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Original Issue

Golf Is My Handicap

Like many weekend golfers, I have abandoned any idea of playing good golf. I have discovered, however, that it is entirely possible to achieve a measure of golfing stature on the basis of nothing more than the application of sound psychological principles. For those interested in status unencumbered by ability, I have listed a few key pointers in the Smith Status System.

The heart of the system is the universal recognition that all golfers have bad days. Therefore, Principle No. 1 states, "Never allow your true ability to be recognized." It is imperative that your playing mates believe that you are having an off day. This, of course, underlines the first corollary, "Don't play with the same group too often."

For ease of understanding I have broken down the Smith Status System into easy steps—commit the basic process to memory, and soon you will be able to improvise nicely.

Pregame Strategy, or Setting the Mood
All the books advocate a warm-up period during which you hit several thousand practice shots. This is ridiculous, but since it has been widely accepted, it is important to turn it to your best advantage. In the Smith Warm-Up System, the important thing is the correct choice of a caddy! Always pick the smallest, puniest one available. Aside from the obvious consideration that he will be less likely to laugh at your efforts, there is an important psychological advantage inherent in the use of a tiny caddy. He will look so small out there with the big kids that it will appear that you are hitting the ball well beyond the range of your fellow golfers. Of course, you must be careful about hitting too many shots toward that tiny figure or someone will get wise. Spend as much time as possible working at various checkpoints in your swing. This consumes a great deal of time, looks, knowledgeable and impressive and obviates the necessity of hitting many golf balls. The few shots you do have to hit should be accepted as satisfactory efforts no matter how bad they are. A phrase like, "Not exactly what I want, but it is working right to left," explains a duck hook, for example. And an observer cannot help but be impressed by your distance—after all, that caddy is a mere speck in the distance!

The First Tee

Now here is where many poor golfers immediately give themselves away. Never—repeat, never—appear on the first tee properly outfitted. Always assume some slight defect in appearance. This will immediately be termed an eccentricity that only a top-flight golfer could enjoy. A $250 set of clubs is fine so long as they are carried in a soiled canvas bag. Or, conversely, a Kangaroo bag is most suitable for carrying an unmatched set of six clubs. A nice subtle touch, I have found, is the wearing of sparkling white tennis shoes. The fact that they are clean and new indicates that this was no stop-gap measure, and a man purposely wearing tennis shoes obviously has something going for him. A casual reference to the fact that, "Spikes aren't much help except in the rough," will enhance your image as one who seldom wanders into areas where footing is a problem.

When taking the normal warmup on the first tee, catch your swing a few times and wince slightly. When asked about the pain, smile stoically and assure your group that it is nothing and, by looping your backswing, most of the pressure is removed from your bad back. This Spartan attitude not only establishes you as a game competitor, but it explains the grotesque caricature of a golf swing which you have come to call your own.

The Game

The true test of the Smith Status System comes when you are forced to exhibit your meager talents on the field of play. As it becomes increasingly clear that you will have a tough time making the turn by sundown, it is imperative that your partners realize they have caught you on a bad day. Since you will be unable to impress anyone with the shots you are hitting, you must make observers wonder about the shots you could be hitting on a normal day. Do not be meek—a true golf buff will believe anything. I once had a friend who achieved great stature from the fact that he had marshaled at the U.S. Amateur. He would work the conversation around to the Amateur and then modestly, but truthfully, admit that he was usually just a spectator—"except, of course, for the '51 matches at Saucon Valley." The use of "of course" is important here since it attributes a depth of knowledge that no golfer will deny.

The names of famous courses can be dropped into conversations advantageously. Having been the site of several U.S. Opens, Oakmont has become my favorite. A particularly disastrous hole always reminds me of the time "I bogeyed the 13th at Oakmont." It goes without saying that anyone who has bogeyed the 13th at Oakmont is to be reckoned with.

Impressive bits of irrelevant knowledge do wonders in cementing the illusion that you are a golfer of considerable skill and experience. I personally find that a few key phrases concerning the putting surface can explain gross personal inadequacies with a putter. After all, almost everyone realizes that it is hard to hold a ball on line when "Tifgreen 328" is mixed liberally with "broad-running fescue."

And remember, every round you play can be used to further your future image. True, the 12 strokes you took on the 4th do not look like much on the card, but remember that you chipped in from under a tree to save an even higher total. The next time you play the hole you may modestly, but truthfully, recall "holing out a five-iron here last week."

Finally, the day will end. Your score will reflect the pathetic lack of ability with which you attack the game, but if you have followed the Smith Status System, no one will realize just how bad you really are. When it is all over, modestly admit that this was about your regular game. Since no golfer will ever admit that he has played to his best ability, this immediately tabs you as one who refuses to make excuses—though it was plain that you were in great pain. ("Did you see the poor wretch swing?") Thank your partners and express the hope that you can get together again. Then avoid them at all cost. You will be remembered in locker room reminiscences as a fine golfer who had a bad day.