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Tips For Dealing With Overzealous Competitors

If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.

~”Thumper’s Law” (What Mom told Thumper in Bambi)

I was in a tournament recently and despite playing well and the weather being perfect, I found myself not enjoying the round.  Finally, I realized one of the women I was playing with was what I would call needlessly competitive — her attitude and behavior were making everyone in our group miserable.

I know we’ve all been in this position during one round or another.  But what is the best way to deal with this situation?  In this post, I discuss dealing with needlessly competitive players so you can still enjoy your round.

Bad Behavior

Without getting into the weeds too much, sometimes the intent and actions of an overly competitive player are obvious — hence the outright trash-talking player.  Hopefully the trash-talker keeps it confined to casual rounds amongst friends and restrained during serious tournament play.

Then there’s the passive-aggressive player who makes the underhanded negative comment.  A girlfriend of mine was once playing in a team match (and having a difficult day) when one of her opponents commented to her that she “would’ve been better off staying home cleaning toilets.”  Ouch.

You hear about players who are agonizingly slow.  There are those who exhibit poor etiquette such as talking when others are addressing the ball, they carelessly walk in your line on the putting green or stand behind you when you are hitting.  These players have no self awareness and no concern for how they might be effecting the play of everyone in the group.

But the worst are the narcissistic people who make unnecessary boastful comments about themselves clearly designed to intimidate or distract others.  They use mind games to gain a psychological advantage.  And don’t ever expect them to compliment you on a good shot nor celebrate your victories.

While a tournament committee can disqualify a player under Rule 1.2a for bad behavior as being “contrary to the spirit of the game”, I have never heard of it occurring.  Plus, most of our league play is as much social as it is competitive.

Things You Can Do

After my unpleasant round with this needlessly competitive woman, I asked myself what I could do if I was paired up with her again, or found myself playing with someone like her in the future.   There are many books and articles available on how to deal with overly competitive people. Below I’ve compiled a few strategies that may help you handle such situations in golf.  While they seem simple, they are a good reminder:

  1. Stay focused on your game.  Keep your focus on your own performance and game plan.  Avoid getting too caught up in what another player is doing or saying.  Just stay focused at the shot (or next shot) — I always say stay in your bubble.  And remember, as Jack Nicklaus says, “Golf is against yourself.”
  2. Maintain a positive mindset.  Remind yourself that their actions are a reflection of their own mindset, not yours.
  3. Ignore distractions.  Overzealous competitors may try to distract you with gamesmanship or unsportsmanlike behavior like what I have listed above, especially slow play.  Don’t let them disrupt your concentration or mental state.  Again, stay in your bubble!
  4. Set boundaries.  If you feel comfortable doing so, calmly communicate your boundaries to your competitors.  Let them know if their behavior is crossing a line or impacting your ability to play. Be assertive yet respectful.
  5. It’s temporary.  Remind yourself that overzealous players present only a temporary challenge. Your love for the game and your personal growth are more significant. Stay committed to your own progress and development as a golfer.

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