Golf is a game of soaring highs and soul-shaking lows. To untangle the mess of emotions you might experience, I’ve consulted with a team of experts* to categorize the best and worst feelings the game serves up as well as their causes.

It’s serious, service journalism that needed to be done. 

‘THROW YOUR BAG IN A LAKE’ TIER

  • Heel sh*nk
  • Greenside bunker skull

The s-word isn’t something you should say out loud lest you catch a nasty case of them. But it is and will always be the ultimate fear of any golfer. I once caught a case of them on the driving range before my high school sectional. I think I still have emotional scar tissue.

The greenside bunker shot that you pick 100% clean is a different kind of feeling. Walking 50 yards past the green to find wherever your ball finally came to rest is a lonely walk. It’s probably better to just drop another ball out of your pocket and deny the first shot ever happened.

‘I’M GOING TO BREAK A CLUB NOW’ TIER

  • Chili-dip wedge shot
  • Three-putt par

I have only broken one club in my life. I laid the sod over a 65-yard wedge shot on the second hole of a tournament, and the next thing I knew the wedge was in two pieces about 15 yards ahead of me. And while that was easily the most embarrassing moment of my golfing career, I won’t lie, it felt like the right response in the moment.

Three-putting for par is an exercise in wasted opportunity. Strolling to the green with a putt for eagle makes you feel like such a big shot. It requires a stalk around the green and a peek at the putt from both sides of the hole, maybe even having your buddy tend the flagstick. Then you blow the first one 8 feet by, burn the edge on the comebacker and your putter has a set of bite marks on it.

It’s not great.

‘THIS SHOULD FEEL WORSE THAN IT DOES’ TIER

  • First hole breakfast ball
  • Missing the green long and left

The first swing mulligan is a staple of any somewhat casual round. Maybe your range session was cut short because you only got four swings with the driver, so that banana you hit over the 18th fairway doesn’t really count. Reload. It’s a silly copout, but it’s been normalized.

Any experienced golfer will tell you that more often than not, long over green is death. Most courses you play will have greens that run back towards the fairway. Launching a ball over a green is a good way to notch a bogey. But that feeling of crushing your iron 15 yards farther than you were banking on makes you forget about that … at least until you see your hairy lie and your chances at par dashed.

‘DISAPPOINTED SIGH’ TIER

  • Leaving a birdie putt short
  • Missing a shot short and right

The average golfer probably doesn’t see all that many birdie tries, so leaving it dead in the heart but two revolutions shy of the cup sucks. But 18 tap-in pars is a pretty good score I’ve heard, so it ain’t that bad.

The fluttering ball flight of a slightly wiped approach shot that funnels into that collection area at the front apron, though a frustratingly probable outcome of that 7-iron approach, is torturous. Fades lack emotional fortitude. Draws, even draws that go off-kilter, just look better. Everyone knows this.

‘NOW WE’RE TALKING’ TIER

  • Piped driver

Listen, I know there are people who think the peak of a golfer’s existence is the 300-yard drive. Those people are wrong though. The feeling is good, but you’ve got a long way to get to the hole still. Things can go wrong. Pick up your tee early and saunter back to your bag, enjoy a smirk even, but don’t get too big for your britches.

‘CLUB TWIRL & A WAVE’ TIER

  • Up-and-down from a bunker
  • Rip spin on a pitch shot

Executing short game shots rules. It’s so satisfying. You can get lucky and smash a drive even if you’re a bad golfer. You might even accidentally stick an iron shot close. But hitting a short shot exactly how it’s supposed to be done, with perhaps a little bit of English as panache, makes it clear that you know what you’re doing. It’s the subtle art of excellence that counts.

‘TOUR SAUCE’ TIER

  • The early putt celebration

I am addicted to videos of golfers walking in putts. The coolest thing that has ever happened on a golf course is the Tiger Woods walk-and-point at Valhalla in 2000.

Have I done a similar move when cashing in a birdie putt en route to a smooth 87? Dear reader, I must confess I have and will do so again. Because it’s sick as hell.

‘GOLFING NIRVANA’ TIER

  • Being allowed to play through on a long par three and striping a long iron to tap in range

Not many people get to play in front of a gallery, so the instances on a regular course where a gallery happens to show up (the first tee, the last green, whenever maintenance workers are on the course, etc.) hold extra importance. Playing through trumps them all though, because the group ahead of you has ceded the fact that you take precedence in that moment.

The shot itself is the best sensation you can have on a course. A great drive is a watered-down version of hitting a baseball on the screws. A flushed iron shot, that compressed soft core and the feeling of cutting through turf, is endemic only to golf. The sound is immaculate. Getting to hold the follow-through to pose for the folks huddled in their cart waiting for your passing? 

It doesn’t get better.

Ben Goren

Ben Goren is a contributing writer for Stick and Hack and has been addicted to the game of golf for the past 15 years and isn’t interested in finding a cure. He’s also offering one kidney in exchange for a Cypress Point tee time (serious inquiries only).