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.)