Undercover Tour ProDecember 9, 2017

Undercover Tour Pro: Quiet, Please! That Includes Playing Partners

“I tend to play better when there’s no need for small talk.”
PGA Tour players
Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images

In almost a decade of having my tour card, I've really had only one skirmish with another pro. A notoriously slow player once accused me of taking my clubs out of my bag early and distracting him. I think this was just an excuse for him to back off the ball. In the scoring trailer, he wouldn't let it go and insinuated that I'd tried to rattle him on purpose. The third member of our group, a devout Christian, told this guy that if he ever acted like this again, he'd punch him in the face.

The slowpoke and I have since made up, though our next round was a bit chilly. When I confronted him about not wanting to get dinged for slow play, I couldn't help but appreciate his response. He said, "Hey, I can afford to pay the fine." A fair point because he's perennially a higher finisher on the money list.

All in all, most players are very respectful of one another. But because the stakes are so high, it doesn't take much for something small to ignite into a full-blown situation. For this reason, I prefer rounds where there isn't much interaction. I've played in groups when the other players and I haven't spoken a word to each other. Not a single word. As in, we acknowledge each other with a nod on the first tee, and then on the 18th green there's a handshake with an utterance of "good playing" or "thank you." As long as no one gets into any weird rules scenarios that require discussion, we can just put our heads down and play.

When I'm paired with a good buddy, maybe a Jason Bohn or Ernie Els, of course we'll cut up the whole round. I'm always happy when I see I'm with a friend, but the truth is, I tend to play better when I'm paired with a guy with whom there's clearly no need for small talk. Young-han Song knows I don't speak Korean. Some kid out of college knows we probably don't listen to the same music. If I don't make the first overture about the weather or who won the basketball game last night, chances are the other guy won't, either. He doesn't want to feel the pressure to keep the chitchat going once it starts. Most of us are in the same boat—just grinding.

In amateur golf I was a lot looser. In college it would've felt weird not to talk to my playing partners. But I've learned that I don't want to chuckle at some dude's joke, block one into the trees, and then wonder if I stepped into that shot anything less than fully focused.

Of course, there are some guys who are total chatterboxes no matter who's around. Whenever I see Billy Horschel on the range, I go to the opposite end. I like Billy, and I think he's a really good person, but he enjoys being the center of attention. He wears those dumb-ass pants and is usually the first guy to talk to the media. Wherever he goes, it's the Billy circus. I don't have that personality.

Which isn't to say I'm antisocial. The other week in a competitive round, I had a long talk with a fellow pro about his new baby. That was a meaningful conversation. If a player has an interesting and considered view on a current event, I'm all ears. But if you're going to tell me about the car you just bought or where you went on vacation, save it. I'll gladly listen to your stories over a few beers, but not while I'm working. —With Max Adler