Par-lez Vous Golf? Here’s a Primer for Better Banter


Do you feel slightly awkward in professional or social settings when the conversation suddenly turns to golf?

No need. Really. In fact, among the major worldwide sports, you probably “talk golf” more than the others, without even knowing it.

After all, you needn’t own a set of sticks (golf clubs) to weave golf phrases like “tee off,” “par for the course,” “hole in one,” “back nine” and “playing through” into everyday conversation. You may even have a caddy on your office desk, though it’s unlikely to be as weather-beaten as the real deal.

Knowing a bit more about the nomenclature of the game Mark Twain once described as “a good walk spoilt” can not only improve your participation in golf chitchat; it may also inspire you to take a swing at the game yourself!

Golf 101: The goal of golf is to use long, angled irons and woods (clubs) and a straightforward putter to drive a hard composite ball from tee (starting point) into the cup or hole (marked by flagstick) using the fewest strokes (whacks). Between tee and green, the fairway (groomed middle path) offers the preferred route, while the rough (unkempt sides), bunkers (sand traps) and water hazards (streams, ponds, oceans) are to be avoided.

A round of golf consists of 18 holes; the front nine and the back nine. The scoring goal of each hole and round is to match or beat par, the hole/course standard. As play proceeds, a player’s stroke total typically varies between even (par) and the number of accumulated strokes over or under par, shortened to 1-over, 2-under, etc.

Single-hole subpar totals fall into four categories: birdie (1-under), eagle (2-under), the rare double eagle or albatross (3-under), and ace (hole in one). Above-par totals run single bogey (1-over), double bogey (2-over), triple bogey (3-over) and blowup (anything worse).

The swing: All golf swings, from the drive off the tee to the putt on the green, consist of a backswing and a follow-through. If you’re right-handed and your shot veers right, you’ve sliced it; if it veers left, you’ve pulled it. The reverse holds for lefties. If your shot digs up an oversized clump or divot, you’ve chunked it, aka hit a fat shot. Conversely, if you didn’t get enough club under the ball, you’ve hit a thin shot. If you miss the ball completely, you’ve fanned or whiffed it.

The pros: Namedropping any of today’s top players may spark a digression into golf chat. On the men’s PGA tour, Australian Jason Day, Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy and 22-year-old Dallas phenom Jordan Spieth have been volleying the #1 world ranking amongst themselves, while first-name-basis stars Tiger (Woods) and Phil (Mickelson) battle their physical and financial demons. On the women’s LPGA tour, American stars Stacy Lewis and Lexi Thompson battle a talented international field that includes Lydia Ko, Inbee Park, Brooke Henderson and Sei Young Kim.

Know your nicknames: Though it’s fallen out of fashion today, the sport once crowned the world’s best golfers with crazy nicknames. The King (not-so-crazy for Arnold Palmer), the Squire (Gene Sarazen, for his suits), the Black Knight (Gary Player, for his golf attire) and the Golden Bear (blondie Jack Nicklaus) top the legend list. Lefty (Phil Mickelson) and Tiger (you knew his name is Eldrick Woods, right?) may be the last of the nicknamed set, at least for now.

Catch phrases: The humor in golf is the secret ingredient that makes the game such a conversation starter. Drop any of these five classic golf phrases at your next break to round up your own golf foursome:

  • Foot wedge: This is like a pitching wedge, the club players use to chip out of trouble, minus the club. Desperate players will sometimes employ their shoe to nudge their ball to a better lie (no pun intended).
  • Wormburner: A golf shot hit so poorly that it barely clears the grass beneath it.
  • The yips: Golfers who fidget, constantly reset their stance, step back from the ball several times to reassess their aim and generally appear uneasy to hit are said to be suffering a case of the yips.
  • Afraid of the dark: a putt that refuses to drop into the cup.
  • Nineteenth hole: First stop after the last hole is traditionally the clubhouse bar, where friendly rivals commiserate over the couldas, wouldas and shouldas of their round.
Jay MacDonald

Jay MacDonald

Jay MacDonald is an award-winning journalist, author and blogger who incorporates humor and human interest into a broad range of topics. Follow him on Twitter @omnisaurus

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