When you get paired with a stranger on the first tee, do you ever casually check out the contents of his golf bag to learn a little something about the guy? Sure, it's superficial. And yes, there are always exceptions. But you can often learn something about people by what they choose to put in their golf bags.
There are danger signs that you should be aware of. Slow play and other irritations could foul up that round you've been waiting for.
Number One: The One-Brander
These folks show up at the first tee with matching bag, clubs, towel, golf hat, and probably boxers, too. There's a little too much coordination going on for comfort (a related disorder is the tendency to color-coordinate everything in and on the bag). These people form their own subgroup of the OCG afflicted. There are two kinds of people who play a whole bag of same brand: those who have found everything they need in a single brand (it happens), and those who want everything to match. If the case at hand is one of the latter, you could be in for a long round, indeed.
People who feel compelled to get a full set of one brand just to match probably are more concerned with appearances than substance. They put more value on the trophy courses they have played than the scores they shot on them.
There is definitely a whole range of possibilities for the one-brand phenomenom. If someone shows up with a whole bag of Titleist, Mizuno, Srixon, or TaylorMade, things are more than likely going to be OK. Sure, some bad golfers carry good clubs, but just in case, you might want to keep the stakes low. At any rate, with clubs like these they probably play enough to be able to get around the course without causing too much interruption to your round.
But if every club in the bag is Dunlap, Maxfli, or even Wilson (not "Staff"), chances are you are in for one of those days that test the limits of your patience.
Number Two: The Longest Club in the Bag is a Ball Retriever
There are three kinds of people who carry ball retrievers.
Some people carry them so that they can retrieve their own occasional shots that trundle off the fairway into the shallows of a pond or into a tangle of brambles. These people are, for the most part, okay. They tend to carry rather unobtrusive telescoping models, and may even produce them to helpfully fish out your errant shot from time to time.
The second kind of person is the misguided soul who thinks he can use the fully extended length of the retriever to get an extra advantage out of those one and two club length drops. Sorry buddy, a retriever is not a club.
That brings us to ballus shagahawkus… the common ball hawk. These folks can't bear the thought of parting with their $20 a dozen Noodles. They positively coo when they find a Pro V1. They gauge their rounds by the total number of balls they find, the brands of tour balls they find, and how many of those are "practically brand new."
When a cart pulls up with a ball retriever extending above it like a radio whip on an Army Hummer, you know you're in trouble. I'm convinced these folks like to hit it in the deep stuff because it gives them an excuse to look for other balls. They patrol the shores of course lakes like anglers searching out an elusive trout. They spend an awful lot of their time on the golf course not golfing. Good luck.
Sure, I've seen good players with ball retrievers and bad players with ball retrievers, and I really don't have a problem with ball retirevers. Just don't make a career out of finding balls on a course while you play your round. Losing a ball isn't nearly as bad as ruining the round of those behind you with extensive ball hawking.
Number Three: Club Brands Edwin Watts Has Never Heard Of
Some people play build them yourself clubs because they enjoy tinkering with golf equipment. They like begin able to customize all of their clubs to their own games. And let's face it. Most build-it-yourself components are less expensive than their OEM counterparts.
There are some very good components out there. Club heads made by Wishon, SMT, Alpha, Geek Golf, and others are sometimes as good or even better than those made by the big name brands, at substantial savings generally. And there are no stock shafts with components. You can pick exactly what you want to go into that club.
The thing to watch out for is clones. Clones are almost always inferior to even middle-of-the-road name brands. Clone clubheads are made to look like name brands, but often lack the features that make the name brand clubs popular. Like the worst of the one-brand bag practicioners, people who play clones usually are seeking the appearance of a certain name brand club, but in this case they don't want to pay the price of the name brand. They may even feel that their game doesn't merit that kind of outlay.
Number Four: A Chip Off the Old Block
What's that odd looking club in that guy's bag? A chipper? Maybe I should go mow the lawn instead of play.
What's wrong with a chipper? Not that much really provided it only has one face, but chances are you already have virtually the same club in your bag already. Most chippers have a loft equal to your seven, eight, or nine iron. Why buy a club that you already own?
OK, chipper lovers, I know sometimes a club just sets up right for you. If you truly use a putting stroke to chip, a chipper does make some sense. Just please get yourself a one-sided chipper and keep yourself legal. Two-sided clubs, like many chippers, are non-conforming. If you're going to play golf, play by the rules. Otherwise it's not golf.
Number Five: Mr. Exact Yardage
Have you ever played with someone who labors to find the exact yardage? Maybe he carries a GPS or laser with him to consult. But then disbelieving the yardage it gives, he still wanders off to find a mark and walk off the yardage to double-check. Then perhaps takes another reading with the laser or GPS in case the yardage has changed since that first reading.
Just hit the ball! Most amateurs don't control their distance to the point to make exact yardages necessary. Many people play by feel alone… looking at the pin and grabbing the club that feels right. Even if you don't play by feel, as long as you get a number with about three yards (maybe even five yards), you'll probably get around the course pretty much as well as you would with exact yardage. Sometimes you'll catch it flush and hit it farther than usual. Sometimes you'll miss the sweetspot and come up short.
Getting a fairly accurate yardage is important, but it can be attained much quicker than many of us do it today. If you're walking, find a mark as you're approaching your ball and step off the yards it takes to reach the ball. Then just subtract your count from the mark you passed. Take into account the pin position and the elements, and you should be ready to pick a club and fire.
Photo Credits: © No Three Putts.