STRATEGY: Jerk Management
What to do when you're paired with the wrong guy
By Kevin Cook
It's every golfer's nightmare—you find yourself paired with a loud, profane club thrower who walks on your line, talks during your backswing and gives you unsolicited swing tips. In short, a jerk.
"You're in for a challenge," says Dr. Rick Jensen, who runs the Performance Center at PGA National Resort & Spa in Florida. "But it's not a nightmare. It's an opportunity."
For Jensen, who coaches pro players, every hazard—even the human kind—presents a chance to hone one of the game's crucial skills. "It's an attention-control challenge," he says. "I always tell my players, 'You can't get caught up in paying attention to someone else's behavior, and you can never use someone else as an excuse for your mistakes.'" Calling golf with a knucklehead "a chance to test your mental toughness," Jensen suggests a three-step approach to jerk management.
First offense: Let it go. Even annoying golfers make innocent mistakes. "The first time he bothers you, look the other way," Jensen says. "Maybe this person is not a total jerk, so don't obsess over his behavior. Note it and let it go."
Second offense: Assert yourself. If the jerk repeats his misdeed, call him on it. Say, "You've stepped on my line a couple of times" or "You've been talking while I'm hitting—please don't." Jensen suggests you never dwell on a jerk's motives: "If he's jingling change in his pocket, don't say, 'You have a reputation for doing that, and you're not going to do it to me.' Say, 'You may not know you're jingling change, but it's bothering me.'" Now your nemesis is on notice. If he still doesn't shape up, move on to step three.
Third offense: Test yourself. There is no relief from a total jerk. The Rules of Golf say nothing about change jingling or cell phones. "You may want to argue, but that's counterproductive—your heart rate goes up, you release adrenaline and your game unravels," Jensen says. "Instead, treat the jerk as a form of adversity. It's like fighting a crosswind: If the wind gusts while your ball is in the air and knocks it into a bunker, that's not a disaster. It certainly doesn't give you an excuse to lose focus." Rather than wasting energy trying to block out the jerk's behavior, observe him as you would a strong wind. Focus on your shot and make the best swing you can.