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Justin Thomas sounds like just the kind of guy I would love to play golf with. Ok, he’s young, athletic and one of the very best players in the world but what really lifted him above all of the other superstars of the game last week was the way that he dealt with a heckler at the Honda Classic in Florida last Sunday.
You never know who you are going to meet when you decide to confront a total stranger these days, but Justin wasn’t going to worry about that. Not for him, the deaf ear and blind eye and just move on. When the village idiot shouted ‘get in the bunker’ after Thomas’s tee shot at the 16th, the player went looking for the source of the cry and got his abuser thrown out. ‘Enjoy your day, you’re done,’ said our hero as Numpty made his early exit.
Golf is better than that. Sometimes our sport is a bit stiff and stuffy but golfers will err on the side of protecting the game’s values rather than allowing them to be swept away into the gutter of headline hype. Thomas was on the way to winning the $1.2 million first prize and so getting involved with some no-mark he will never meet again could have been a distraction. That didn’t stop him doing what needed to be done.
What do you do when you’re playing behind a group that are impossibly slow? You know who I’m talking about… they take half-a-dozen practice swings, then change club, then make half-a-dozen more swishes at fresh air, then they duff their shot, then they adopt a pose, then rehearse the technique they were taught, then clean the club face, then wheel their trolley as far away from the next tee as is possible before checking their phone and scratching their ass.
Do you adopt the ‘teapot’ stance as a mark of protest, mutter under your breath and say nothing to them… or do you find some Justin Thomas time to politely ask them to speed up? Let’s not forget that Justin probably took the thick end of five hours to complete his winning round at the Honda. The pros don’t exactly set the best example on pace of play, but we all have a responsibility to maintain standards in golf. We shouldn’t be afraid to try.
It’s difficult to imagine what it’s like trying to keep your concentration on a course where there are tens of thousands of spectators wandering round and a similar number of cans of beers being consumed. The par-3 16th at TPC Scottsdale is a one-off for now… a hole surrounded by 20,000 baying, booing, boozed-up fans that makes the aptly-named Waste Management Open a unique experience. As long as it stays that way!
Bubba Watson and Ian Poulter didn’t help when they started encouraging first tee fans to whoop it up at the Ryder Cup. They turned the Captains Drive-in into a mass spectator sport. Funnily enough, I wouldn’t mind hitting my opening shot to a chorus of ‘Ole ole ole’… it is isolated sounds amid a blanket of silence that put you off. Our long 16th hole runs parallel to a popular dog-walking path and there is one hearty woman famed for her shrill screaming of ‘Freddy, Freddy!’ right at the top of your backswing.
Most spectator sports are theatres of open mockery and derision. The ‘boo hiss’ culture is the norm. In golf, there have been notorious examples of such behaviour in the Ryder Cup for a while when it’s ‘us versus them’, but the habit has spread. The ‘get in the hole’ sad shouters have given way to the novelty ‘mashed potatoes’ vocal exhibitionists. It’s a creeping disease and last week Justin Thomas decided that it had crept far enough.
When you’re stuck behind the slow coaches in the Saturday morning roll-up, it soon becomes apparent that most of their bad habits have come from watching the pros at work… the endless pre-shot routines, the fifteen different looks at the line of a putt, the marking of an 18-inch tap in. We are all trying to replicate what we watch with Nick Dougherty late on a Sunday night under blue Florida skies, so thank you Mr Thomas for setting the rest of us a good example for a change.
My instincts are the same as most golfers… good, bad or billionaire. If I hit a bad shot my first recourse is to the bad lie, the bad weather, the bad back or the bad dog walker and Freddy. Only after having some time to reflect do I begin to consider the remote possibility of a bad swing being part of the issue. If only I had someone who cared enough to follow me and shout ‘get in the bunker’ I’d have a regular excuse.
Justin Thomas isn’t looking for excuses. He is looking to shut everything and everyone else out so that he can play the game to his limits. That’s why he tackled his verbal stalker last week, that’s why I will be following his example and (ever so nicely) trying to promote and defend the best values of our game from now on. So, what are the examples of bad practice that most annoy you on a golf course? Let’s draw up a hit list, shall we?
Intro by @GolfPeach: One of the most rewarding aspects of blogging is receiving feedback from fellow golfers… well, usually! My recent piece on the gateway to golf for young women ( read it in Lady Golfer Magazine) produced a fascinating response from a proud dad whose daughter fell in love with the game at the age of 7 and is still as passionate at 14. He highlighted a barrier to female progress that I had never considered.
Some clubs make no provisions for ladies playing competition golf at weekends, so girls in full-time education and working women are denied the chance to lower their handicaps and win prizes. That can’t be right and needs to be addressed straight away.
My own club, Bearwood Lakes GC, does have a weekly ‘ladies’ morning’ and a full calendar of female comps, but women are allowed to enter all of the weekend roll-ups and many of the club’s most prestigious weekend events. It is a 21st century example that needs to become the rule not the exception if golfers like Emily… and her dad… are to be heard and accommodated.
Thank you to Mick and Emily Doyle… read on…
“Great article. My experience/opinion is that often daughters (or sons for that matter) take an interest in what dad is doing, and as Emily is an only child, I think that added an extra intensity.
Emily’s interest started when we were on a family holiday in Devon when she was just 7 yrs. old. My father and I (both golfers) took her to a family pitch and putt and she really enjoyed the fun, non-pressurised holiday element of the game.
After that I would continue to play ‘proper’ golf games with friends, colleagues etc and Emily would insist on coming along to play. I wouldn’t allow it, not through embarrassment or selfishness, but as you touched on, I didn’t want a 7 year old girl tutted at or scoffed at for having a go on a big course. This would have only turned her right off the game.
Instead, I would take her to the range where we would do things at our pace and play however we wanted to play. It remained fun. I would give her my wedge and just let her hit the ball, no coaching. She watched me and I waited for her to say “how can I hit it further, straighter etc?”
I didn’t want to introduce her to a proper golf course or equipment until I felt she was ready and so we carried on having fun just whacking balls. The range we went to at that time had a junior passport programme – which I think is an England golf initiative – and I enrolled her onto it which was a block booking of 5 x 1 hour weekly coaching for just £30 with a PGA pro (£6 per lesson).
There was a good mix of girls and boys aged 4 to around 9 and it was fantastic! At this point I had still only bought her a ladies 7 iron for about £25 so if she didn’t want to continue, no great expense lost. We went on to do a further 2 of these block lessons and by the end of it, she was ready to play casually. For passing her primary school exams, I treated her to a full set of ‘off the shelf’ clubs, again only £200 and yes still an outlay but she developed a real interest and I wanted to encourage that.
Meanwhile, pro ladies coverage was getting bigger and the ladies golf image was becoming far more trendy than it once was. I took her to Woburn a couple of years ago to watch the women’s Open and meet the stars like Charley, Lydia Ko and so on. We are going again this year to Lytham.
Unfortunately at her club she is practically the only junior girl but the ladies are so good with her and involve her in everything. So that she had a good mix, I enrolled her with the Lancashire County Girls so she could also mix and play with girls of her own age, again her club membership is £0 and county membership £6 per year. We just have to pay for comp entries which are never more than £10 at this level .
Our experience so far has been pretty good and not overly expensive. For junior girls, I would advise getting in touch with their county. Lancashire for example will take girls in even if they are not a member of a club for £12. This could be beneficial as they will meet girls from around the county and can make an informed decision on which would be the best club for them to join.
I would also like to add that 2017 was Emily’s 1st season as a club member and her first comp with the county girls recorded a hole in one on the 1st tee and went on to win the comp.
She has been training hard this winter and has taken individual lessons from Pete Styles , director of golf at Trafford golf centre and all this hard work will pay dividends for her 2018 season.
I would like to say though that the biggest challenge we face for aspiring young girls or women playing golf is that it is difficult for the majority to really get the chance to compete and chip away at their handicap because women’s competitions are generally during the week whereas men’s are on a Saturday. This makes it really difficult for females (not all but most)- to progress in the sport when they are in full time education or work
Emily wasn’t eligible to play in club competitions last year as she hadn’t yet got her club handicap. Now that she has a starting handicap, this year it will still be a struggle to try and get that down because your card has to be marked in an official comp – which are played on Thursdays for ladies.
She could play the odd competition in school holidays, but for women who work mon-fri, that makes it even more restricted. The ladies at Emily’s golf club have been pushing hard to try and get the ladies comps.split over 2 days, so the girls/ladies who cannot make Thursday will play in a “part 2” of the competition on Sunday.
Thankfull, the Lancs county are great because all their junior comps are at the weekend. They also run ‘card marking’ days which means that junior girls who don’t yet have a CONGU handicap have the opportunity to play in a comp which is strictly officiated and their score is signed off and goes towards their handicap. Emily played in one of those last year at Royal Lytham & St Anne’s and came 3rd.
14 year old Emily on golf: “I really like golf because it’s a never ending game of improvement and unlike most other sports, each shot produces a different outcome every time and new challenges. You don’t need to get a team together to play – you are often competing with yourself, and your game can be different each time you play because of weather conditions and the variety of courses you can play all over the world. There are lots of ranges where I can practice and can even practice my putting indoors at home. I like the fact there still is the etiquette attached to the game and although that includes what you can wear, I love the fact that I can choose what colour and designs I can wear and not have to play in a uniformed kit”
‘Being a golfer is nothing to do with age, gender or athletic ability – you’ve simply got to ‘get’ it. Read more in my article for Lady Golfer Magazine here.