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A few months ago I had an interesting (I use that word loosely) experience during a tournament with one of my game partners. He had a nightmare round, and what followed was the most extreme case of apology I had ever seen.
"I have never played this badly before. I am a great golfer; I usually make 5-6 birds every round!"
At the 15th hole, this was about the 100th variant of this statement that I had heard. I nodded, told him I had been there before, and tried to worry about my own game again. I didn't have the heart to tell him that if he really made 5-6 birdies per round, he would be the best PGA Tour player. But I was too tired of him to talk more.
The entire round was a one-sided dialogue of this player. Each bad shot was followed by a few minutes in which he explained how great a golfer he usually is and how this round was a one-off event. Although I am more than happy to have a friendly conversation during competitions, it was huge. Frankly, I felt bad for the man. I have had enough embarrassing performances, we all have that. But I didn't care how he played. It was an important tournament for me and I was worried about my own game.
Every golfer deals with this
The experience suggested a scenario (albeit very extreme) that is common among golfers. When we play badly, most of us are ashamed. Usually our instincts are to talk a little more and say things like, "I've never made such recordings before."
The truth is that nobody really cares. Golf is inherently a selfish game. When you start with strangers or even friends, I can almost guarantee that their thoughts are usually consumed by how they play. If you happen to hit a few tee shots out of reach, steal a wedge or three putt of seven feet – they will probably forget it immediately afterwards.
This was a huge problem for me and still is now and then. Last year I was invited to a tournament by someone reading my site. He gave me a sponsor exemption and hoped that I would represent his group well. We had a practice round in which I was grouped with two professional athletes that I had often seen on TV (a Super Bowl MVP & CY Young Award winner).
I was a little more nervous than normal because they played golf at a similar level to me. I could not escape my own ego and she wanted to show that I was just as good. They may be immortal on TV, but on the golf course we were equals.
The first few holes that I could not make a straight ball to save my life. I was overwhelmed by thoughts of: "these guys probably think I'm a hack!" I'm sure they were just an excuse. I finally sat down and started playing the kind of golf that I usually do, and we had a great game.
However, I was guilty as accused.
Don't worry so much
People often discover that I am a scratch golfer, they immediately start apologizing for their game before we even start it. I always tell them not to worry, we try to have a good time there and I don't care what level of golfer they are. However, if I am completely honest, there is a bit of pressure on my end to show them that I am as good as they assume I might be. It is going both ways!
Over the years I have learned to no longer worry about what other golfers think. I know that if I play poorly, they know exactly how it feels. I also know how rude it would be if I lost my temper or continued to apologize the entire round. That is no fun for anyone.
Although golf is a lonely game, it is also a shared experience. I believe that golfers are primarily focused on how they play, but also want to have fun without unnecessary distractions. So the next time you feel the urge to talk about how bad you play, you have to remember that nobody in the group really cares about what you think. We have all been there before and it will happen again.