Five Keys to Surviving Golf (…Even if You Suck at Golf)

… or: How to Hang with a Top 1%-er for Five Hours.

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Spouse, Children, Golf. You can have 2 out of 3, but you can’t have all 3–that’s what they say, anyway.

The state of your relationship to each tends to correlate with how much quality time you put in–there’s not enough hours in the day to be a good spouse, parent, and golfer. You’re dealing with a scarcity of time.

As a result, I’m a terrible golfer. I’m so terrible that I shoot a 79.

In 9 holes.

(If you don’t speak golf: that means I’m pretty darn bad at golfing.)

Which leads me to you. You’ve been invited to a golf outing and want to turn it down because (like me) you’re terrible at golf.

Accept the invite. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to network with influential people.

I’ve figured out how to have fun at an outing and make sure the rest of my foursome has fun. So… if you’re terrible at golf, there’s still hope for you.


Most people are dishonest about their golf game.

I’ve had so many people tell me, “I’m horrible,” then they go out and crush a drive. Your first challenge is to convince them that you are, in fact, as horrible as you say–in short, your words have integrity.

Here’s my line (feel free to use it): “I’m pretty much the worst golfer you’ll ever play with. But I have fun and pick up my ball.”

Nineteen words, but so much meaning. Don’t skip the intro: it manages the expectations if you’re paired with a very serious golfer.

The serious golfer is easy to spot. Look for these signs:

  • Very expensive clubs with very large drivers–almost like a super-long-handled frying pan.
  • Binoculars that show distance to the hole.
  • Bright golf shirts from ritzy, exclusive golf country clubs.
  • Name tag on their golf club bag from a different, ritzy, exclusive golf country club–the one they’re paying tens of thousands a year (plus dining minimums) for the membership status.



(serious golfer in his natural habitat)


It also eases the nervousness of a fellow horrible golfer (yes, the top 1% have feelings too). They’re harder to spot, but some signs:

  • Just wearing a normal polo shirt
  • Golf clubs are rentals
  • They are not stretching
  • They are not at the range hitting a bucket beforehand


(normal golfer)

Now that you’ve got the introductions out of the way and you’ve sized up your foursome, here’s how to survive the next 5 hours or so.


STEP 1: Make the conversation fun.

Keep it light, will ya? You have to ask about what they do and how the year’s going. Get past this stage as quickly as possible up front. So what do you do at Lockhardt Gardner? Cool. How’s patent law case load these days? Chumhum keeping you busy?

Then move on. And for goodness sake, don’t ask questions that you ask folks early in their career–hours, work life balance, company culture, etc. You’re often with a senior person (underlings are stuck in the office doing the heavy lifting). These folks are the company culture. They’re (sort of) playing hooky from work. No need to drag them back.

If they have kids, they generally like to talk about what sports or activities they’re in. They like to gripe about the crazy logistics involved to support these activities. They will tell you about the colleges their kids are (or will be) attending. They will roll their eyes at the sass their kids give them, and how their kids don’t understand how good they have it.

Sometimes they’ll tell you about their first or second (or third) divorce. I don’t like getting into this stuff so as soon as I can, I bring it back to my fallback: sports.

Sports are an evergreen topic. So many of my relationships are built on just talking sports. Sports are an important part of our zeitgeist.

STEP 2: Pick up your ball.

You suck. That should be evident the first time you tee off. Inevitably, someone will say Go ahead and tee off again.


Weren’t they listening when you told them how bad you are?

Ok, so you tee off again and get the same results. (For your amusement, take a quick glance at their eyes. Do you see that look? That’s the sinking realization that you weren’t fooling around.)

Following this nice gesture by your foursome, don’t tee off again if asked. Pick up the ball.

So after tee off, you notice that it’s taking you 2-3 shots to catch up to every 1 of their shots. Pick up the ball. Take it to the putting green and drop it. Putt more than twice and not close to the cup? Pick up the ball.

Whatever you do, don’t slow down the game.

STEP 3: Laugh at yourself.


Angry golfers are no fun. They take a “fun” outing and bring such a serious element to it that they poison the mood. I golfed with one guy who would cuss himself out after every tee off: Jeebus effing Christ!!! I golfed with another guy who would hammer his club into the ground as if he were splitting a log.

Just laugh it off and make fun of your own suckiness.

STEP 4: Affirm!

Golf is the most affirming, genteel sport ever (aside from occasional angry golfers). You all root for each other. You’ll hear a lot of great shot! even if it wasn’t, or greens are slow. I would’ve missed that shot as well even though they just made that shot.

Even if your partner accidentally hits himself in the gonads, find something to affirm.


“Hey, at least it wasn’t your throat.”

STEP 5: Drink.

This one covers a multitude of missteps above. Offer to buy everyone beers or cocktails at the drink cart… every time the cart comes around. (This is usually 2-4x an outing.)

They may be having a bad round. They may be annoyed at how bad you are.

But they will always appreciate the free drinks. Their impression of your time together improves remarkably if they remember they had free drinks.

Why Golf is Important

Golf is important to conduct business even though you’re not really talking business. The real magic of golf is not that it brings together people who like the sport. It’s that it forces someone influential to hang out with you for 5 hours in a very cozy setting. You’re building affection. The golf outing is the event that sets up future events (meetings) that makes transaction events (deals) happen.

Golfing and schmoozing are very important skills to have, and I’m preparing my children for it. I enrolled them in golf lessons for this very reason.

Well, if we’re being completely honest, it’s really so that I can golf with them as well. People may say you can only have two of three (spouse, children, golf), but clearly they aren’t thinking outside of the box…


… and maybe teach them a bit more patience as well.

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