I was at the Travelers Championship when Bubba Watson said playing with certain players on tour equates to a two-shot penalty. I was surprised it made as big of a stir as it did. Because I think a lot of us, players and caddies, heard Bubba and thought, Yeah, no kidding.
Given Bubba’s peculiar ways, he’s not wrong. But to think that players have bad rounds because of bad chemistry with their pairings is only one branch of this tree.
Most players get along out here. The jackasses who do pass through usually wash out. I can think of only four, maybe five guys who are universally loathed. Yet when paired with one of these knuckleheads, I don’t think it takes most players out of their games. Just a little quieter trek that day, that’s all.
When do pairings become detriments, then? A few years ago, Rory McIlroy said the chaos that surrounds Tiger Woods costs Tiger half a shot per day. I can’t imagine what Tiger must deal with every time he tees it up, and far be it from me to say Rory’s wrong. But that theory applies to Tiger’s playing mates as well, if not more so.
There are added eyeballs, and pressure, when playing with Tiger, which can do a number on your round. The bigger impact is dealing with the crowd. Everyone stands still for Tiger, but they don’t give a damn about the rest of the group. There’s only so much marshals can do, and only so long a player can wait for things to die down. If you play with him, be prepared to be interrupted six times, minimum.
The only thing worse? Playing ahead of Tiger, or behind him. Fans are running into position to get their glimpse of the Great One, then departing once he’s finished a hole to get into position for another look. I’ve tried to tell my players to imagine it as a free throw at a college basketball game, the student section waving and hollering behind the backboard. You have to block it out and concentrate on the rim… er, flag. Easier said than done.
Next there is playing with friends, which can be problematic. Sure, it puts the players at ease. That doesn’t translate to lower scores, at least for everyone. For some players, being with their buds makes them too loose and subtracts tension from a bad shot or rough stretch of holes. I think there needs to be tension to get it done. Not saying I want my player paralysed with nerves, but I want a level of discomfort. It keeps him more focused, aware of his surroundings and what we need to do. After all, this is our job.
And of course there are slow players. There have been enough surveys where you can find the guilty parties. Professional golf is slow in general. But when you get paired with one of the worst offenders, no matter how much you prepare for it, it’s longer than dinner with the in-laws.
Quick addendum: playing with fast players isn’t easy, either. Dustin Johnson is as chill as they come, but the man moves so damn quick it messes with your rhythm. Same goes for Jhonattan Vegas and Matt Every. You take them over the snails any day, but you just have to be mindful of sticking to your routine.
Getting matched with a bomber can also throw your player. You’d think it happens so much that it would be the norm. Then again, these are professional athletes we’re talking about. They run on machismo, and playing 40 yards behind your partners can make the most confident of spirits feel emasculated. The swing is a bit harder, a bit faster, and suddenly you find yourself in the rough more often than not.
But the biggest possible penalty pairing? Players who love to bet.
I say “possible”. Wagers – and these head-to-head bets aren’t always big money; in fact, often the cash is pretty minimal, and even innocuous prizes like dinner – brought out the best in one of my players. I see plenty of others, though, go the other way. The situations you worry about are the weekends, when your player thinks he’s out of it, so he has a side game to keep his interest. In premise, it sounds like a good thing, and it can be. But your focus goes from the course and tournament to the other player. It’s a change in attack that won’t keep you from the winner’s circle, but it could mean the difference between a top 20 and a top 40, and that’s real money. Right now, my player doesn’t want any part of it – and word is out in the locker room on who does and doesn’t like to “dance”. He’s conservative by nature. Plus, he’s mapped his season out, knowing every point counts come playoff time.
What does shake my guy? Good question. Honestly, his biggest pairing fear comes on Wednesdays. There are just some pro-am experiences you can’t unlive.
– with Joel Beall