The Etiquetteist: Is it poor form to talk to your partner’s ball?

December 14, 2018

“Get up!” “Go hard!” “Grow teeth!” “Sit down!”

Over the course of an average round, golfers bark all kinds of requests at their balls, none of which balls, lacking ears, can hear.

Fair play? Of course. But what about when golfers talk to their playing partners’ balls?

Not all partners like it. Some flat-out hate it and make no effort to hide their irritation. Are they on to something? Or off their rockers? What do the rules of etiquette have to say about talking to a Titleist?

Some of this depends, of course, on what you’re saying. Smack-talking a ball is always a faux pas, even if it earns you points for honesty.

“Things like ‘get in the bunker!’ or ‘go in the creek!’ are obviously off limits,” says Vince Quattrocchi, a former-caddie-turned-director-of-caddie-services at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon.

Bullhorn and golf ball

In caddie training sessions, though, Quattrocchi says he often goes so far as to encourage chatter, especially from junior loopers whose shyness and uncertainty might otherwise keep them in an awkward, stifled silence on the course.

“A lot of kids won’t say a word because they’re afraid of making a mistake,” Quattrocchi says. “In those cases, it’s actually good for them to talk positively to the ball a little more. It shows their player that they’re engaged.”

But that’s for caddies.

Player-to-player relations are a different story.

In competition, talking to your opponent’s ball is ill-advised. At best, it comes off as insincere or passive-aggressive. It’s also plain-old weird. Do you really want your adversary’s ball to “get in the hole”? No. You do not.

If you utter anything, proper etiquette calls for you to wait until the ball has landed. Barring a hole-in-one or a hole-out from the fairway, a simple “good shot” or “nice ball” is about as far as you need go.

But all of the above is fairly black-and-white. It’s in casual golf with friends that the vagaries arise.

If this were a rational matter, chirping at a ball would be a non-issue, as words have no effect on an orb’s path or flight. (Really, they don’t.) But golfers aren’t rational. They are paranoid and antsy and sensitive and prickly.

Above all, they are superstitious. They’re inclined to believe that your urging their ball to “get in the hole” actually caused it to drop in the drink. Trying to shake golfers from this nutty conviction is as hopeless as trying to persuade your crazy uncle that the moon-landing wasn’t staged.

We here at The Etiquettist have no problem with anyone, anywhere, talking to our ball. But we here at The Etiquettist are a child of the Enlightenment, a product of reason, whereas many golfers are not. And because etiquette isn’t science but sociology, and because golf is not a sport but a mind-messing fun-house of pain and pleasure, we issue this decree: Until the ball stops moving, mum’s the word.