Managing your Anger on the Course: Easier Said than Done

By Ben Malone, Contributor

When was the last time you saw a PGA Tour player erupt in anger? How often does someone snap their club over their knee or throw their club down the fairway? Slam their putter into the green?

The answer is "never."

Good golfers, especially pro golfers, have learned to control their anger. The great ones channel that anger and turn it into controlled aggression against the golf ball.

The most visible display of anger we have seen in recent memory was John Daly showing his frustration with slick greens, stopping a putt before it finished its motion back down the slippery slope of the putting surface.

We heard about Jose Maria Olazabal punching a locker in disgust after a bad round and breaking his hand. Yes, it made all the SportsCenter highlights and it was a great topic for conversation around the water cooler, but those types of emotional "outbursts" are usually non-existent around the golf course.

But not the way I play the game.

I wish more people could tap into their anger like I do. It makes for a much more enjoyable round. If not for me, then at least for the other three guys in my group.

Let me start this off by explaining one very simple thing: I love to play golf and am very frustrated when I don't play up to my expectations. Which happens every time I play, because even though my handicap hovers somewhere around 12, I feel like I should be able to break 80 every time out. And when that doesn't happen (I haven't shot a round in the 70s in over a year) I have to lash out.

I have yet to take this frustration out on another human being, but ask the guys I play with, and they might tell you that on more than one occasion they feared for their safety.

Some of my past playing partners have been able to channel their anger in ways I could only hope to achieve. One of my best friends from high school set the bar so high that I doubt I will ever be able to match his outburst. One summer while I was working as a starter at the Tony Lema Golf Course in San Leandro, Calif., I was playing an evening round with two other starters and one of my friends (to protect his anonymity, we'll call him "Dave"). This particular round of golf featured a double whammy by "Dave" that left me in awe. After missing a putt on the 12th green, "Dave" slammed his putter to the ground - while we were still standing on the green.

Not only did the head of the golf club bury itself in the green, but "Dave" let go of the putter and the WHOLE CLUB became embedded in the putting surface. A twenty minute fixer-upper later, we resumed our round.

My other friend, we'll call him "Rob," had probably been consuming many adult beverages on that particular afternoon (I have no recollection of whether that actually was the case, but "Rob" was somewhat of a lush, and always drank. So even if he wasn't, he probably wanted to.) "Rob" continued jabbing at "Dave" as the round progressed, no doubt making "Dave" stir with anger with each passing hole.

On the 17th green, "Dave" decided he had heard enough and attacked the other starter ("Gerry"). So "Dave" charged at "Gerry," and in a manner that would make the most hardened WWF superstar proud, picked him up and slammed him to the ground.

They tumbled around on the green for a while, had each other in a headlock and entertained us for a few seconds until cooler heads prevailed.

What's my point in this incessant rambling? It's simple - golf may be a gentleman's game, but even gentlemen want to wrap their 9-iron around a tree every once in a while. And to suppress that anger is unhealthy.

I mean, the golf course is a perfect place to let your anger go - it's acres of wide open space. If you scream at the top of your lungs, chances are nobody will hear you, and if they do, they'll probably just assume you're yelling "Fore!"

But seriously, who wouldn't have wanted to see Olazabal charge at the American Ryder Cup team, flailing his putter around, screaming at them to get off the green? Or when a cameraman takes a picture of Tiger Woods in his back swing, I'd like to see Tiger go after him.

Even though I know why he's complaining, I've tried explaining it to my roommate (who thinks golf isn't a sport) and he doesn't get it. When Tiger complains like that, golfers end up looking like babies.

Instead, Tiger should grab the camera, tee it up, and take a swing with his 9-iron. An outburst like that would make other photographers think twice before snapping another picture during a golfer's swing. And Tiger wouldn't look like such a baby.

I'm not endorsing the idea of golf becoming a contact sport, because the logistics of that would be impossible. But imagine if Jean Van de Velde, after choking away his lead in the British Open, had grabbed his caddy and thrown him into the burn and just began to beat the crap out of him. The ratings for golf tournaments, especially the majors, would go through the roof. We need more players who, in the greatest Happy Gilmore tradition, are willing to go off on obscenity-laced tirades aimed at the camera.

Lord knows that I've said enough four-letter words on the golf course that I could make even the dirtiest sailor blush. And I don't feel bad about it.

I do feel I have to qualify my previous statements: in no way am I advocating violence between golfers (unless they are friends, and then the rule book gets tossed out the window).

I was involved in an ugly incident at a golf course where an older gentleman, playing in the group ahead of me, thought I was intentionally hitting into their group. I admit that I did hit into their group twice, but neither time was my fault.

The first occasion was on a short, downhill par-4 where I absolutely crushed my tee shot, and it landed on the cart path, which of course sent my ball all the way to the green - with the group ahead of us still on the putting surface.

The second time happened on a long par-5 where I was trying to lay up from 260 yards away with a 6-iron. No problem, right? Well, somehow the shot ended up on the green, and again, the group ahead of us was still putting. So one of the not-so-young men decided to drive his cart back to us, scream obscenities at us, and then ran over my friend's ("Dave" again) foot with the golf cart. No punches were thrown, but this was one case where cooler heads should have prevailed. But I digress...

Golf's traditionalists are asking the impossible from golfers everywhere. They want us to play with emotion but they don't want us to show it. Television commentators always voice their approval when they see outward displays of emotion, like when we saw David Duval celebrate his final round 59, or Justin Leonard erupt after sinking the near-impossible putt to win the Ryder Cup. There are two golf highlights that still give me chills: Tiger Woods' hole-in-one at Las Vegas, and Payne Stewart's U.S. Open-clinching putt in 1999.

They both were chock-full of emotion, and no matter how many times I've seen them, I don't get tired of it. But would Johnny Miller be as approving if Colin Montgomerie threw a tantrum in the middle of the fairway? Probably not, even though he is subject to constant fan abuse and probably needs a good outburst every once in a while.

So now we maybe have to look at emotion from a different angle: "good" emotions are OK to display (i.e. happiness at winning or surprise at a great shot) but if we display any unhealthy emotions, we are frowned upon by the golfing community.

Well, I've got news for you - emotions are a two-way street. We all have to take the good with the bad, and denying one for fear of upsetting somebody is just plain stupid.

So here's what I'm asking golfers all over to do: throw aside whatever reservations you may have and throw a tantrum during your next round of golf. Don't let the efforts of such ground-breaking pioneers as "Dave" and myself go to waste. Besides, you may find that you like it.

Ben Malone, Contributor

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