I. Don’t be the slowest player
In my casual games at Bay Hill, we get around in under four hours — and that’s in fivesomes. Evaluate your pace of play honestly and often, and if you’re consistently the slowest one in your group, you’re a slow player, period. Encourage everyone to move quickly enough so you find yourself right behind the group in front several times, both early and late in the round.
Remember the old staples of getting around in good time: Play “ready golf” (hit when ready, even if you aren’t away) until you reach the green, be prepared to play when it’s your turn on the tee and green, and never search for a lost ball for more than five minutes.
II. Keep your temper under control
In the final of the Western Pennsylvania Junior when I was 17, I let my putter fly over the gallery after missing a short putt. I won the match, but when I got in the car with my parents for the ride home, there were no congratulations, just dead silence. Eventually my father said, “If I ever see you throw a club again, you will never play in another golf tournament.” That wake-up call stayed with me. I haven’t thrown a club since.
Throwing clubs, sulking and barking profanity make everyone uneasy. We all have our moments of frustration, but the trick is to vent in an inoffensive way. For example, I often follow a bad hole by hitting the next tee shot a little harder — for better or worse.
III. Respect other people’s time
Because time is our most valuable commodity, there are few good reasons for breaking a golf date. Deciding last-minute to clean the garage on Saturday, or getting a call that the auto-repair shop can move up your appointment by a day, just doesn’t cut it.
Always make your tee times, and show up for your lesson with the pro a little early. Social functions are no exception.
IV. Repair the ground you play on
I have a penknife that’s my pet tool for fixing ball marks, but a tee or one of those two-pronged devices is fine. As for divots, replace them or use the seed mix packed on the side of your cart.
Rake bunkers like you mean it. Ever notice that the worse the bunker shot, the poorer the job a guy does raking the sand? Make the area nice and smooth — don’t leave deep furrows from the rake. Before you exit the bunker, ask yourself, Would I be upset if I had to play from that spot?
V. Be a silent partner
During one of my last tour events as a player, I noticed another pro making practice swings in my field of vision as I was getting ready to hit a shot. I stopped, walked over and reminded him (maybe too sternly) that it was my turn to play. The point is, stand still from the time a player sets himself until the ball has left the club.
Even with the advent of spikeless shoes, the etiquette rule of never walking in someone’s line of play on the putting green is an absolute. The area around the hole in particular is sacred ground. The first thing to note when you walk onto a green is the location of every ball in your group, then steer clear of their lines to the hole.
Know where to stand and when to keep quiet. Position yourself directly across or at a diagonal from a player setting up. Never stand on the line of play, either beyond the hole or directly behind the ball. When a player is about to hit a shot, think of the fairway as a cathedral, the green a library.