, we can try a little too hard to help. Giving unsolicited swing advice is always a no-no, even in a typical round. But this becomes even more important when someone is going low.

Tempo looked a little quick there? Didn’t complete their backswing? Great, and you may be right, but it’s not the time to offer up the observation. The partner was obviously doing something right to be playing so well, so let them quickly brush off a poor swing without overanalyzing.

We’ll even take this a little further. If the hot-handed partner makes a poor swing and asks if you noticed anything, don’t take the bait! Give them a general response like, “Looked fine to me. You’re swinging well. It happens.” Remember, they were playing well without your technical feedback.

golfer-walking-carrying

J.D. Cuban

Do: Be aware of your partner’s pace of play

When someone gets hot and starts to feel the pressure, they often start to quicken their pace, which gets them out of their routine. How can we help without explicitly telling them to slow down (see: “Don’t give any advice”)? Consider slowing your own pace to force them to do the same. Take a little more time to get to your ball. Contemplate the next shot for just a second longer.

Though we always preach playing fast, in this unique circumstance, slowing down our own pace of play just slightly might prevent the player from getting out of their routine. Make sure not to take this too far, as holding up your partner for too long can be disruptive as well.

Don’t: Make statements about the pace of the greens

We’re golfers—we love excuses. We often feel a sacred obligation to throw out these excuses—explanations, we try and call them—whenever something doesn’t go our way. Leave a putt 10 feet short? “This green is slower than the rest.” Blow it past the hole? “They must’ve double-cut this one!” Maybe there’s even some truth to our observations, but you don’t want your partner to overthink the speed of their next putt when they’ve likely been rolling it well all day.

Do: Consider finishing out, even if you’re far away

TV commentators love to say it when a pro putts from the same line as another player, “They hardly miss a putt once they’ve seen the line.” We groan because we’ve heard it a thousand times, but there’s truth there. Seeing the exact line you’ll be putting on gives you a better chance to make the putt. Rocket science.

So, when your playing partner is going along nicely and you’ve left your first putt well short—but it’s directly on their line—consider putting out. Even if it’s outside your typical range where you’d finish, go ahead and putt out as long as you don’t trample their line. It’s a subtle assist to show them the line and may give them the info they need to roll it in.

Do: Buy them a drink after the round

A round where everything is going your way often ends one of two ways: either with a career-low number or with stinging disappointment at a missed opportunity. Either way, a drink after the round is the perfect celebration … or remedy. Consider picking up the tab as they bask in their accomplishment or tremble in their sorrow. If anything, this is your perfect opportunity to voice any thoughts that you worked so hard to contain while the round was underway.