Sticking up for Yourself?

Other than at work, most guys would rather put their hand into a burning flame than tell another man what to do.

Even if it’s couched as a polite ask. And even if whatever the other man is doing is bugging the hell out of us. We suck at speaking up for ourselves.

It happens in golf all the time. Let’s say you’re setting up to putt, and you notice that a member of your group is standing behind you on your line. He’s gathering intel on how his ball may roll.

You think about asking him to move because you can see him in your peripheral vision. He’s distracting. But you rationalize that the guy is a novice, and he just doesn’t know any better.

Even though it bothers you, and you’re thinking about how it bothers you, you putt anyway. * Maybe you make it, but most times I’ll bet you miss. You were distracted—likely because you were thinking about trying not to be distracted.

And then you get angry. You might be angry with the interloper, but you’re likely angry with yourself. You know you should have asked him to move. 

You let yourself down—again. Guys talk loudly on the tee while you’re getting ready to swing, but you proceed anyway. Or someone doesn’t mark his ball, and the gleaming white orb is clearly in your vision. Someone’s music is infiltrating your consciousness. Someone’s putrid 80s hairband music!

Even though we’re clearly distracted and even irked, we don’t say anything.

Even though a non-threatening request sweetened with ‘please’ and a self-deprecating joke about how you can hear a fly fart from half a mile away would easily do the trick, you don’t.

We don’t advocate for ourselves. Instead, we try to ‘suck it up’ or ‘power through.’


We’re afraid. That we’ll be judged. As pompous. Sensitive. Fussy. Weak. A dick.

And we sure don’t want conflict, create a situation, or to develop a reputation.

‘O’Connor is such a dick to play with. He was telling me and Charlie where to stand. Get over yourself and hit the f***ing ball.’

So, you don’t take the risk. There is a payoff; you avoid being judged. Your nice guy facade is maintained. Your flaws and faux pas won’t become fodder for guys to guffaw over with their beers. But maybe they talk about you anyway.

There’s also a cost. You’ll likely play crappy golf, and you won’t enjoy yourself.

But there’s a greater cost: By failing to stand up for yourself, you are screwing yourself over. And you’re giving other people permission to screw you over.

And you not only suffer in the moment, but you also create future suffering—from resentment. You may feel wronged. That you’re a victim. That you got the short end of the stick. Again. 

So, you brood over it, not unlike when the schoolyard bully knocked you over, and you lay there rather than risk greater humiliation or pain. Later, you replayed it in your mind,  ‘I shudda … ‘ But it’s too late.

Most of us are aware of toxic relationships where people don’t say what needs to be said, and their resentment grows as does their list of grievances.

Whether we’re talking about two guys on a green, or a couple in the kitchen, what we’re dealing with is fear: Fear of speaking your truth. Fear that someone will think and say bad things about you, and you’ll pay a huge price.

Here’s the thing: You have zero control over what anyone thinks about you. 

If we have no control over what people think about us, it’s stupid to worry about it. I know … we worry anyways. We’re humans. We’re flawed. 

We also make faulty assumptions that people waste a second thinking about us. When we’re directed, asked or given some advice, most people think about themselves. If someone asks me to, say, move out of his vision, my first thought is along the lines of: ‘I should have known I was distracting. Why didn’t I realize it?  I hope I didn’t bug him.’ 

In my experience, most people won’t judge you for speaking your truth. They might even appreciate it and thank you, or just go along with it because it’s the right thing to do.

Or they might think you’re a jerk. If someone judges you for making a simple request or for holding a boundary, well, that’s up to them. You have no power over what they think.

But you do have the power to stand up for yourself.

Maybe it’s because I turned 65 this year, but I had a few interesting exchanges on the course this season.

At least twice in two different rounds, I said something like, ‘Can you move so you’re not standing in my line of sight. It’s distracting.’ One fellow, a relatively new player, said: “I didn’t know that. Now I do. Thanks.” 

I played in a two-am team event. As we got to the first tee, our partners asked, “Do you mind if we played music?” I said, “Sorry, we don’t like music on the course.” Yup, it was an awkward start to the round, but we all had a nice time anyway.

On a windy day, a fellow held the flagstick while the flag noisily flapped. I said, “I’ll give you a caddie tip from eons ago. If you hold the flag, it doesn’t make noise.” He thanked me.

Maybe I now have a reputation as the crusty overly sensitive old guy at our club. Maybe not. I don’t know.

Making requests like these still feels uncomfortable. I am afraid of getting burned, but that feeling tells me I’m doing exactly what I need to.

I’m not advocating that you start ordering people around to fit your vision of an ideal world.

I’m inviting you to advocate for yourself, defend your boundaries, and speak your truth—when it’s appropriate. Living like a victim or in fear is no way to live. Brooding and feeling resentful sucks.

Being authentic to your values, desires and what you believe in feels good.

Besides, if you don’t stand up for yourself, who will?

*Golf performance coach Joseph Parent says that if you are uncomfortable or unfocused and you hit a shot anyway, you’ve hit what he calls an “anyway.” Most anyways lead to bad shots.

About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf coach, an award-winning writer, and speaker. Tim takes a holistic approach, coaching golfers in the physical and mental aspects of golf. He co-hosts the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman, and is the author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. He plays bass in CID—a Guelph punk band!


  1. This is the best golf article I have ever read. I can not thank you enough. People look at me cockeyed when I ask them not to stand down the line of a putt. They don’t know about the etiquette or the rules of the game. I find it very sad and don’t speak up sometimes, but as you said, If I don’t, it will still bother me and I get upset and miss the putt. Talking as well when you hit, ladies will say I thought you couldn’t hear well, when I told them they distracted me. It doesn’t matter what my hearing problem is, It is rude and they are not helping by not seeing the ball either to speed up play. I know it is just a game, but I paid my money to enjoy myself as well. I wish I could just pray that what comes around goes around, but that doesn’t work. There are only two pages to the etiquette under the Rules of Golf. I wish people would read it.

    • Mary … Many thx for the kind words. It is amazing to me how much we will allow people to screw us over by not asking for what we want or need. Indeed, many people just don’t know basic etiquette, or they are painfully short on awareness. By telling someone what I need, I’ll take care of myself, but I’ll often increase someone else’s awareness. And if that didn’t happen, and they tell us to go to hell, or call us names … well, that’s the way it goes. At least you spoke your truth. And to me, that counts for a lot.

  2. Golf clap!!!! Yes to all of this. Play with guys that love music and talking, I took it as a challenge to focus, and control what I can control. This summer standing over a 3 wood, should have backed off but didn’t. Snap hooked OB, made triple, I didn’t say a word, didn’t react. Next tee, guy who was talking says “that’s not like you, what happened there”? I said, since you asked, I should have backed off, because you were talking, and that’s on me. Then, I asked him one question that silenced him for the rest of the summer, “have you ever noticed how quiet it is when it’s your turn to hit? That’s all I’m asking for”. It was awkward, for the remaining holes, but worth ever second of it!!

    Great content pal! Keep it up

    • Thx Tom … What a wonderful anecdote. I love how you owned it–that you took responsibility for not backing off. I believe firmly that I am responsible for my actions and their consequences, intended and unintended. (Thank you ManKind Project for that definition.) You took responsibility for not asking for what you needed, and the OB shot. And then you took the risk to speak your truth, although I’m thinking we take more risks when we’re freaking pissed off. And whammy, you got what you wanted. It doesn’t always work out that way, but I believe it’s far to take the risk of speaking my truth than to bury it. Thx again and take care

  3. Great article. I am one who finds it challenging to stand up for myself on the golf course. What I do when someone is standing behind me on the tee, is to tee my ball, and then walk backwards and then start a practice swing, with an apologetic, “Woops, Sorry.” They get the message without having to be told. On putts, I simply ask, “Do you mind standing out of my view, please?” When said without anger, just matter of factly, they don’t feel I’m angered by their position and they are happy to move.