What's worse than witnessing a temper tantrum on the golf course?

Play golf long enough and you'll be paired with a golfer who truly loses it.
There's nothing worse than playing with an angry golfer.

Back in my persimmon days of golf, I used to tee it up regularly with a guy who, upon hitting a bad tee shot, would slam and bury his driver into the tee box. He was so forceful that once during a round after a rainy day, he had to pry his club loose before cleaning it off and returning it to his bag.

It was embarrassing and uncomfortable. So much so, that even with a few bucks on the line, I would root for him to play well just so we could have a pleasant experience. One day, it got so bad with his cursing and subsequent brooding that I walked off the course after nine holes.

The guys playing along with Sergio Garcia last week at the Saudi International really didn't have that option.

By now most of you have probably seen or read about Garcia's temper tantrum in the sand and subsequent disqualification last week for damaging five greens at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club in Saudi Arabia. Although this isn't the first time Garcia has displayed anger on the course, the extent of these latest transgressions is troubling for a 39-year-old major winner who you would think would be past this sort of behavior.

Garcia is hardly the first or last to display his bad temper on the golf course in the professional ranks, of course.

Henrik Stenson, for example, has broken a few clubs over the years and tossed a few in the water. The quick-playing John Daly has had a few un-Happy Gilmore days, too, including launching an iron into Lake Michigan during the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. And although his anger didn't boil over, you could argue that Phil Mickelson suspended his sanity when he chased after and putted a moving ball at the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills.

Then there's Woody Austin, who famously beat himself over the head with his own putter handle in frustration at Harbour Town Golf Links in 1997.

Of course, one of the most notorious temperamental golfers of all time was the aptly named Tommy Bolt. AKA "Thunder" Bolt, he was actually a terrific player, but his rep for throwing clubs outweighed his 15 PGA Tour victories that included the 1958 U.S. Open. Bolt, in fact, embraced his persona. "It thrills crowds to see a guy suffer," he told Golf Digest in 2002. "That's why I threw clubs so often. They love to see golf get the better of someone."

Letting off steam might have been good for Bolt's health. He lived to be 92.

For most of us, though, I suspect it would be healthier to have better control over our emotions on the course, especially for our playing partners.

Fortunately in my 35 years of playing golf, 95 percent of the players with whom I've been paired have been most pleasant playing companions.

Sure, there's the guy who plays too slow or lacks etiquette, but the Harvey Penick quote, "If you play golf, you're my friend," has pretty much held true for most of my life.

There have been exceptions.

One time at a Las Vegas course, playing with my then 15-year-old son, we were paired up with a scary character who threw clubs after nearly every shot. On one hole, he almost hit my son with a wedge. That's when I finally had to say something. He quit throwing clubs, but his verbal outbursts continued. My son found the episodes amusing. I couldn't wait to get off the course and away from this monster. He took well over 100 shots to get around the course, and then announced that he was disappointed with the 82 he shot that day. Talk about being self-delusional.

Another time in Northern Michigan, I was playing golf with a low-handicap player who remains pretty composed 99.9 percent of the time, but he lost it after his fifth three-putt of the round. That's when he tried to chop down a tree with his $350 Scotty Cameron putter. I have to admit that was pretty funny, and he was fine after that, although he had to putt with a wedge for the remainder of the round.

I once knew a golf writer who was so out of control that eventually everyone but his best friend refused to play with him. You didn't want to let this guy behind the wheel of the cart because after a bad hole, he would drive recklessly. Thank goodness rental carts have a governor or he might have run the cart into a brick wall.

Maybe worse than a tantrum, though, is the golfer who broods for the entire round when he's not playing well. I'm talking about the guy who seems to be suicidal because all of his self-worth is wrapped up in his scorecard. That same guy usually calls off the match when he's four-down after five holes (good way to up your winning percentage) in recreational play.

I'm no psychologist, of course, but it seems like that's a big part of the problem with angry golfers. Many of them have unrealistic expectations on the course. We hit a few good shots and think it should be that way all the time. This just in: golf is pretty difficult, especially for us weekend hackers. Lower your expectations and just have fun.

By the way, I've played with dozens of women and I've never played with one who has lost her temper on the course. (Yes, I know it occasionally happens at higher levels of women's golf). And I've played with good female players, not just high handicappers who are just happy to be outside with nature. Wonder why this is the case? It's probably for the same reasons men start most wars.

In my early years - when I practiced three or four times a week and was ultra-competitive - I might have lost it a time or two myself. There are two episodes in particular that were humiliating, albeit entertaining for my buddies who knew my outbursts were pretty short-lived.

Once after I blew a match by losing the 18th hole to a friend by chili-dipping and three-putting after he hit his tee shot in the water, I walked over to my bag (we were walking the course that day), took a swing with my wedge and decapitated four clubs (one of the most solid shots I hit all day). The embarrassment of tossing the pieces into the trunk of my car and expense of re-shafting four clubs has cured me from ever taking out my frustration on equipment again.

Or there was the time I three-putted from four feet to make bogey on a par-3 hole (we were playing skins, and I had been shut out through 16 holes). Without a word, I walked off the green and calmly tossed my putter straight up in the air. It didn't come down, instead getting stuck in the branches of a tall pine tree. As I tried to figure out how to get the putter out of the tree, I told my mates to go on without me. They refused to leave, letting me know that they weren't going to miss this for the world.

I threw three more clubs up into that tree trying to dislodge the putter until all of them came down at once, with one shaft breaking in two on over a limb before it gashed my right palm as I tried to catch it. That was in the early 90s.

I haven't thrown a club since.

We've all played with golfers who have lost it on the course. Feel free to share your stories or just weigh in on the topic in the comments section below.

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.
26 Comments
Commented on

Great article Mr. Bailey! There are a few golfers in the field who loose perspective and this is unfortunate, since the outcome does not determine whether their bills or mortgage get paid. Even if it did, there is no excuse. As per Sergio, I am not surprised! Ever since his racist comments about Tiger Woods a few years ago (fried chicken), I have lost respect for him. His immaturity continues and I am happy that the tournament organizers showed him the door. Perhaps he will smarten up for a change!

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I broke the first putter by throwing it into the golf bag too hard. Borrowed another putter from playing partner who happened to have a spare in his car. Later in the round broke that by hitting it.against my shoe breaking the shaft. So had to buy two new putters. Never damaged a putter again.

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"I'm talking about the guy who seems to be suicidal because all of his self-worth is wrapped up in his scorecard."

Oh man, I used to be that guy...
Hope I'm not anymore, but you never know!

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Have a friend who not only would throw clubs, but would beat his walking cart or riding cart with a towel while he was screaming at himself.

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I was golfing one day with a member at our club who had quite a reputation for outbursts. He didn’t get angry with himself, however, instead blaming his poor play on whoever got stuck with playing with him. On this particular day, he twice accused me of moving while he was putting, causing him to miss a 30 footer that he otherwise would have buried. On the 18th hole, he was standing over a putt for some time and proclaimed that he wasn’t going to putt until I moved as my shadow was interfering with his sight. As it turned out, it was the shadow of an Oak tree behind the green. He was thereafter known as Barky.

Commented on

Great story, Sid. Barky. Love it.

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I play often with a player that has to take heavy medications. He is OK as long as the Meds are right but when they are not he is very hostile on the course. The one funny thing he did recently was he hit a bad chip shot then went behind where he hit the shot from and just set down on the wet grass. Just sit there for a few minutes got up and hit a good shot close to the hole.

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A wise man once told me I wasn’t good enough to be pissed off at a bad shot.

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I remember when golfing at Tyandaga Golf Course, Burlington, Ontario, Canada several years ago, and coming to the 17th tee, to find five broken clubs in the trash bin. The 17th, a pretty challenging 7 handicap hole, plays through a ravine hole. After grand laughter at our find, my foursome wondered if this broken-clubs golfer had gone on to finish playing the course; we thought no one in his group would've lent him any of their clubs. We wondered if he'd continue playing how he handle the 18th, #1 handicap. But, looked as we did, we found no more broken clubs that day.

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Aaahhh yes !!! The good 'ol days !! lmao I remember dragging my wedge on the cart path from tee to green in Michigan !!! Bad wedge ! Bad wedge !

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Yep, I remember that one day, Dana, and of course, you were present that day I got my putter stuck in the tree.

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For most part agree...but this is way too oversimplified...yes shouldnt curse and rant etc....but if someone has been playing for years and wants to get better and works hard at it and is still having just as many or more bad rounds have a heart...yes part of fun is being out there with friends etc but playing well makes it way more fun....most everyone would agree with that...lowering expectations then you might as well not play at all...when you have been a competitive athlete your whole life albeit in amateur status..and how do you define brooding....one time i wasnt playing well at all and i was just much more quiet than normal....and my partner said something...as if its more about being social hour....it wasn't as if i wasnt talking to him at all..and threw in normal quips etc...so that clearly is not worse than a tantrum...try to see the others view a bit more and try to understand why they might feel the way they do....especially having been competitive yourself...its not always about you

Commented on

I am totally sympathetic to those who hard work on their games and don't seem to get their return on investment. Golf doesn't always reward effort or trying. I'm still plenty competitive, but I've come to realize that during the round, getting angry or frustrated is not going to change the outcome for the better. And my best rounds (I've shot near par a couple of times lately) have come when I didn't expect much and just let it happen. Also, after all these years, I've learned I can't control outcomes, only the process, especially when it comes to putting. Without being too presumptuous, this is one of the keys used by successful tour pros and advocated by the sports psychologists.

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What's worse than witnessing a temper tantrum on the golf course?