In the complicated love affair we call golf, getting paired with strangers is like blind dating. Conversations are mostly small talk. Friendly. Idle. Awkward, sometimes, but largely harmless.
Touch on the wrong topics, though, and the vibe can sour. What we need are guidelines, a rough breakdown on the rules for fair-game subjects, and specific things you can and cannot say. Here goes.
1. The weather
The weather is safe. It is also boring. “What a day!” you might say of the bluebird sunshine. Or, the golf course version of searing irony, “Too bad about the weather!” If it starts to drizzle, you could offer, “Heavy stuff won’t be coming down for sometime now.” The “Caddyshack” cliche. That one always kills. Just don’t repeat any of the above too often or you’ll sound inane. If the weather seems especially unsettled, you might call up the Doppler on your cell phone and give your playing partners the latest intel. Just keep it brief. A little bit of your inner-Willard Scott goes a long way.
Just because your drives are straying wildly left or right doesn’t mean your conversation should. Politics are the third rail: too hot to touch, unless you somehow know for certain that you’re all on the same page. Good luck with that one.
3. Swing Tips
If you’re asked to give one, feel free to supply one. But never cough up unsolicited counsel to someone you’ve just met. Here’s another way to put it: if you don’t know them well enough to be invited to their birthday party, you shouldn’t be offering them unsought advice.
Never. Except for references to “the golf gods.”
5. The PGA Tour
Favorite and least favorite players. Predictions for the majors. Heartfelt opinions about network pundits. All of this is perfectly good fodder. Familiar phrases to trot out include, “Can you believe Bryson?” “I miss Johnny Miller,” and “What do you make of Brandel Chamblee?”
6. Work and Family
“Got kids?” “What do you do for a living?” No harm in asking either, though not on the first tee. That’s a little too soon. “Live around here?” and “Played this course before?” are better ice breakers. Then you can work toward other boilerplate info, which might give rise to deeper conversations. Or not. Whichever case, no worries. And when the roles are reversed, and you’re being asked the questions about your job or your kids, be sure to respond with either feigned exasperation or expressions of boundless love.
7. Where Else You’ve Played
This is a good one, all the better if you mention some unexpected places that don’t make you sound too much like a snob. Tales of the private jet you took to Tara Iti should probably wait until you decide to have a post-round drink together. Oh, and don’t call Shinnecock “Shinny” unless you’re a member.