Tips on playing with frustrated or slow partners

Colin Montgomerie
Jim Doeden,
Colin Montgomerie was faced with a tough situation during Saturday's third round of the Senior PGA Championship. His playing partner was very deliberate, which even Montgomerie admitted was a challenge.
By Mark Aumann

Problem Area: Fundamentals
Series: Lesson Learned

Published: Tuesday, May 27, 2014 | 8:50 a.m.

Until his victory Sunday in the Senior PGA Championship, Colin Montgomerie had never won an official tournament in the United States. Some of that was bad luck. Some of it was bad golf. But Montgomerie admits sometimes he's let his emotions get the best of him.

And one of those times resurfaced in a somewhat public way during Saturday's third round, when play virtually ground to a halt as Montgomerie was paired with the very deliberate Bernhard Langer. It was obvious that Montgomerie was beginning to get irked, but in this instance, he held his emotions in check. He stayed focused on his own game, shot 68 for a one-stroke lead and joked about it in the media room afterward.

SENIOR PGA CHAMPIONSHIP: Monty discusses his victory

If you've played more than a handful of rounds, you've been there as well. Perhaps you've been paired with someone who makes a turtle seem speedy. Perhaps someone in your group throws their clubs farther than they can hit them. Or just whines and complains so much that you wish the pro shop stocked earplugs.

So how do you keep your wits when everyone around is losing theirs? PGA Professional Ted Eleftheriou, founder of Create Golfers Academy and recently hired by the PGA of America as Director of Golf Program Development, said that's a hazard of the game that doesn't show up on the course map.

"At some point of our golfing career, we most likely have played with the golfer who swears at himself, slams a club into the ground or helicopters it down the fairway, into a tree or water," Eleftheriou said. "Or the golfer who blames everything from the condition of the golf course to the driver he is using because it has the wrong shaft or loft or lie or weight. And of course, there is the slow player whose pre-shot routine is so slow it would have been quicker robbing a bank."

LESSON LEARNED: Got a good round going? Stay in the moment

When you're faced with a tension-filled round of golf, Eleftheriou said there are a few suggestions he has to either alleviate the situation or ignore it completely. Always strive to maintain your own composure in those kinds of situations, because the No. 1 rule in golf is have fun.

First and foremost, don't try to offer tips to someone who's already a powder keg of emotions, needing one little spark to explode.

"Adding more swing thoughts or giving unsolicited advice to an already volatile situation will more than likely make things worse," Eleftheriou said. "Telling the golfer who just hit a bad shot to 'keep his head down' or 'try aiming more left next time' is going to overload his already overthinking brain, which will increase tension leading to additional poor performance and slower play."

Instead, try to defuse the situation with positive words of encouragement.

LESSON LEARNED: Balance golf etiquette with pace of play

"Think along the lines of what a caddy might tell a player who just hit a poor shot," Eleftheriou said. "Lines such as, 'Don’t worry, that was only one shot. There are many holes left to make it up' or 'I saw you hitting it great during your warm-up and you’ll start hitting it great out here on the course as well.' Positive, sincere affirmations."

If that doesn't work, Eleftheriou said try a little humor.

"It is true humor can help diffuse many tension-filled situations, as long as the humor is not directed toward the individual or at his expense," he said. "Saying something like 'I think you just ruined someone’s barbecue' or 'I hope your insurance is up to date' are lines you probably want to avoid. Instead, before the next shot, share a funny story about something you read, saw or did. Distraction is the key!"

But some times, no matter what you do, nothing works. If that happens to you, Eleftheriou said don't deviate from your normal pace or shot routine, even if it seems like your group is holding up everyone else on the course.

READ: The unwritten rules of golf | Your unwritten rules of golf

"Don't try to play your game to theirs," he said. "In other words, if there is a slow player in the group, don’t try to speed up to get him to speed up, nor should you start to slow down, either. In either case, you are playing their game, not yours and most likely will not change their behavior, yet it could have a negative effect on yours.

"Stick with your game plan and pre-shot routine. If you feel the need to try to speed him up, place the blame on someone else, such as 'remember that player-assistant on the first tee said we need to stay up with the group in front of us' rather than 'your slow play is killing me!' "

In any case, Eleftheriou said remember that someone else's on-course meltdown is not your fault, so don't feel guilty about it.

"You should always give your best effort to play the best golf you can," he said. "Don’t feel guilty because you’re hitting the ball well and scoring low and he’s not. Enjoy your golfing experience to the fullest because we know – lurking around the corner – might come the day when our golf may not be up to par."

After the round is over, Eleftheriou suggested sitting down with your buddy and explaining to him why his anger management issues or habitual slowness are creating tensions. 

"Consider taking time after the round – perhaps over lunch and on a different day – and let him know you’re just not having any fun playing with him any more," Eleftheriou said. "In a non-judgmental way, describe what’s happening on the golf course and how it’s affecting everyone. Then listen and give him time to respond.

"You may find that there are other things going on in this individual’s life which is causing him to react the way he is. Or, he may have not been aware that his behavior was causing tension with everyone in the group.

"Consider sending an email if you find it difficult to speak with him face-to-face. If this person is someone you would enjoy playing with again if they can manage their anger better or speed their pace of play, then it is well worth the risk of speaking to him."






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