The Unwritten Rules of Doubles

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The Unwritten Rules of Doubles

Postby Mark Ellis » Sat Jan 26, 2013 6:27 am

Random draw doubles leagues and tournaments are common because they are fun and social. But like so many things in life there is an art to being successful in the process. Usually no one will tell you that the keys to having fun and playing well involve understanding and following the social and competitive interaction rules with your partner and group which could be called: the Unwritten Rules of Doubles.

Every player coming to the event has individual strengths and weaknesses, both in terms of skill in the game and skill (or value) in social interaction. In other words a player can be a benefit or a disadvantage to a team in terms of 2 very distinct considerations: scoring well and having fun.

Most of us have heard the phrase, the most fun wins. There is truth in this theory. I have won and not had much fun (though rare because winning by itself gives a measure of fun) and lost and had a great time.

Through the years and through hundreds of events I have been anywhere from the weakest to the strongest player present (in terms of skill or handicap ratings) and have drawn as a partner anywhere from the weakest to the strongest partners. Most experienced players have been in all the various roles from time to time.

A common situation is a top player draws one of the relatively weakest players in the field. It doesn't matter how good the top player is in terms of world rankings, just in terms of the players present. Usually the top player is more experienced in the game and better known socially in the group. At the draw the top player is at least somewhat disappointed (he could have drawn another top player) and the low player is excited or happy or scared (depending on their psyche).

Of course, both players have duties to make the team successful and the social duties fall on the top player as strongly as on the low player. Many top players don't understand this and get less help from their partners because of it. But lets start with the low player as they are often the ones who least understand their roles.

Rules for the Low Player:

Stay Positive
Don't Distract your own Partner
Help the Team a Little Bit
Figure out your Partner's Idiosyncrasies (individual weird tendencies)


Rules for the Top Player

Stay Positive
Figure out how to get a Little Bit of Help from your Partner
Carry the Team

When I draw the raw newbie (which is pretty easy to figure out, btw) I often tell them they only have two duties: Stay behind me when I am shooting and pick up the disc or mini if they shoot last. Many are incapable of doing these things, of course. :D

STAY POSITIVE Sometimes my partner is freaked out because they feel a lot of pressure to perform with a good partner. Some never recover from this the whole round. Some start out shaky and play great by the end. The Low Player should understand it is not their role to carry the team. If they only contribute a little bit it may the difference between cashing and not. Their job is to help the team and the first step to this is to stay positive. Keep trying. Don't give up. Don't look or act or talk to walk like you are giving up. Good competitors not only make good shots they look and act like winners. The first step in being a winner is looking like one. Adopt the posture and walk of confidence. Don't let a disappointing shot or series of shots change you outwardly.

DON'T DISTRACT YOUR OWN PARTNER Few Amateurs understand how different the custom of courtesy is between Amateurs and Pros. Not just Low Amateurs or Newbies, MOST Amateurs have poor courtesy by the standards of Pros who regularly play tournaments. I admit I am too sensitive to this but I am most upset BY MY OWN PARTNER who can't get out of the way and stop making noise while I am shooting. So a lower player reading this should at least understand that some top players may be crazily sensitive to noise and movement. Here is the simple rule: If someone is shooting make no noise or visible movement. Don't cough. Don't scratch. Don't slap a mosquito. As soon as someone steps up to a shot, especially your partner, stop everything until they release the shot.

Many players reading think this advice does not apply to them. I wish everyone could play a round with picky Pros to learn how exacting the Pros can be with courtesy. To be good at courtesy you have to pay attention and anticipate who is taking the next shot from where and move efficiently to be behind shooters or behind trees and learn how to be a statue. At bare minimum after you putt and miss, move behind the lie before your partner putts. Stay out of his sight line and keep quiet.

HELP OUT THE TEAM A LITTLE BIT If the team uses the Low Player's shots a few times in the round the Low Player did his job. If the Low Player throws safe shots in high danger situations (tight tunnel drives or risky putts with drop offs or upshots with close OB, etc.) this allows the Top Player to throw aggressively. You want the top player to throw aggressively. Even if a low player lacks great skill they can still play smart and be a great benefit. On how many holes would a drive which only goes 100 feet but stays in the middle of the fairway assure a par for the team? So rather than throw a hard but low percentage drive on a tight hole just lay it up and allow the Top Player to run it.

Don't try to copy the Top Player's lines if you don't have that kind of power or control. Play within yourself. It is the job of the Low Player to give the team a par. It is the job of the Top Player to give the team a birdie. Know your role. Do your job.

FIGURE OUT YOUR PARTNER'S IDIOSYNCRASIES We all are bit weird. Smart people are perceptive and learn to adapt quickly. The Low Player should try to figure out his partner and coax out the best shots from them.

I'm out of time. In the next post I will deal with the Top Player's Rules and maybe tackle other dynamics.
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Re: The Unwritten Rules of Doubles

Postby Hoey » Sat Jan 26, 2013 9:12 am

that's good stuff Mark!
Throw discs, and forget about life for awhile...
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Re: The Unwritten Rules of Doubles

Postby Monocacy » Sat Jan 26, 2013 10:12 am

One of the first times I played doubles my partner, a solid player, was relentlessly positive and encouraging. The result was that I had a great round – putted lights-out, kept most of my drives in the fairway, etc. We came in second, just losing out to a much more talented team.

A few weeks later I drew one of the top players in the area. He did not make much effort to hide his disappointment in drawing a newb. On the first hole, we both missed an uphill 30-footer for birdie, and he pretty much gave up. Needless to say, my play suffered.

If my partner is a significantly better player I usually offer to drive first. That way, I can do as Mark said – take the safe shot – freeing my partner to do great things. :lol:
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Re: The Unwritten Rules of Doubles

Postby dehaas » Sat Jan 26, 2013 11:12 am

my local club runs a random draw doubles on sundays and a singles handicap league on wednesdays. my work schedule won't let me make the singles league, so most of my play at this point is best shot doubles. there's definitely a different style or mentality when playing with a partner. if i draw somebody who hasn't been playing very long, i let them shoot first on every shot. i guess i see that as my way of putting the smallest amount of pressure on them as possible. if they shank a shot i can lay up, and if they're safe i can take the risky shot. this is especially important putting...let them take the 35 footer for par save first instead of them getting nervous because i just chained out on the putt. if i draw somebody that's at my level or better than me i think figuring out a rhythm that works is the route to go. sometimes you walk up to a certain teebox or putt and know you're in the zone, and i try to encourage that person to take the first shot. if they're feeling it go knock it down. kind of like in basketball, keep feeding the ball to the hot hand on the floor.

what i like best about playing doubles is that the pair with the 2 best players a lot of the time doesn't win, or at least in my league it doesn't. whichever team has the best chemistry during the round and can bail out bad shots has just as good of a shot to win.
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Re: The Unwritten Rules of Doubles

Postby discmonkey42 » Sat Jan 26, 2013 2:28 pm

At our local doubles, there's a guy there that's pretty much top 3 if not the best person there. He has the same advice for all of his partners when partnered with a lower level player.

"You putt first every hole. I don't care if you don't make a single putt. Your job is to never miss short or low. You do that and we have a great chance to win."
He follows that up with a lot of attaboys and encouragement.

It takes so much pressure off the other player. It sets them up for easy victories. And more often than not they make a few key putts. The confidence gained there always transfers over to the next couple of holes. His partners usually play above their norm because they have him as a partner. And he cashes a lot.

The other guys who basically throw a fit when they get a lower level player almost never cash unless they get paired with another top tier player.
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Re: The Unwritten Rules of Doubles

Postby Torg » Sat Jan 26, 2013 6:39 pm

Wow, everyone I have ever partnered with has insisted on taking turns off the box and then having the person whose shot you don't use go first on the follow-up. I wish I could find a person who let me drive first every hole. Even going last on every hole would be good. Not having to think about whose turn it is would help my consistency.
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Re: The Unwritten Rules of Doubles

Postby Mark Ellis » Sun Jan 27, 2013 6:05 am

Torg wrote:Wow, everyone I have ever partnered with has insisted on taking turns off the box and then having the person whose shot you don't use go first on the follow-up. I wish I could find a person who let me drive first every hole. Even going last on every hole would be good. Not having to think about whose turn it is would help my consistency.


Switching on drives (Odds and Evens) never made sense to me. I know it is common but the only advantage I can see is it gives the impression the teammates are equal. The disadvantage is it takes away from the strategical advantage offered by other methods. Oh, and I can never remember whose tee it is. I don't think of holes by their tee number and a lot of times there are no tee signs.

My favorite strategy works best when the team has one righty dominant driver and one lefty and is called Clean Up. The name is a baseball analogy where the best hitter bats 4th in the lineup so he can knock in a bunch of runs. In Clean Up the team looks at each hole and decides which driver it favors, who then tees last. The Clean Up driver can watch his partner's drive and decide how aggressive to be. Clean Up also works if you have one power driver and one control driver.

Generally in an unbalanced team (Low Player and Top Player) the Low Player throws first every time (putts and upshots too). This lets the Low Player have a better chance of helping the team and not be under pressure with the Top Player backing him up.

A common strategy for me is Flow. In Flow whichever teammate feels like driving 1st does so. Once the team is scoring well usually we keep the same order. If the team hits a lull we switch order.

My buddy Mike Raley uses a strategy where you compete with your partner for tee honors. Honors are determined by whose drive the team used on the previous hole. Mike, who is almost always the Top Player on a team, might do this just to rub in his contributions. :shock: Anyway I'm not sure I like to create any internal competition on a team.

Putting is the most important shot, in doubles just like in singles. If my partner has a clear preference I'm happy to go with that because putting is mostly above the shoulders. My favorite is Putt The Others ( my drive you putt, your drive I putt). This rewards a player for a great drive. The partner goes to clean it up, the driver can saunter to the next tee.
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Re: The Unwritten Rules of Doubles

Postby Mark Ellis » Thu Jan 31, 2013 7:52 am

Rules for the Top Player

Stay Positive
Figure out how to get a Little Bit of Help from your Partner
Carry the Team

STAY POSITIVE

It is always easier to make rules for other people rather than yourself. :shock: So this post opens up self reflection and the conclusion that I am not always good at following my own rules. Sometimes I suck at the emotional control of the game as I get too upset with my own failures and too angry over strings of bad luck. It is one thing to allow your own head to harm your game if you are playing singles-you only harm yourself- but in doubles you have an obligation to your team.

An odd thing is that sometimes when I get pissed with my performance that anger spurs me to play well. If you get on a roll while playing mad it encourages you to stay mad and keep throwing. I have been in those situations and made some really good shots and refused to let them improve my mood. I have thrown aces and given no reaction beyond disgust at my earlier ineffectiveness. This can freak out my playing group with me scowling after an ace.

In the last couple months I have been studying sports psychology books and getting better at controlling anger. As a general rule anger hurts your game and positive emotion helps. Why this is true is a mystery but evidently negative emotion generates chemical responses in the body which make performance more difficult.

In doubles your partner will react to your mood. More or less depending on the partner, of course, but the the bigger the gap in skill the more your partner depends on you for leadership, both in shots and psyche. So staying positive is a benefit to the team, just like making a good shot is.

No two players are the same but it is typical human emotion to worry about how we are perceived and to want to make a good impression. This burden is greater the less skill the Low Player has and the bigger the gap in skill levels within the team. When the Top Player gets angry the Low Player often interprets this as a reflection of them, even if it is not true. For myself, it is not important if I win or lose so long as I play well by my standards. I would rather throw a good shot for a park job deuce than a bad shot which gets lucky and aces. For a round, I am happy if I throw well even if I don't win. I can't control how anyone else plays. If they play well and beat me then congratulations to them. This concept extends to my partners. If I play well but my partner sucks I am ok with this (so long as they follow their rules, ie...keep trying and don't distract me).

Since your partner feeds off your emotions ( good or bad) it is best to reflect positive emotions. For those who also have trouble doing this consider the following: Humans have poor control of emotions but complete control of thoughts. If you are feeling mad or depressed you didn't ask to feel that way, you didn't try to feel that way, you just do. But your emotions follow your thoughts. So if when you are angry you force yourself to think good thoughts ( happy memories, funny ideas, whatever) your emotions will follow those thoughts and become more positive.

FIGURE OUT HOW TO GET A LITTLE BIT OF HELP FROM YOUR PARTNER

If your partner is a newbie or poorly skilled then set your expectations low. If you can get just a throw or two from them at a critical time then this is GREAT. If they only throw 200 feet then it makes no sense to expect them to park a 300 foot hole. If they have power but no control then don't expect them to lace a tunnel. But within their skill set they might throw well or poorly. A smart partner figures out how to get the best out of their teammate, playing amateur psychologist and trying to hit the right buttons.

Early in a match the newbie partner may be very nervous and ineffective. This is fine. If help is coming it doesn't matter when so long as you can keep your team in the hunt. I have partners who miss putts inside 10 feet and feel upset. I tell them they can miss every close putt all day and it won't matter. In doubles you don't have to make every shot, just try to make some of them. That's why God gave you a partner.

I mean c'mon. I'm a Pro. If I can't make short putts I don't deserve to win. A 10 foot putt looks a lot harder after your partner misses it but in singles there is no way I should miss this so why should it be any different in doubles?

Once you figure out the skill level of your partner then you are in a better positive to advise them whether they should be aggressive or conservative on any given shot. Normally I want my partner to be aggressive except for a few particular shots. But if tell them to be aggressive and they do so and mess up badly you have to tell them it's ok. Then you have to step up and make a shot, proving to them it really is ok.

CARRY THE TEAM

My old doubles partner Carlton Howard (North Carolina Hall of Famer) had this phrase for doubles. "The better I play the better my team will play." This may explain how he tolerated me as a partner. :lol: So if your team is sucking, look in the mirror and pick it up.

If you are the Top Player it is your job to carry the team. Do not shirk this responsibility or no matter how good you are or your team won't win (unless you draw another good player). If you watch over time you will see some players who are always in the hunt, no matter what partner they draw. Then there are others who are no threat unless they draw a Pro (in which case they might threaten a course record or suck without rhyme or reason).

There is a special skill to playing well without getting help from your partner. But if you can do this for the start of the match it will help your partner's confidence and you may get unexpected help later. I once drew a kid I didn't know who had obvious talent but was dead weight for the first two hours. I didn't matter as I was hot early. Then out of the blue he turned in to world beater for the last hour. He solo deuced the last 2 holes at Kensington. If the top ten players in the world were offered a big prize to deuce those two holes back to back I'm not sure any of them would collect (at least on one try).

When the Low Player is shooting bad it puts pressure on the Top Player. When the Top Player steps up under pressure it teaches the Low player it can be done. Sometimes this attitude of success becomes infectious. Success breeds success and teams can get on great rolls.

Top Players started as newbies, just like everybody else. Before you throw good shots every time you start by throwing good shots some of the time. Top Players need to remember how bad they were when they started and how far they have come. If they made that journey who is to say the newbie partner they just drew might not also. If the seeds of talent are in your partner you might be spark that starts it growing. And you might be the beneficiary of those first good shots. Some carry the damn team. Leave your excuses at the car.
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Re: The Unwritten Rules of Doubles

Postby isobar » Fri Feb 01, 2013 11:41 am

I've shot an -11 at Kensington and still have never birdied 18... that is an impressive feat all on it's own.

I can say I've only played about 4-5 random dubs, and never cashed. I've had players better than me, and players worse than me. When I was the better one, I cracked under the pressure and it gave me something to work forward too. When I was the worst one, I must have been unlucky, because I believe the few I had were pretty frustrated that I wasn't shooting lights out. Even though I always contributed to my teams, they felt that I should have been able to make the shots they missed and it always made no sense that someone expects you to make a shot they already missed... all this kind of goes along with what Mark said. But for you low players, don't always expect your "carry" partner to shoot lights out, as I am living proof that just because I AM better than you, I won't necessarily BE better than you... that's good advice for the top player as well, just because you are better than me, don't expect me to be useless, or else I will be.
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Re: The Unwritten Rules of Doubles

Postby Flipflat » Fri Feb 01, 2013 5:40 pm

isobar wrote:I've shot an -11 at Kensington and still have never birdied 18... that is an impressive feat all on it's own.


The fact that I've birdied 18 from pros (pure luck) but not gotten close to -11 at Kensington is also an impressive feat all on it's own :D
Last edited by Flipflat on Fri Feb 01, 2013 9:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Unwritten Rules of Doubles

Postby Mark Ellis » Fri Feb 01, 2013 7:37 pm

Flipflat wrote:
isobar wrote:I've shot an -11 at Kensington and still have never birdied 18... that is an impressive feat all on it's own.


The fact that I've birdied 18 from pros but not gotten close to -11 at Kensington is also an impressive feat all on it's own :D


The last 2 holes I referred to in the post above were not 17 and 18 but 26 and 27. Still -11 is a fine score on the 18 hole layout.
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Re: The Unwritten Rules of Doubles

Postby isobar » Fri Feb 01, 2013 11:12 pm

Yeah I had a brain fart, I was thinking of Cass Benton and their hole 18... Thats what i get for posting during lunch and only half thinking.
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Re: The Unwritten Rules of Doubles

Postby Mark Ellis » Sat Feb 02, 2013 3:49 am

Monocacy wrote:One of the first times I played doubles my partner, a solid player, was relentlessly positive and encouraging. The result was that I had a great round – putted lights-out, kept most of my drives in the fairway, etc. We came in second, just losing out to a much more talented team.

A few weeks later I drew one of the top players in the area. He did not make much effort to hide his disappointment in drawing a newb. On the first hole, we both missed an uphill 30-footer for birdie, and he pretty much gave up. Needless to say, my play suffered.

If my partner is a significantly better player I usually offer to drive first. That way, I can do as Mark said – take the safe shot – freeing my partner to do great things. :lol:


Psychologically it is tough to overcome a poor start and all of us have seen a bad start doom teams, even good teams. I think this is partly because we always assume our competition is better than they actually are. We see our own flaws but look at our opponents as if they had armor plating.

How many times have you turned in a score which you thought had no chance of cashing only to find it was one of the better scores? If only you had known other teams were also struggling it probably would have inspired your team to shoot a couple strokes better. The only time to stop giving it your all is when the last hole is over. This is a lesson I have learned many times but still have to remind myself of in the middle of marginal rounds.

Your opposition steps up to a 25 foot putt. You feel confident they will make it. You step up to a 25 foot putt. You are praying you don't miss it. It is so easy to have confidence in someone else and so difficult to be confident in yourself. You expect yourself to make errors. But you expect your competition to be flawless. Why?

Down to the last hole you are just as likely to win by your competition making a mistake as you are to win because you made the clutch shot.
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Re: The Unwritten Rules of Doubles

Postby Mark Ellis » Sun Feb 03, 2013 6:28 am

My attempt to create a discussion here has evidently sputtered, turning into something closer to a soliloquy. :D

So perhaps questions will work better than statements ...

What are your favorite and least favorite kinds of teammates? If there were a Hall of Shame for teammates what kind of players would have statues erected for them?

What do you do to try to pick your team up if you are stagnating during a round?

What are YOUR biggest flaws as a teammate?

Do you love or avoid doubles? If you had the chance to play in a singles or doubles event which were equal ( cost, travel distance, etc.) which would you pick?

Do you have an unwritten rule?
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Re: The Unwritten Rules of Doubles

Postby Chuck Kennedy » Sun Feb 03, 2013 8:08 am

Ironic that a thread on doubles would become a soliloquy...

Regarding the common practice of alternating who tees off and the practice where the other player throws first on the second shot if their drive was not used, I think it helps develop flow because players know procedurally who throws next without a discussion, in the same way players automatically know who throws next in singles based on who is out. Typically, I'll follow this practice with partners who are closer in skill level with me in either direction, with the communication in the beginning that on certain holes we might change it up. For example, if it's a hole where I can throw a roller, I might offer to throw second and roll if my partner's drive is safe. Or, if my partner is a forehander or lefty, there might be certain holes where there's a reason to change up the order. As a loft putter, I tend to land near the basket on misses. So even if I might be the partner who is much better and typically putts second, on certain putts due to danger, I might offer to putt first so if I miss, my partner can feel more comfortable to give it a run.
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