Speaking Of The Unspoken Rules Of Golf

Posted on by Ben Bryant WGCA contributing writer

Twenty-two-year-old Jon Rahm came into the U.S. Open last June as a low-key favorite to win the tournament. The Spanish pro has been a rising star since joining the tour only a year ago, and some saw the U.S. Open as his opportunity to make a big splash on the world stage.  Instead, he spent most of his time at the tournament apologizing for his on-course behavior.  Rahm committed just about every cardinal sin a player can commit on the course: club throwing, cursing at fans, and at one point he even threw a bunker rake and punched a tee marker.  It was a classic tantrum.  As a professional player, Rahm should know better.  Unfortunately, (or fortunately if you like YouTube compilations of such things), he’s not the only tour player to have meltdowns in major tournaments.  But regardless of the level of competition, here are some of the behaviors on the course that are just unacceptable:

Club breaking/throwing

Probably everyone who has spent a great deal amount of time on the golf course has broken a club. Golf can be frustrating at times and we tend to take out our frustration on the closest thing at hand (or in-hand in this case).  But there are few behaviors more embarrassing than breaking a club.  It means not only are you playing poorly, but you’ve lost control of your emotions.  It can also be an expensive outburst. Not only will you need to replace that club, but USGA Rule 4-3 prohibits replacing a club that was broken in anger. As an example to go alongside Jon Rahm, Henrik Stenson has gained a reputation for club breaking. It’s a reputation he’s likely not proud of.

Screaming or excessive cursing – especially when others are hitting

Golf is a game that requires great concentration.  Silence is a big part of that.  So, there are few things worse than when you’re paired with someone who won’t stop shouting or cursing.  Being loud and obnoxious violates everyday social norms, but it’s especially bad on the golf course where silence is part of the unwritten etiquette of the game.  Excessive cursing often dovetails with the club-breaking behavior from above.  It’s a childish reaction by someone who doesn’t know how to control their own frustration.  There are myriad examples of embarrassing situations involving even tour players, but a particular episode starring Tiger Woods at the 2015 Masters, which features an expletive and a mini club throw comes to mind.

Drinking to excess

It’s one of life’s great pleasures to head out on the golf course with some close friends on a Saturday morning and have a drink or two.  It might be that you bring your own flask with your favorite spirit, or perhaps the beverage cart has your favorite beer.  In any case, it’s generally fine to have a drink or two during a friendly round of golf.   But no one wants to be around the guy who falls over trying to tee up his ball on the sixth hole.  Drinking to excess on the golf course is just extremely bad judgment.  Just like the first two behaviors, drinking to excess shows a lack of control.  Just don’t do it.

Damaging the green

The putting green is the most delicate and difficult to maintain part of any golf course.  The USGA has an entire section of rules dedicated ball mark repair and hole maintenance.  Rahm, as part of his epic outburst, slammed his putter into the green on several occasions.  It’s interesting that there isn’t a penalty for this specific behavior.  But it’s very poor sportsmanship to damage the green in any way.  That might be running on the green (especially with spikes on), taking divots, smashing your clubhead into the green, or standing on your putter (my 8-year-old self still remembers being yelled at for this one).


Of all the behaviors discussed so far, this one is likely the worst.  Golf is meant to be a game of integrity.  Cheating on your scorecard or not taking a penalty when one is warranted is about the most egregious thing a player can do on the course.  When a golfer lies, they’re not only degrading themselves, but demeaning the game of golf.  It’s said that you can learn a lot about a person by playing golf with them.  Lying or cheating will definitely reveal a lot about what type of person a player is.


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