Monday, August 12, 2013

What are your worst mistakes on a golf course?

Three Putt Hell at Enniscrone
Take a look at Jason Dufner - the new PGA champ - and consider the cool-as-a-cucumber attitude he brings to the golf course. He's laid back and nothing fazes him. Now look at your own game and ask yourself: what are the worst mistakes you've made on a golf course?

What do I mean by ‘worst’? I’m talking about bad behaviour, bad language in an inappropriate setting, ignorance of the rules, poor etiquette or pure stupidity. I’m also talking about things that you regretted shortly afterwards, because, despite the cheats and those who understand nothing about etiquette, there are those who play golf honestly and for the love of the game.

Have you remembered any? Embarrassed yet?

I’ll get this conversation started. Here are my top 5 worst moments, from bad to worst.

No. 1
Not knowing the rules.
It’s fair to assume that there aren’t many golfers who know the rules inside out, but there are basic rules you have to know… such as testing the speed of the green. I was playing for High School in the Leinster School Boys, playing against Malahide on the old Malahide course. It was the semi-finals. The format is two teams of two (fourball better ball) and you have to play all 18 holes and then combine the scores.

My partner and I were on the par four 17th and I hit my second shot to inside a foot. While I waited for our opponents to reach the green I stood to one side and used my putter like a hockey stick, knocking the ball back and forth on the green. We won the hole and were two up with one to play. Our team mates behind us were one up playing 17, so we’d all but reached the final.

Then I noticed someone talking to one of our opponents, who came rushing over to claim the hole as I had been ‘testing the speed of the green’. From two up we went to all square and we then lost 18 through sheer fury. And we lost the match. Not only did we lose the match, we also lost the right to play in a Schools’ tournament at St. Andrew’s. We also found out a week later that the opponent who called me on the rule was himself disqualified as he was no longer a student at the school.

I was 18 years old at the time but that particular incident sticks in my throat and has done so all my golfing life.

No. 2
Not calling the rules.
My knowledge of the rules improved and I was playing in the semi-finals of the Metropolitan Cup at Beaverstown, in the early 2000s. 

My opponent and I had disagreements on the 1st hole (he wanted to penalise me when my ball moved on the green, but before I addressed it) and on the 7th (my ball disappeared in a vast area of GUR and he wasn’t happy when I took a free drop on the line where the ball entered), and by the time we reached 16 there was still plenty of tension. 

He was one up when he hit his tee shot deep into the trees. I found the fairway but had to turn away when he started taking practice swings and knocking the branches above his head. I knew leaves were falling off and that he should be penalised but I thought things would get very ugly if I called him on it, and I was confident of winning the hole. So I didn’t say a word (thereby breaking the rules) and he hit a miracle shot to halve the hole. I lost my match and the team lost 5-4.

The 6th tee at Greystones
No. 3
Do as I say, not as I do.
Playing with a mate one morning, we stepped onto Greystones’ 6th tee with Ronan absolutely fuming. It was a Strokes competition and, playing off 8, he was already 7 over.

“Tell me,” I said, stroking my imaginary philosophical beard, “you have parred every hole on this course haven’t you?”

“Yes,” he replied through gritted teeth.

“What’s to stop you doing that on every single hole, today? Slow down that swing of yours and relax.”

He paid me no heed, flashing another drive into the gorse and working his way to 11 over after nine holes.  

Finally, he relaxed, and went around the back nine in level par. As he walked off the 18th, with a smile on his face, he said: ‘if only I could go back to the 6th tee and start over.’

But I have never, ever managed to implement that philosophy myself... which leads to No. 4.

No. 4
Giving Up.
Don’t. Don’t try to get your .1 back. Don’t assume you’re out of the competition until you sink that final putt. I am terrible for getting to about the 15th hole with a terrible score and simply losing interest. I’m not after that .1. No, all I want to do is get off the course and have a damn good sulk on the drive home.

At 21, I played for DCU in an inter-varsities tournament at Portmarnock. It was windy and a tough day for golf. I reached the 18th green and was just short of the putting surface in two. One of my team came out to watch.

“Any good scores in?” I asked Ray.

“Yes, there’s been some good scoring alright,” he replied.

With only 28 points I lost interest, bladed two shots back and forth across the green and scratched the hole. Turned out that two points would have won me the entire event. Ray’s definition of ‘good scoring’ was very different to mine.

There are days when your 46 points will be trumped by a 47, and there are days when 31 points will leave you with a fighting chance… so fight all the way to the 18th and you might be pleasantly surprised when the results are announced.

The 18th at Portmarnock

No. 5
Club abuse.
I still regard this as one of the worst sins in golf (right after cheating) and, until a couple of years ago, one I had never executed. Sure, I have thrown a club, kicked a bag, tossed a ball in a lake and effed and blinded over the dumbest shots, but breaking a club… no!

Then came a summer of the yips, culminating in the Atlantic Coast Challenge in 2011. Over the three days of the tournament I had been doing well from tee to green, but the putting was beyond atrocious. Enniscrone’s 15th was the final straw. Par four, Index 1 and a brute of a hole, I was three feet from the hole in two and it took me three putts to reach the cup. I strode off the green and snapped the putter over my knee. And you know what… it felt bloody good.

It was on the green of the next hole when the regret, guilt and embarrassment kicked in, because I was playing with my dad and, to be helpful, he went to get my putter. What he pulled from my bag was a dangling limb of a thing, the two ends of the putter connected by no more than a sliver of steel. He looked dumfounded and, I suspect, a little bit ashamed.

On the plus side, I stole one of my dad’s putters the following week and said goodbye to the yips. Silver linings and all that!

Please feel free to add your own moments - always good to know I'm not alone.


  1. I've had my share of bad moments. One was quitting the high school golf team when I was a 10th grader because my golf coach made comments that hurt my feelings in front of other golf coaches. I was a mixed-up, sensitive 15-year-old in the midst of a growth spurt, a total emotional mess. Quitting was an awful reaction, though. I was back on the team the following day as the coach and I (thanks to my dad's diplomatic intervention) patched things up.

    1. Yep, fathers often have to come to the rescue during those years. They save us from ourselves on so many occasions.

  2. When I was a caddy from the age of 9 to 14 (done away with now) I used to carry for a well known dignitary anyway as we went across the bridge over the river at the 7th hole I slipped on the wet and mossy surface and needless to say the bag, his new pipe and I fell into the river, he was a real gentleman about it all mostly showing concern for my well being, all the time I was fretting over his new pipe which to my horror couldn't be found! my most embarrassing day on the links!

    1. Which course? Which river? And did you caddie in wet clothes for the next 11 holes?

  3. Hi,
    This is nice stuff. it is really really a great and informative blog. I fully agree with your each and every point what are our worst mistakes on golf. In this post there is some important point like knowing the rule, calling the rule and the most important abusing. we should follow your every tips. Thanks for sharing this great blog. Keep blogging.

  4. In your Matchplay game you were not breaking the rules when choosing to ignore what your opponent was doing, "I knew leaves were falling off and that he should be penalised "....