In depth: playing through

ONE of the many unwritten rules of golf etiquette, 'playing through' allows the game to be played in good spirit. Or so you'd think.

THE rules of golf don’t mention anything about playing through. It’s merely one of the many unwritten rules of golf etiquette that allow the game to be played in good spirit and enjoyed at a reasonable pace. Or so you’d think.

‘Playing through’ allows the quicker group behind to play through the slower group in front. This doesn’t necessarily mean the group in front are playing slow, as the group behind may simply be faster golfers or have fewer players than the group in front. 

But problems can arise when the group in front are playing slowly, think they are being accused of playing slowly, or feel hassled by the group behind.

Take the 72nd hole of the 2014 US PGA Championship as an example.

The combination of bad weather and bad management meant players were scrambling to finish their final 18 holes before dark. But it’s amazing what the threat of a Monday finish can do because, despite the major prize on the line, the pace of play was much quicker than usual. 

Rory McIlroy wrestled control of the tournament and arrived at the dimly lit 18th hole two shots clear of the field.

In the group ahead, Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson agreed that McIlroy and his playing partner, Bernd Wiesberger, could tee off before they played their second shots, ensuring all players would complete their rounds before sunset.

McIlroy Dark

But Mickelson and Fowler weren’t overly happy when officials advised them that McIlroy would play his approach shot to the green before they holed out. While this might not seem to be a huge issue, McIlroy may have played the hole differently had he been witness to a Fowler or Mickelson eagle.

"It's not a big deal either way," an agitated Mickelson said after the round. He was right, but it shows that hitting up on the group in front or playing through is as awkward in the professional world as it can be in the hacker golf world.

Things always seem to get tense when the group behind asks for permission to play through the group in front, no matter how friendly the request.

I’ve seen arguments break out when the group in front refuses to budge despite being a good hole or two behind the group in front. I’ve felt the tension in the air when the group behind makes the request when the whole field is backed up and no space to ‘play through’ into.

Needless to say, if the group does eventually play through, then you could cut the tension with a lob wedge as golfers rush to hit putts and tee off in front of an angry, silent foursome. 

Today Would Be Nice

But even the amicable act of playing through feels awkward.

Trying to putt out in front of six or seven golfers can be a daunting and scampering experience - not to mention the drive off the next tee. It feels as though any bad shots will be met with a roll of the eyes and whispers of “What have we done? We’ve let this guy through?”

I’ve always felt the most awkward as the single golfer playing through a group of four. Each time I feel like a sober person trying to sneak out of a nightclub, knowing that it’s best if I simply get out of the way. 

In all cases of playing through, it works best if it’s at the invitation of the group in front. Keep an eye on the groups behind and in front of yours, and extend the offer to the group behind if you’re the ones hindering others from playing faster golf and getting to the 19th hole in good time. 

The game is hard enough without playing in the midst of some silly fairway feud.

About the author:

Michael Green

Michael Green founded AussieGolfer.com.au - Australia's #1 golf blog - in 2007, is a member of The Australian Golf Writers Association and has covered some of Australia's biggest golf tournaments, including the Australian Open, the Presidents Cup and World Cup of Golf.

Michael began playing golf as a 10-year-old in Adelaide where his father introduced him to the game.

He has managed to maintain a single-figure handicap while studying, living and working abroad and keeping a close eye on his three children.

Michael has a PhD in Physics and when not writing about golf, he continues to work in medical research in Sydney.

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