Anyone who plays golf and has been stupid enough to tell other people that they play golf—"Oh, you play? That's wonderful! Lisa's dad would love to take you out for a round when you guys visit for Thanksgiving! Isn't that right, Herb?"—is at some point in his or her life going to have to play golf with someone with whom they would rather not. Usually, this someone presents themselves in the form of a father-in-law or boss: someone whom you would very much like to impress, are probably a little intimidated by, and definitely don't want staring at you in silence while you struggle to ride out the tides of madness and rage that a round of golf typically involves. Such an outing doesn't have to be a completely suffocating and torturous experience, though. Not if you follow my advice.
Before we begin, let's get one thing out of the way: Playing golf with anyone that you are not on very familiar and friendly terms with is a fucking nightmare. It sucks. It's like walking into a job interview and being told that not only will the interview last three or four hours, each of your answers will be followed by a prolonged, awkward silence, during which the guy asking you questions silently judges you in ways that are evident in every not-so-subtle twitch of his facial features. Also, the interviewer is your father-in-law. Also, your annoying cousin Rick is there, but he's just standing in the corner, smoking Camel Lights and cracking semi-racist jokes.
The first step toward successfully getting through this experience is to acknowledge that it will, in many ways, suck. You are going to be judged. You are going to feel generally inadequate, and you are going to hit some incredibly embarrassing shots. (Unless you are, like, actually really good at golf, in which case feel free to go back to online shopping for that new putter grip you've been lusting after.) That shit's going to happen, and the sooner you accept these facts, the better off you will be. What you do not have to accept, though, is that your time on the course will be a complete, debilitating disaster. We're here to minimize damage. Here's how we're gonna do it.
(Note: This guide is written to benefit people who at least have a little bit of experience playing golf. Not pros, but also not guys who swing like Charles Barkley. If you've never played before in your life and you are hoping this will help you get ready for the round you've scheduled with your boss next Sunday, you're fucked.)
1. Get to the course early and hit a small bucket of balls at the driving range.
You want to do this for the same reason you'd want to shoot around for a bit before starting a pickup-basketball game: You want your muscles loose and your swing as locked in as possible before the round begins. That first tee shot is brutal: Everyone is staring at you, and you will absolutely convince yourself that whatever happens is going to set the tone for the rest of the day. The last thing in the world you want is to step up to the ball and realize, "Oh, shit, I haven't actually swung a golf club in a month! This is going to be terrible!" So, hit a bucket at the range. Get comfortable.
As for how you should make your way through that practice bucket, I would suggest getting in as many swings in as possible with whatever club you most like to hit off the tee. There's a good reason for this.
2. Figure out your overall tee-shot strategy.
I know this goes against every golf maxim you've ever heard—"Drive for show, putt for dough!"—but your main priority is to avoid embarrassing yourself with your driver. This is because tee shots are the ones that will be most closely scrutinized by whatever judgmental old bastard you're playing with—he's just gonna be standing there, boring into your soul with his gaze right in the middle of your damn backswing—and also the shots that are most likely to go spectacularly wrong. It doesn't matter how many well-struck 6 irons you accumulate or 12-foot putts you sink—if you spend the whole day topping tee shots into the ground, that's all anybody is going to remember.
Now, you just need to figure out the best strategy for avoiding such a calamity. If you're the kind of player who's prone to duffing disastrous tee shots off your toes or yanking screamers 60 yards into the weeds, I would suggest dialing it back a bit. Maybe pull the 3 wood out of the bag, tee the ball up nice and low, and take an easy, casual swing that will send the ball into, like, not a lake. Don't worry too much about sacrificing distance—odds are, you're still going to be out-driving your old-ass playing partner while operating at 80-percent effort.
On the other hand, if you're pretty nice with the driver, my advice is to go for shock and awe. Grab your big club and let that motherfucker rip. Hit the ball so goddamn hard that the ping will reverberate across the entire course. If you slice a few here and there, don't sweat it too much. The goal is to remind your boss or father-in-law that he, the old, withered husk that he is, is not your physical equal. You are young and virile and strong, and you're out here crushing golf balls like he hasn't been able to do since before his first knee surgery. You have the upper hand here, and you need to remind him of that fact as much as possible. Let that sucker suffocate in the aura of your raw, youthful strength.
3. Don't get a cart.
The old man might put up a fight on this point, but do everything you can to ensure that you will both be walking the course rather than riding. You are doing this for two reason, the first being that it will keep the two of you separated. If you are sharing a cart, you're going to end up spending the whole day attached at the hip: He's gonna drive you to your ball, watch you take your shot under the scrutiny of his judging eyes, and then take you with him to get his ball. But if you walk, you'll be able to go your separate ways most of the time, meaning you'll get some goddamn peace and quiet, and the added bonus of getting to take some non-pressure shots in solitude.
Also, all that walking is more likely to tire him out. That's good for you, because the more fatigued he gets, the better chance you have of outplaying him.
4. Play 18 holes.
I know, this seems completely stupid and counterintuitive, but hear me out! The biggest obstacles are mental: You're nervous, you want to make a good impression, you're overthinking every shot. In my experience, the longer you play, the more likely you are to eventually get out of your own head. When you spend a few hours lugging a golf bag up and down fairways in the summer heat, you eventually reach a state of semi-exhaustion that is actually quite liberating.
Indeed, you'll be tired and hungry—and your shame reserves will have been thoroughly depleted sometime around the moment you finish off that quadruple-bogey on the 7th hole. By the time you hit the back nine, it's likely that you'll be too fed up to put any real thought into your stupid tee shot, because golf is stupid and the sun is stupid and old people are stupid. This is a good headspace to be in! You'll be playing with an unencumbered mind, as a man who has already been through the wringer and is now just hacking at the ball because, well, fuck it. This is when good things will start to happen for you, when your heightened DGAF levels start leading to surprisingly brilliant golf shots. Tell me I'm wrong after you eagle the 18th hole while in a heat-stroke-induced fugue state.
5. Don't act like a jamoke.
Don't do any of that annoying shit annoying people do when they golf. Don't spend six minutes measuring up a putt; don't take 15 practice swings before every shot; don't yell at other people on the course for playing too slow. Acting like an uptight dick on a golf course is one of the surest ways to get people to not like you.
This swings the other way, too. Don't be the guy who chugs a beer between every hole and shouts lines from Happy Gilmore at every opportunity. And don't even fucking think about throwing your clubs or breaking one over your knee if you hit an especially terrible shot. You want your playing partner to conclude that you are a suitable employee/family member, not a psychotic frat boy.
Even if acting like a jamoke on the golf course is really your thing, look, just try to fake your way through this one day. Remember: The whole point of this excursion is to impress the bossman or the father-in-law. You can go a long way toward doing that by being a chill, calm dude. In fact, on this day, you're the chillest motherfucker that has ever existed. Nothing bothers you. You're cool, man—cool as hell. You're just a cool guy enjoying a nice, relaxing round of golf on a beautiful day. Just be this guy for 18 holes, and then you can go right back to being your terrible self the next time you hit the course with J-Bug and Stinko.
6. Don't take any mulligans.
I'm not going to tell you that mulligans are for spineless chumps and that people who take them are a disgrace to the game of golf. My general philosophy is that people should try to have as much fun as possible out there, and if that means screwing around and not keeping score and just hitting balls willy-nilly, then go right ahead. But this is a special circumstance, and I'm urging you, just this once, to suck it up and cool it with the do-overs.
For one thing, you don't want to fall down a mulligan rabbithole. Let's say you hit a bad tee shot, flash a meek cringe-smile at nobody in particular, and mutter, "Aw, heck, lemme try that one again!" You go to your bag, grab another ball, tee it up, and hook the damn thing right into a lake.
You are now in the worst position possible. You have already embarrassed yourself—you are the dude at a party who shushes a group of people so that you can tell a joke, and then tells a really, really unfunny joke—and you have no outs. You either accept your second terrible shot and admit that you just wasted everyone's time, or you hit another mulligan. Which, Jesus Christ, man, what if that one ends up being shitty, too? This is a no-win situation.
Besides, remember how we just talked about not being a jamoke? You are calm and collected as hell right now. Bad tee shots don't bother you, because nothing bothers you! Oh, you hit your ball into a swamp? Whatever, it's cool, you'll just take a drop. Man, it sure is a nice day out, isn't it?
7. Offer to keep score.
This is a good trick that you really should be pulling out every time you play, not because you are going to cheat, but because this way you can more or less keep your embarrassing scores to yourself. While everyone else is forced to speak their shame out loud—"I uh ... let's see [points at various spots in the distance, pretends to be counting] ... I shot a [voice drops to whisper] ... an eight"—you get to discreetly pencil your scores on the card. With any luck, your playing partner will be so preoccupied with his own shit that he won't even notice whether you're having a very good or very bad round.
At the end of the day, don't even offer to add up the scores for everyone. With any luck, the old fella will be three or four beers deep at that point and forget to even ask about his score. Maybe he'll go to bed that night convinced that you beat his ass and shot nine under par. It could happen!
8. Try to make the day about things other than golf.
If you kept up to this point, you will hopefully succeed in making the actual golfing portion of the day far less of the embarrassing, awkward shitshow that it was destined to be. This gives you an opportunity to occupy a much more productive headspace. Ultimately, you are trying to win some approval here, and the best way to do that is to be your normal, charming self, i.e. the version of you that isn't stressed as hell about stupid, stressful-ass golf.
So talk about other stuff as much as you can. How about that sports contest that happened? What a game! That television show on HBO sure is great! Are you watching that show? Who do you think did it? Oh, look, here comes the beer cart! Why don't we go ahead and order a few and kick back for a bit while waiting for the group in front of us to tee off? Too bad you can't get a decent IPA out here though, amiright? Haha, oh man, what's your favorite IPA?
Just talk about shit that old guys like to talk about. If everything goes perfectly, golf will fade into the background, thus drastically decreasing the day's horribleness. You'll just be two cool guys hanging out and being cool. The old crank will love you.
Adequate Man is Deadspin's new self-improvement blog, dedicated to making you just good enough at everything. Suggestions for future topics are welcome below.