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What’s the point of getting so angry on the course?

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I’ve seen a lot of crazy things happen on a golf course, and I’ve witnessed some shocking behavior. I’ve heard expletives, indeed I’ve learned some new ones. I’ve seen clubs broken, damaged and flung into bushes and ponds. I’ve seen hot heads snap shafts over knees, bury wedges into the ground and tomahawk putters at golf bags. Golf balls have been thrown into ponds, shoes removed and kicked, caddies verbally abused and goodness knows how many locker doors smashed. I’ve experienced stand up members of my community transform into snarling and twisted demons, even viewed a bit of fisticuffs from time to time, a la Happy Gilmore v. Bob Barker.

What is it about this pleasant and relaxing game that turns golfers into savages? The simple nature of hitting a little white round pellet into a hole for fun can lead some golfers to unsurpassed levels of anguish, frustration and irrational behavior with a poor shot. While some can simply laugh it off, shrug, smile and get on with their lives, with others it can lead to psychotic transformations that make the Hulk look tame. These guys miss a 2-foot putt and something clicks. All their anguish is channelled into a terrible rage better suited to the Hammer House of Horrors.

There has been a lot of recent coverage of some Tour professionals “losing the plot” on the course, with temper tantrums that fit in more at a Day Care center than a golf course. We’ve seen Victor Dubuisson’s meltdown at the Honda. It wasn’t just one thing with our mercurial Frenchman; he spent a few minutes totally erupting in full view of the world. We’ve seen Tiger, Sergio, Henrik and Shane Lowry all “see red” with outbursts of petulance. John Daly has helicoptered a few clubs in his time, as has the former world No. 1 Rory, who sent a beautifully arced 3-iron into the lake on 18th at the Doral in Miami last year.

These guys are faced with some of the most difficult courses and setups in golf. The Bear Trap, The Snake Pit, Amen Corner and our usual U.S. Open “pain cauldron” will test the patience of a saint. There’s a fine line between being competitive, determined and steely faced, versus completely boiling over into a frustrated Tazmanian Devil. And when the mercury does rise and golfers take out their anger in front of millions of golf fans, it can turn into quite a show.

But temper tantrums are not a new thing in professional golf. There are lots of stories of pros from previous golden eras losing it, too. One of my favorite characters was Lefty Stackhouse, who was prone to displays of emotion way off the spectrum. In fact, he would do himself bodily harm after a poor shot. The diminutive, but popular Texan played on the U.S. Tour in the 1930s and 1940s and lived with an insatiable thirst and a raging temper. He would cause himself physical pain, as if to punish himself for poor efforts. Once after hooking his tee shot out of bounds on hole No. 18 in a final round, he was so incensed he swiped his hand back and forth through a thorny rosebush near the tee until it bled. Seeing his other hand had escaped injury he shouted, “Don’t think you are going to get away from it either!” With that, he whipped the hand through the bushes until both hands were bleeding profusely. Lefty was a prolific gambler, and one story tells of a money match he was losing. He got so incensed he started beating his head against some rocks. He stopped momentarily and reached in his back pocket and took out his wallet. He threw the wallet on the ground and told his playing partners to take out what he owed in case he killed himself, and then carried on pounding his head against the rock.

On another occasion, after a particularly horrible display of putting during a tournament, Stackhouse figured he would teach his putter a lesson by dragging it behind his car all the way to the next tournament. Once while standing four-under par after seven holes in a tournament, he hit his ball into a lake. Stackhouse grabbed his bag from his caddie and threw it into the lake, too. Then he proceeded to take off his shoes and socks, rolled up his trousers and walked barefoot back to the clubhouse through a field of bull nettles.

Another golfer from yesteryear who had a legendary temper was Tommy Bolt. He was notorious for his hot temper, one that led to fines and even suspensions. He became known as “Terrible Tempered Tommy” and “Thunder” Bolt. Legendary tales grew from the storm that followed him around. There was the time he asked for a club recommendation during a particularly frustrating round, and his caddie suggested a 2-iron, far too much for the 120 yard distance required, because it was the only iron left in the bag.

“Here’s irony for you,” he once said in an interview. “The driver goes the shortest distance when you throw it. The putter flies farthest, followed by the sand wedge.”

Related: The Art of Club Throwing

Golf can be a deeply frustrating game that tests every nerve and sinew, body and mind. We all know the culprits in our groups, that Semtex personality who erupts at any moment. I, for one, am not immune to its curses and have been known to drop the odd F-bomb after a poor shot, and in my younger days I’ve slung a club or two. But I’m not a professional athlete in the public spotlight with a microphone and camera within yards of my every move. Yes, professionals are under pressure, with millions of dollars at stake week in week out. But none of these guys are going to starve. Who isn’t under pressure these days as we try and hold down jobs, pay mortgages and get on with our own lives? I guess for the majority of us, golf does not represent our livelihood.

So lighten up, people! Laugh at the lip-out, chuckle at the chunk, snicker at the snap hook, titter at the topped drive, hoot at the hosel rocket and giggle at this goofy game.

Golf is fun, enjoy it!

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Mark Donaghy is a writer and author from Northern Ireland, living in the picturesque seaside town of Portstewart. He is married to Christine and they have three boys. Mark is a "golf nut," and is lucky to be a member of a classic links, Portstewart Golf Club. At college he played for the Irish Universities golf team, and today he still deludes himself that he can play to that standard. He recently released Caddy Attitudes: 'Looping' for the Rich and Famous in New York. It recounts the life experiences of two young Irish lads working as caddies at the prestigious Shinnecock Hills course in the Hamptons. Mark has a unique writing style, with humorous observations of golfers and their caddies, navigating both the golf course and their respective attitudes. Toss in the personal experiences of a virtually broke couple of young men trying to make a few bucks and their adventures in a culture and society somewhat unknown to them... and you have Caddy Attitudes. From scintillating sex in a sand trap to the comparison of societal status with caddy shack status, the book will grab the attention of anyone who plays the game. Caddy Attitudes is available on Amazon/Kindle and to date it has had excellent reviews.

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Josh

    May 8, 2016 at 3:44 pm

    I used to get really angry on the golf course, and cringe when I look back at it now. I would imagine it negatively impacted my playing partners games, and I would say that is unacceptable! I still get annoyed now, but within reason and it very rarely carries over from one shot to the next.

  2. Billy

    May 8, 2016 at 4:07 am

    haha I enjoyed this. Thanx!

  3. Mad-Mex

    May 7, 2016 at 7:02 pm

    Honestly, I don’t know which is worse:
    The guy who is half smashed by the first 9, hitting on cart girl with same lame jokes, talking loud and walking in front of you as you line up your shot and thinking he is far better that he is, telling you 50 year old jokes and laughing like it is the best, asking to use your putter or driver, then telling you how to improve your swing. Or:
    The guy described here, who Only plays tour issued equipment and lets you know he only plays XX-Stiff shafts tipped 3 inches and changes his Pro-V1 every hole, describing EVERY shot and throwing clubs because it is never his fault while telling you how you can gain 3 more yards if you change your clubs so you can reduce your rpms by 50.

  4. 8thehardway

    May 6, 2016 at 7:11 pm

    The odd thing about tossing clubs is the driver goes the shortest distance; the putter goes the farthest, followed by the sand wedge.

  5. Scott

    May 6, 2016 at 4:30 pm

    If one puts in a ton of time, effort and money into doing something, and things go bad, sure you are going to get mad. And you should! Just don’t let it ruin your life or enjoyment of the game.

  6. Derspatero

    May 6, 2016 at 4:23 pm

    I often accuse one of my regular playing partners of being a rage-a-holic. I have pictures of broken wedges and a 9-iron stuck in a tree to prove it. Last year he invited me to play golf with his elderly father and uncle – it seemed weird that I got invited to play a family event but by hole 2 it was apparent that I was invited to witness his dad’s temper – anything but a perfect shot triggered a tourettes attack of f-bombs. My favourite was when he pointed at my friend and said “this is your MOM’s FAULT! Make me stop smoking after 50 years! How am i supposed to play golf without a F*ing cigarette?!??!” Each time my friend would look at me as if saying “see, i’m not so bad”. But the good shots also triggered intense celebration (including hugging his son after a great approach shot and yelling “see!! THAT is why I play this game!!!”) I saw more emotion in the 4 hours I spent with them then I have from my dad in my whole life. So maybe its a good thing? If the lows are low, the highs will be that much higher.

  7. Bob Jones

    May 6, 2016 at 11:55 am

    There are things in this life truly worth getting angry about. A bad golf shot is not one of them.

  8. Crispy

    May 5, 2016 at 7:45 pm

    Reminds me of Arnold Palmer’s great quote. “You’re not good enough to get mad.”
    Burn

  9. JBH

    May 5, 2016 at 5:53 pm

    Last year during the club championship I played so horribly in the first round I earned myself a nick name with “Helicopter” in it. A few of my sticks got the old toss that day and I was so disheartened I didn’t even show up for the second round. The entire year was a giant step backward for me and I really stopped enjoying the game altogether due to my outbursts and poor play. This year I haven’t joined a club, I haven’t even been to the range or played a round yet. It really bothered me that I got so bent out of shape about my golf game I figured why frustrate myself any more and decided to take some time off, at least until I can eliminate any expectation and just go out and enjoy the game for what it is. I have a tee time booked this Sunday, will be the first time I have touched my clubs since September of last year and I have no expectations. Just going to play with a guy from work and yuck it up like when I first picked up golf. Pretty much have given up on game improvement or any aspirations of maintaining a handicap or playing competitively anymore for that matter. When it stops being fun and your a raging lunatic on the golf course it’s time to put things back into perspective. I don’t care what I shoot Sunday and it will have no bearing on my golf future as I’m retiring to a casual status. Hopefully I will learn to enjoy golf for the environment, the company and camaraderie, not the statistics.

  10. Leon

    May 5, 2016 at 5:28 pm

    Winner smiles and loser angers

    • Steve

      May 5, 2016 at 9:05 pm

      Winners aren’t winning because they smile – they are smiling because they are winning. Losers aren’t losing because they are angry – they are angry because they are losing.

      There’s nothing wrong with getting angry on the course as long as you can collect yourself and move on before the next shot.

  11. Mikee

    May 5, 2016 at 4:46 pm

    One member in each foursome is having the most fun out there……..that one may as well be you!

  12. Milo

    May 5, 2016 at 3:01 pm

    I expected more from that video.

  13. Clemson Sucks

    May 5, 2016 at 2:42 pm

    When the round goes bad, light a cigar and grab a six pack at the turn. Works every time.

  14. Mike Puglielli

    May 5, 2016 at 2:13 pm

    I think the frustration comes down to one really simple fact: Our expectations don’t match what we are doing…but why is that? 9 out of 10 times it is for the simple reason that we can’t see our swing. If we knew how were swinging, and knew the things we were doing wrong, our expectations would match what we are doing and therefore we wouldn’t get mad. We’ve all played with the guy who “doesn’t play much so never gets angry”—easy example of how this golfer’s expectations on performance match actual performance.

  15. Alex

    May 5, 2016 at 1:41 pm

    I sometimes go mad out of frustration on the course. It’s been like that for all my golfing life (30 years). I still can’t control my impulses sometimes. It’s a sad story. A friend who took up the game with me as a kid is exactly the opposite. He doesn’t care a damn if he plays bad. We’re both single digits, but you can guess who’s the better player, by far. My worst enemy´s not par but myself.

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