The Etiquetteist: Golf-ball talking can irritate your partners. Here’s how to ensure it doesn’t.

megaphone talking to golf ball

Talking to your own golf ball? Fine. Talking to someone else’s? That's another matter completely.

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With Jordan Spieth in the field this week at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, fans will get an eyeful — and an earful — from a man who talks to his own ball more than any Tour pro.

Notice we said, “talks to his own ball.”

No one really minds that.

But talking to someone else’s ball? That’s another matter completely.

Some golfers get annoyed if you bark instructions at their Bridgestone as it’s soaring through the air or trundling across the green.

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By: Josh Sens

“Keep your lips off my ball!” they might snipe back.

Or fix you with an unforgiving glare.

What’s going on with these agitated people? Are they right to get riled up? Pathetically wrong-headed?

It’s a question best considered case by case.

A lot depends, for starters, on what you’re saying.

Rooting openly against another player (“Find the water!” “Get in the bunker!”) is poor form, of course, grounds for a good lashing from the golf gods and a dressing-down from those in your group.

But words of encouragement can be fair game, even classy, provided they fall within the bounds of reason. If, for instance, your partner’s drive is on a wild, slicing trajectory toward the center of a lake, asking for it to “draw” or “come back” shows a weak understanding of the laws of physics, and an even weaker understanding of human relations. Comments of that kind will either come across as flippant, passive-aggressive or plain-old dumb. No one needs to hear them, least of all your (already) frustrated partner.

Something similar applies to ill-considered praise.

What you mean as a compliment (“Great drive!” “Best one of the day!”) might get under the skin of someone who just struck what they know to be a middling shot. Familiarity matters. When you’re playing with pals in a friendly match, you have more latitude to jabber away. That’s what friends are for — to put up with your blather.  But friends also have the right to gently rebuke you when they think you’re spouting inanities.

When you’re playing with strangers, or for high stakes, or both, the rules of engagement change. In these scenarios, it’s wise to stifle your inner-Dottie Pepper and refrain from offering play-by-play entirely. Really, what’s the upside? You’re better off waiting for the shot to come to rest before you open your mouth. Even then, a simple “nice shot” should be enough, so long as it really was one.

To a non-golfer, all of this walking/talking-on-eggshells might seem almost comically irrational, and it is. Golf balls don’t have ears. Nothing you say to a shot can affect its outcome.

Thing is, most golfers can hear just fine, and some are prone to irritation. Sometimes, they’re even justified. Do they have the right to blow their top in anger if you talk innocently to their ball? No, they don’t. Those people need to build a bridge and get over themselves.

But that doesn’t mean you aren’t being annoying.

Watch and listen to Spieth this weekend. He’ll be talking himself blue to his own ball. But he won’t be saying much to anyone else’s. He knows better.

Josh Sens Contributor

A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Magazine contributor since 2004 and now contributes across all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.