Foursomes: the Joy of Hitting Half the Shots

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The great British golf correspondent Henry Longhurst once recounted (with disapproval) an old joke about a golfer who was “alternately playing and kicking his ball” because he was “practicing for the mixed foursomes.” Longhurst loved foursomes—in which two golfers take turns playing the same ball, a game that in this country is better known as “Scotch foursomes” or “alternate shot”—and he especially loved mixed foursomes, in which each team consists of a man and a woman. I don’t know many golfers who would agree. But I do understand what he meant.

The first time I played nine holes in 36 strokes, I did it in a Memorial Day mixed-foursome event, as the partner of the wife of a friend of mine. We didn’t look like a promising team. Her handicap was 45 or 50, and we had never played together before, and my swing hadn’t fully thawed from a long, snowy winter. We teed off with no expectation of doing well. After three or four holes, though, I realized that we had made only pars. When my partner hit a bad shot, I somehow followed it with a great one, and when I left a 20-foot putt five feet short, she somehow stuffed it in the hole. We double-bogeyed the sixth, a par-four, despite having been 12 feet from the cup in two, but we closed with a chip-in birdie on the ninth. We won both gross and net by a shocking number of shots.

How had we managed to play so much better as a team than either of us was then capable of playing alone? The answer, I think, is that foursomes can fool you into playing golf the way great competitors do instinctively. When you stand over a bunker shot in a foursomes match, your arms don’t tense up with embarrassment and regret, because it wasn’t your slice that put you in the sand. And when you line up a six-foot putt, you don’t panic, because you know the come-backer, if there is one, won’t be your responsibility. In foursomes, you can only be a hero. The problems you are asked to solve are not problems that you yourself created, and if you make a mess someone else has to clean it up. You focus only on the task at hand—just as Bob Rotella says you should.

(None of this applies to married couples, who bicker like tennis players. Best advice: play with a stranger.)

3 thoughts on “Foursomes: the Joy of Hitting Half the Shots

  1. My life-long golfing buddy and I have had a lot of success in the foursomes part of a four Country Club competition. Not many guys cared for the format but we embraced it and had a great track record as a result.
    We realized early on that our bad shot had to be righted by our teammate so one of our main rules was the ‘sorry’ rule. We just wouldn’t say it.
    Many stories abound but I’ll share one of my favorites:
    I’ve hit a good drive but the ball is above my partners feet. He proceeds to hit a Really big hook down into the adjacent fairway. It’s 40 feet below the green and blocked out by trees. I look at my partner and said, “Got any ideas?” His comeback line, now famous, was, “Impress me.”

  2. Folks, as much as I love the Scots for inventing golf, shame on them for foursomes. With a limited amount of time – and money – for golf, the last thing I want to do is play half a round of golf.

    Yes, there are challenges, and it is great for an occasional club tournament (once partnered for a 31 on the the toughest 9 at our club). We play it only as part of an annual 27-hole one-day event.

    But for me, golf is a personal challenge, an opportunity for me to play well (or not). That means playing my own ball.

    Bless those who enjoy foursomes, and bless those (me) who don’t.

  3. I’ve always loved the format and I, too, have played better because of it. However, Bob (often called, “Bobby”) Jones commented that foursomes at match play, the morning format during Walker Cup matches, created more pressure–and guilt–on the player. Please refer to the late Herbert Warren Wind’s tome American Championship Golf for Jones’ exact words on the subject.

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