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Some background information about myself: I am generally a life-before-work kind of person, and tend to mind my own business in the workplace. However, I will socialise with colleagues, if the chance presents itself. I am also interested in staying fit and have been playing golf on and off for most of my life. I don't really have a handicap, and just play for fun.

A number of years ago, I played nine holes of match play with a colleague, who was determined to beat me, and was convinced he could, because he'd taken lessons with the local pro. After beating him 4 up with 3 to play, he resorted to calling me a cheat, saying I gave myself a better lie in the rough. I didn't, because I didn't have to, and even if I had, I still would have beaten him. Afterward, he was constantly frosty around me, and never offered to play golf with me again. He made me feel like his shortcomings were my fault.

Currently, the office knows I love golf, and the boss wants to go for a round with me. The trouble is, he stinks. He showed me a video of his swing; it looks like an octopus making love to a sailboat in a force 10 storm. I am worried he is going to turn on me after the round. I can't make up excuses like "oh, I'm resting this weekend", or similar, because he knows I play regularly, and he knows enough to know that me hitting a 7 iron off the tee on a par 5 to give him a chance is patronising.

What should I do? Should I change my job? I thought about making up a story about my clubs being stolen, but he keeps mentioning playing together. I don't think I can talk my way out of the match. I'm not at all good at my job, and I fear he will try to humiliate me in front of my colleagues.

EDIT: Thank you all for the useful answers. I will emphasise to the boss that we are playing against the course, rather than each other. I will also allow him to decide his own handicap (providing he doesn't officially have one). Regarding my job: I am in a junior position and still learning the trade. Nothing relating to my attitude should be inferred.

EDIT 2: Changing my spelling, by americanising it, is very patronising.

  • 77
    What a hard-to-forget description of your manager's video. Has your current boss demonstrated any other behaviour around the office that suggests he might be petty or unsporting if he was losing? – user34587 Feb 7 at 12:29
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    I wish it were a joke. The answers are very helpful so far. The boss seems like the good sort, but so did my first colleague, who then turned on me. The suggestion of a threesome is a good one. I have a couple of friends who can beat me ten and eight. – user85789 Feb 7 at 12:50
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    It's an extremely difficult situation when a boss tries to force you to take part in an out-of-work event. Work should be work only, with no outside involvement. – Fattie Feb 7 at 13:01
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    "I am generally a life-before-work kind of person and tend to mind my own business in the workplace" -- Then how did your boss know you like golfing? – Dan Feb 7 at 13:59

12 Answers 12

232

First; the first colleague has issues. It is he who is weird, not you. Soundly losing a round of golf would for more normal people mean a hand on a shoulder, laugh and promises of owed beer. Acting frosty, especially for a longer period of time is horribly immature; my three-year-old cousin copes better with losing a game of tag.

So don't assume you will get the same treatment from your boss. Hopefully, he is not that kind of person. If he is you'd probably have bailed companies a long time ago.

But for extra security: do some expectation management. Brag a bit (like a tiny bit, just enough that it is clear that you are very experienced and pretty good, not the "well I could beat Tiger Woods if I really tried" kind) on the way there about how good you are, tell your boss you don't plan on pulling punches, etc. See how he reacts to that. If he gets touchy and defensive it might be better to cancel the game but that would be my very last escape.

Now the big day is there, the first thing is that this is probably not a sports event: it is a social gathering. Your boss is interested in you and would like to share in your hobby, he probably knows he swings like a mating elephant, keep that in mind.

So don't go in this like you want to win. Socialize. Have a beer. Look the other way when rules are bent and be gentle when they are broken. Laugh. Don't pull too many punches either, you won't want to look like a suck-up.

And through all this: pay close attention to your boss. If you hit a hole-in-one and he congratulates you: yay! keep on trucking. If he gets touchy at the first sign of trouble: dial back.

But as I said: it is probably a social event. Be there to talk, have fun. Relax. If you seem tense, mention the last time you went golfing with a colleague.

If your boss is a decent boss he won't mind. If he is a horrible boss: well why do you work there?

  • 6
    Exactly this. Most people understand there's a huge skill range for golf. OPs boss is probably well aware they aren't that great (if the description of his swing & weight are accurate). The good thing is even fairly widely separated skill levels doesn't really interfere with enjoying the game as long as people relax and take it easy. – mbrig Feb 7 at 23:29
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    Answer based on false premises. It's not "a mating elephant". It's an octopus making love to a sailboat in a force 10 storm. Read the posts more carefully before answering, people. – user1717828 Feb 8 at 2:18
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    Don’t brag. But you can tell how you’ve been playing for years. Losing to someone who’s trained a lot is much more bearable than losing to some smug, bragging asshole (not implying that OP is such a character). – Michael Feb 8 at 6:58
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    I agree up untill that last sentence. He could be a great boss, be ideal to work for, but his pet peeve is golf and loosing would be confronting... Not saying that that is the case per se, but its not as black/white as your last sentence suggests :) – Martijn Feb 8 at 9:19
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    I think @Michael is right. Personally, I often take the "how did you get into X?" approach with this sort of thing, because it allows for discussion of experience level in a more social and less competitive way. – DoctorPenguin Feb 8 at 14:50
75

Offer to play Best Ball with him. It changes the round from a competitive endeavor to a collaborative one, and he's bound to get a good shot or a good putt from time to time.

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    This is a great suggestion--don't make it a competition and the risk goes down significantly. – bob Feb 7 at 17:46
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    You can also play 2v2, no? Team up with your boss... you and him versus another pair. I forget the gold name for this, but I played it once. Your skill should make up for his lack – vikingsteve Feb 8 at 11:59
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    I dunno. Best Ball has the possible downside of not allowing him to contribute to the game. – Kevin Feb 8 at 16:19
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    I must agree with @kevin. As someone who plays golf very rarely (1-2 times a year) I know many people around me with whom if I played best ball none would ever be mine. The difference between someone with a handicap of 36 (or no handicap) and someone with a handicap of 8 or even 18 can be stupid large. And generally this gets much worse if there is any pressure. A 2v2 might be better. – DRF Feb 9 at 11:25
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    @DRF Not necessarily- the linked description does say “And it is strongly recommended to apply handicaps in best ball so that the weaker players on the team will have a chance to contribute to the team score.” – Gwyn Evans Feb 10 at 8:24
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At the suggestion of one of the regulars here I picked up a book called How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. I will present two choice quotes, and then adapt them to your question.

The first one,

When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures bristling with prejudice and motivated by pride and vanity.

And the second one,

You can't win an argument. You can't because if you lose it, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it.

Let's change argument with a game of golf and it explains what you did wrong with your colleague; he told you about his pride and ego (took classes from a local pro) and you destroyed him. Now that's more on your colleague than you cause he's acting like a child, but still, you could've recognized the game for what it was and gone for the long play instead.

There could've been many ways to have played it differently. You could've thrown the game, or could've won in a not-so-smug way (so you took lessons, huh?) but regardless, this is what happened.

Don't do the same with your boss. Try to find out how proud he is of his golfing skills and try to match him - and if you can't, try not to win by too much. Then try to take his mind off the game by letting him talk about something he enjoys. His car, his children, his yacht, his gun collection - anything he's proud of. Let him do the talking and swinging and remember:

You're not playing a game, you're building a relationship.

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    As with Wookies, if your boss starts talking about his extensive gun collection, let him win. – Chronocidal Feb 7 at 16:44
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    While I agree there are situations which you're forced into and is safe to assume everyone else is a Wookie, treating everybody as such is a decision you make. If you assume they're Wookies, you'll treat them like that. And that allows them to treat you as if they were Wookies. And I prefer to work with people, not Wookies. – mgarciaisaia Feb 7 at 18:33
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    Fun fact, for some reason it's spelled wookiee, with two Es! – ale10ander Feb 7 at 18:58
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    This was basically what I was thinking. Using the completely wrong club might be obviously throwing, but aiming slightly off the hole so you end up having to make a long putt that just misses is much harder for someone to detect - and if he's experienced enough to notice it, then you probably don't need to pull punches anyway. – IllusiveBrian Feb 7 at 21:18
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    If you can afford it, set the expectation up front that the winner buys the first round after the game. – O. Jones Feb 8 at 11:45
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Firstly, this is why there is such a thing as a 'Golf Handicap'; your handicap is probably lower than your bosses.

Secondly, you can take the opportunity to improve your bosses game.

Thirdly, if you do feel the need to pull your game a little so that it's a closer score, you don't need to use the wrong club; just aim at a slightly different target (his golf ball would always be a safe bet).

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    +1 for the Handicap, there are loads of places you can use to calculate a handicap. If your boss has one then even better. Just both play off your handicap and you should be close to an even game. – Dustybin80 Feb 7 at 17:39
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    Have to disagree or at least warn about using it as an opportunity to improve your boss' game. Only do this if he asks, or shows some interest in getting help. He may on making his swing look like that of a near-sighted gorilla (have to keep up the theme) instead of what you want to tell him about, or not even care. At which point your tips could be unwelcome. – Hod Feb 7 at 20:58
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    +1 for "Aim at your boss' ball". -1 for "take the opportunity to improve his game". Pointing out his flaws goes a long way toward wrecking friendships. Unless, of course, he honestly asks for input. If that happens, tread lightly but honestly. – FreeMan Feb 7 at 20:58
  • Definite +1 for handicap! I'm thinking that should be the accepted answer since as you say, it's why the handicap was invented... – colmde Feb 11 at 12:18
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I think your fears are honest in this case, but basing what he will be like compared to someone else who was a sore loser is a bit extreme.

Has he ever behaved like that towards you?

I think you should take one the following approaches:

  1. You talk to your boss in private, explain how last time you went out golfing with someone from work resulted in this person losing and their attitude towards you following that. That you would prefer not risking it.

  2. You go and play golf, you play as you normally would, after you win (if you do). You tell him it was fun to have a relaxing day playing. Do not boast about it in the office that you won. Tell him that whenever he wants to play next he can just invite you. It is a simple enough solution to the problem as it stands.

  3. You go and play golf and invite someone else to join who is also competitive and you compete with them, specially if it is someone outside of work. As long as the person respects your boss, there shouldn't be any problems.

To be honest, if this becomes an issue at work, you should definitely be looking for a new job....and if you are not good at your job, then that's something you should work to improve.

  • I wouldn't invite anyone else without talking to your boss first. If you just produce them at the game it will either imply that you didn't want to spend that much time alone with your boss, or worse, that you thought he would be no competition and you needed to add someone else to make it interesting. – Dragonel Feb 7 at 18:46
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You're looking at this wrong.

If the boss stinks, you can teach him while you're playing, and help him get better. If he loves golf, what do you think he will think about someone who will help him get better.

Play a few rounds with him, beat him, but only slightly, and coach him as much as you can. Say things like

Don't worry about my score, you want to beat yourself, not me.

Then be encouraging.

Set up the win-win whenever possible.

  • 13
    "...what do you think he will think about someone who will help him get better." He just might decide they are an arrogant jerk for presuming to tell him how to play. Everyone reacts differently; it depends on how open the boss is to such feedback. Your example verbiage sounds rather patronizing to me. If the boss is losing, that practically rubs their face in it. A far better tactic would be to find legitimate reasons to compliment them. – jpmc26 Feb 7 at 17:32
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    No, and neither is anyone else all the time (including you). Not everyone even acknowledges that the flaw of taking advice as criticism exists within themselves, much less deals with it well. It just depends. As a side note, there's a selection bias for commentary on SE: positive commentary is considered noise and thus forbidden. I've agreed with a number of your answers fully, but all you get is a silent upvote when that happens. – jpmc26 Feb 7 at 18:45
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    It is very poor golf etiquette to teach while playing golf. – CramerTV Feb 7 at 20:36
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    Whether or not this would go over well is pretty contingent on if the boss is competitive. The colleague, for example, would practically implode if OP approached that game this way, as in their head this is a competition and OP is his opponent. Once your opponent starts trying to help you, it's like saying "this isn't even a competition anymore," which could be received poorly. Hopefully the boss is more mature than that, in which case your advice is sound. I think it's just worth a disclaimer that OP should see how their boss views this game before taking this approach. – Lord Farquaad Feb 7 at 22:07
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    @jpmc26 not all positive noise is forbidden. It just has to have something of value to provide as input. For instance, saying that a certain point is good and that the user should expand on it further or that others should heavily focus on that sub point is positive commentary. Negative would be to say they are completely wrong about some other point. I've only ever seen positive commentary deleted when it was nothing more than a semi-generic post saying "thanks" or "looks nice". But your experience likely varies. – The Great Duck Feb 9 at 3:19
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First of all, golf is not about competing with other people unless you're playing for beers and you're of fairly equal ability. For me, I am always playing against myself. I am always trying to get to my low score. For someone to get mad because I play better than they do is not rational nor would they be living in reality.

So my suggestion is, before you go out, ask your boss what his handicap is, what he usually shoots, 80s, 90s, 100s, etc., or his lowest score. Then tell him what you usually shoot (since you said you don't have a handicap.) Then bid him well by saying, well, let's see if we can each beat our lowest scores.

It should not be a competition, it should be a social event where you talk and have some fun getting to know each other better.

I always play my best because I'm trying to improve. I'm not going to choose the wrong club or purposely slice a shot to make someone else feel better.

And honestly, I LOVE seeing someone get up there and hit a long, straight drive. It's admirable because this game is SO hard.

  • "First of all, golf is not about competing with other people..." That is a highly opinionated view which, as the OP's story about a previous colleague demonstrates, not everyone shares. Having that view is a good way to maintain sportsmanship, but not everyone does. – jpmc26 Feb 8 at 18:55
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    @jpmc26 While it is certainly true that not everyone shares that view unlike most other sports golf has always billed itself as a much more social game. It does have a (fairly good) handicapping system and is thus reasonably easy to play sort of competitively between unequal opponents and at least in some circles in the business community it is understood as a very social game. – DRF Feb 9 at 14:40
  • @jpmc26, You are right, of course - it is an opinion. But when it comes to living in the real world, "A man's got to know his limitations." ;) – CramerTV Feb 11 at 20:24
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"Be the best!" may be good when you apply it to yourself (sometimes not even there). When you apply it when you relate to others, it is the recipe for disaster, sooner or later. I tell you from my own experience. I train myself for several years already to control this drive, especially when relating to others, and my life improved dramatically. Nobody likes to admit defeat.

About your particular situation with the boss, you actually need to answer two questions.

  1. Will you go?

Since you made a reputation of a good golfer, and the invitation is a consequence of that, you should accept going. It is perfectly fine to negotiate a time frame which is convenient for you too.

  1. Will you try to win all games?

Since he is your boss, but especially because he is a beginner, it is honorable for you to to lower your skills to his. Examples:

a. If you play with a child, will you do your best to prove you are better?

b. If there is only one available chair in the bus, will you prove that you can run faster to get that char, before the slow old person has a chance to sit?

Bonus

  1. Will you beat him?

This is actually just a word play after "beating them at golf" - please take it as a friendly joke. No, you should not beat him, or anyone else :)

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It really depends on the person. I don't mind being beaten at a game, and in fact if I'm beaten badly it makes me want to keep going up against that person because I know it will improve me as a player and I enjoy the challenge. Plus, when I do eventually get a win it's a great feeling.

Your previous coworker is the opposite and would appear to prefer beating on those less skilled, but it's as likely that your current boss is the same as me.

You won't know which your boss is unless you ask your him, so I'd tell the boss straight out that I would enjoy a game or two, then express your reservations and relay your story to him. Let the boss make the decision.

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Ask for time off

Don't spread it around, only let your boss hear it's to attend the next PGA qualifier. Tell him you think it's silly, but the pro at your club is insisting you go. Talk like it's the stupidest thing you've ever heard and you're only doing it to shut the guy up.

Obviously don't go, later come up with a pretense to cancel, e.g. "I got a second opinion and my game isn’t that good”... the point is for the boss to hear that you are a serious golfer.

Or better yet, take the time and attend a conference on Imposter Syndrome.

I bet you don't get any more invitations to go golf.

Or if you do, the guy's eyes are wide open that he is outclassed, and so he won't be so surprised when you trounce him.

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You can avoid anything but a nice weekend of golf by having a positive, upbeat attitude. I don't recall a single golf trip I've been to where anyone even keeps scores, and I been to one with a person who partake in local competitions or whatever you call it in golf. He had to wait while we all caught up to him. He made it to the green and we were still way back, sometimes in the sandbunker.

Don't keep scores, stay positive, and talk about things other than your skills or their lack of.

If your boss insists on keeping scores or even having a friendly wager, just keep low profile about it. Be cool and be upbeat, and positive. Talk about anything but golf, your skills, his skills, or anything about the scoring or lack of.

I'm not at all good at my job, and I fear he will try to humiliate me in front of my colleagues.

I imagine with a poor attitude with golfing that if you play it like you're a champ, your boss will let you go. Why not instead use this opportunity to discuss your career and make friends with the boss while he catches up with you?

  • The attitude of treating the score as unimportant should be continued after the game. In talking about the outing at work, concentrate on the outdoor, out-of-the-office social aspects rather than who won. – Patricia Shanahan Feb 10 at 15:16
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The basic issue here is that the first golf match was (presumably) intended to be fun, for both competitors.

The loser did not have fun when being soundly beaten. Some people might still have fun in that situation, but from they way he behaved, he clearly did not. Equally, the OP probably didn't have much fun winning so easily, and it's hard to disguise that sort of emotional reaction.

In an ideal world, the best ending to the situation would probably be for both parties to admit that playing the game at all was a mistake, and get on with their lives, but the loser doesn't seem to have taken that attitude.

If you believe you are going to beat your boss by a similar margin, I would suggest that in itself is a sufficient reason to decline the invitation. There is nothing arrogant in pointing out your current handicap level, if it is "obvious" that it is wildly different from your boss, and to explain that you prefer to play with evenly matched or superior opponents, rather than "winning" a meaningless victory over a relative beginner. Of course if your boss still wants to go ahead, he can't say that you didn't warn him beforehand that he might lose every hole!

Here's an analogous personal anecdote: one of my work colleagues was a serious amateur cyclist until age took its toll on his abilities, and he is still heavily involved in the sport as a track marshal at an international-standard velodrome. If we have an "office bike ride" in summer, nobody expects him to join in, and nobody thinks he is arrogant not to do so. We just accept that he isn't "playing in the same league" as we are.

  • I don't think this really works for golf that well. While for cycling this might work well,(the difference means he's either gonna be stopping every 20 minutes or will leave the group) golf is specifically intended as a social game even for unequal opponents. There is a handicapping system to allow just that and even a rather large difference of abilities doesn't mean that the players can't have fun together on the course. Golf played the way recreational golf in business often is played is much more about the social part than the "sporting achievement". – DRF Feb 9 at 13:47

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