The Etiquetteist: Are first-tee excuses ever acceptable?

golfer teeing up ball

When you start whining before you’ve struck the day’s first shot, other golfers in your group will see right through you.

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“It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.” — George Washington

That pearl of wisdom from the age of wooden teeth and wooden woods remains as apt today as ever. There’s no excuse for poor excuses. Not at work. Not at home. And never, ever on the first tee.

You’ve probably heard them all. Perhaps you’ve even used them.

“My back’s a little tight.” “I didn’t have time to warm up.” “I haven’t swung a club in weeks.”

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“My dog ate my driver.”

OK, we made up that last one, but it’s no lamer than the rest.

In golf, as in life, excuse-making is a form of self-protection. It’s also a brand of self-deceit. But you’re not fooling anybody else.

When you start whining before you’ve struck the day’s first shot, other golfers in your group will see right through you. They’ll know that you’re trying to have it both ways by setting yourself up as either a dogged victim of misfortune or a heroic underdog. In fact, you’re neither.

If you play poorly, you might feel lousy but no one is going to throw you a pity party. And if you play well? That’s even worse.

Your partners will think you were trying to sandbag them.

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The only time first-tee excuse making is acceptable is when you’re explaining conduct that might affect the group. As in: “Sorry if I’m moving slowly here. My gout is acting up.”

Or, “My daughter is supposed to hear from Harvard admissions today. I apologize but I might have to take her call.”

But excuses for your own performance? They are, in a word, inexcusable.

Maybe you really do have a bad back. Maybe you really haven’t swung a club in weeks. Maybe your dog really did eat your driver.

Congratulations. We all have our woes. No one needs to hear about them.

Golf likes to call itself a great game of honor. It never claimed to be a great game of empathy.

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Josh Sens Editor

A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Magazine contributor since 2004 and now contributes across all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.