What Is a Hacker in Golf?

Here's Why No Golfer Wants to Be Called a Hacker

Hacker breaks golf club over his knee
Don't be a hacker! (And, c'mon man, get some new clubs.). Fuse/Corbis/Getty Images

"Hacker" is something no golfer ever wants to be called. Hacker is a derogatory term in golf that means:

  1. Someone who rarely plays golf so is quite bad when they do;
  2. Generally, any golfer who is just not very good at playing the game;
  3. A mediocre or poor golfer who displays bad golf etiquette and/or poor sportsmanship.

Or, especially, any combination of Nos. 1 and 3 or Nos. 2 and 3.

Hacker vs. Duffer

"Hacker" and "duffer" are synonymous in that they both apply to poor golfers. But "duffer" is sometimes used to denote weaker players in general, while "hacker" is often applied to a single golfer as an insult. Hacker is a little bit stronger than duffer in its derogatory meaning, in other words.

Also, people who aren't that familiar with golf might (erroneously) use "duffer" to mean all golfers (good, bad or otherwise). That never happens with "hacker." Hacker fairly self-evidently carries negative connotations. Most everyone who speaks English will recognize "hacker" as a negative term when used in this context.

The Origins of Hacker as a Golf Term

This usage of hacker derives from the image of a golfer swinging a club wildly — chopping at the ball, hacking at the ball. For me, the term always brings up visions of someone slashing through vegetation with a machete.

Or, as Lee Trevino once quipped, "My swing is so bad I look like a caveman killing his lunch." Not what you want to see on a golf course!

The term is also used as a pejorative in other stick-and-ball or racket sports, such as tennis. Again, because of the image of someone flailing a club or racket in a hacking motion, rather than putting the correct and desired type of swing on the ball.

The Historical Dictionary of Golfing Terms defines hacker as "an unskillful player," while defining hack as "to hit the ball violently and crudely, especially in rough or in a bad lie; make generally incompetent shots; play poor golf." Hack is a term that has been around in general usage for centuries; "hacker," in its golf context, grew out of "hack."

How Golfers Use 'Hacker'

The terms "hack golfer" and "weekend hacker" are variations on the theme. As noted, duffer is a synonym. Another synonym for hacker is "chopper" (again, picture a golfer crudely chopping at the ball).

There are some phrases that golfers use, even good ones, to describe their own play when they are disappointed in themselves:

  • "I'm really hacking it around out here" or "I hacked it around today."
  • "I'm hacking it up the fairway" or "I hacked it up the fairway on the second hole."

A golfer angry with himself over poor play might apply the term hacker to his own play in those ways.