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Mind games: 18 ways to fluster, frustrate and infuriate your opponent

October 23, 2017

Golf may be the ultimate gentleman’s sport, but gamesmanship is as old as Tom Morris’s wool knickers. Among the numerous techniques that can be used to rattle your opponent’s cage, some are sporty, others … not so much. Here’s the definitive list of the good, bad and grimy ways to own real estate between your opponent’s ears.

1. Birdie Your First Hole

Preferably by holing a slick, double-breaking 30-footer. It’ll leave your opponent thinking, “%&$#@!, it’s going to be one of those days.”

2. Film Your Opponent’s Swing, Then Show It to Him

Nothing brain-locks a golfer faster than the sight of his horrifying action.

3. Crowd the Tee Box

When your opponent tees off, stand a little closer than normal. It might make ’em sweat a little, and it’s within the rules.

4. Pull Off a Miraculous Escape Shot

A hooked 4-iron under tree limbs that runs through a bunker and across the green before settling four feet from the hole? Soul-crushing.

5. Reach a par 5 in two

Reaching a par 5 in two carries its own special brand of intimidation. Punctuate your powerful feat by saying, “Damn, caught it off the toe.”

6. Make Up Excuses for Your Opponent

And now we wade into the murky and crocodile-infested waters of gamesmanship. “You know, the fairways here don’t look like they’ve been mown today. And a course like this is just so tough in the wind.” These lines can slowly soften an opponent and lead them toward a begrudging acceptance of their own lackluster play.

7. Pull Out Driver When Your Opponent Has the Honor

Particularly useful on a tight par 4. Your opponent is debating between the big dog and a long iron, while you stand nearby with driver in hand waiting for him to play away. The sight of your driver could serve as a subtle form of pressure, goading him into an aggressive mistake. When he snaps it into the trees, slide your driver back in the bag, grab a hybrid and stripe it down the middle.

8. Forego Honors on a Tricky Par 3

It’s nice to tee off first, but on an elevated par 3 into the wind and over water, wouldn’t you want a little more intel? This is an opportune time to re-tie your shoes or fumble around your bag for sunscreen, passing tee box honors to your eager opponent. Advantage: you.

9. Get Up and Down from Everywhere

Want to crush your opponent’s will to win? Save par after a topped drive and shanked approach.

10. Blindly Accuse Your Opponent of Breaking a Rule

If you try this move things could get … tense.

11. Play the Opposite Speed of Your Opponent

Here’s a move from the Tiger Woods playbook, according his former coach Butch Harmon. Facing a player that hustles between shots and pulls the trigger while you’re still posing on your own follow-through? Slow yourself down, and take them with you. Got an opponent who lopes along and replaces headcovers on his irons after every shot? Pick up your pace and watch their rhythm disintegrate.

12. Offer an Unsolicited and Unhelpful Tip

“You know what works for me? Keeping my right knee deadly still during my putting stroke.” Guess what your opponent will think about while standing over her next 4-footer?

13. Ask Your Opponent if He Inhales or Exhales on His Downswing

Someone once used this on me while in the throes of a cutthroat match on my high school golf team. It worked. Actually, that reminds me…

14. Stand By with Cool Detachment When Forces of Nature Take Down Your Opponent

Quick story: When I was a high school senior, I had a pretty good run as the No. 5 (last man) on our varsity golf team. Despite an 88-ish average, I had a knack for beating whichever member of my foursome my teammates deemed our biggest threat. After four straight wins, guys began calling me “Ritter Cup.” In the fifth match of the year, our squad was decimated by a flu bug and I had to move up to the No. 2 spot, where I was grouped with one of the best players in the conference. He averaged about 74 and wore an Ashworth polo shirt, the height of country-club fashion at the time. On the 1st hole, he bombed a drive past mine, then dumped his approach into a bunker, where his ball settled under the trap’s front lip. I chipped up and stood on the green as he blasted out. On his follow-through, his wedge slammed into the underside of the bunker lip, and that’s when it happened: tucked into that piece of turf was a literal hornet’s nest. A cloud of dark insects attacked the kid, who screamed in horror as he was repeatedly stung. He immediately withdrew from the tournament and hustled off the course in tears. I made an 11 on my next hole and played the rest of the round in a fog, shooting triple digits. But that score still technically beat a WD … so, 5 and 0! High school golf was weird and wonderful.

15. Exploit Gimme Putts

Inside the leather? That’s usually good enough in a friendly game. But if you want to raise your opponent’s blood pressure, make him putt his first 2-footer and everything thereafter. For a twist on this strategy, you could give your opponent every short putt all day long … until they’re staring at one that will decide the match.

16. Casually Mention a Foreboding Hazard

Step 1: Say something like, “The ONLY place you don’t want to miss is in that bunker right of the green.” Step 2: Stand back and admire the power of negative reinforcement.

17. Jingle Spare Change in Your Opponent’s Backswing

We would never endorse this shameful practice. (Doesn’t mean you can’t.)

18. Shut Up and Play Better

In the end, this is the most tried-and-true way to capture your opponent’s attention within the spirit of the game. Let your clubs do the talking, and let the chips (and putts) fall where they may.