John Renslow: The art of talking to the golf ball
The ball leaves the hand of the basketball player at the free throw line. As the ball nears its apex, out of the silence would you expect to hear, “Fly! Get in there!” Nope, it just doesn’t happen.
Now, we have seen some memorable moments — baseball’s Carlton Fisk waving the ball right of the foul pole at Fenway comes to mind.
But, no other sport will compel you to speak with an inanimate object like the game of golf. For the casual observer, it may not make sense. Why are all of these people shouting at a ball? But, for us golfers, we have to give it a try.
It doesn’t matter if the ball has ears or not, can hear nor not. It doesn’t matter if you don’t encourage any other solid object to move favorably. It simply matters that we can offer some form of assistance.
“Go!” “Fly!” “Stop!” “Bite!” Our instructions are often simple. We wouldn’t want to confuse the little guy. That is until we realize that we often give the ball conflicting pieces of information. “Sit!”…”Go!”…”Stop!”
In fact, sometimes we will talk to the ball before we hit it. You never know, some preliminary instructions may help. “Okay, now you know what to do.” Maybe it has more time to sink in.
We have Judge Smales going so far as to name his putter (Billy Baroo), giving the putter a full embrace, and urging it on to success with the words, “Oh, Billy, Billy, Billy!”
Of course, golf balls are likely not multi-lingual. While in Mexico, as host during a golf vacation with a few dozen enthusiasts, my friend Carl was convinced his ball only spoke Spanish. “Volar!” was the command, trying to keep his golf ball in the air just a little while longer. “Alto!” became the shout, if only the ball would slow down and stop.
There is much debate about the effectiveness of communicating with your golf ball. (Interesting at many levels, just to engage in the debate) Many times it seems the golf ball obeys or at least it allows us to think that.
If it is headed for a large pond with the green just beyond, we yell, “Go! Go!” and the ball lands just beyond the water and bounces safely onto the green. It had to hear us.
At the same time, we don’t get upset with the ball for not heeding our call. From our gut we bellow, “Bite! Bite!” as the ball rolls toward a bunker positioned to the right of our intended target. With no concern for the outcome, the ball continues on and settles in the sand.
Yet, we don’t get upset at the ball. It’s a great deal for the ball. It is praised for good behavior and generally absolved from discipline during times of trouble.
The boys on Tour have likely been practicing their bilingual golf ball encouragement as this week usually takes place in Mexico City. It’s the first leg of the WGC World Championships and Mexico has played host.
However, this year, with ongoing adjustments due to the pandemic, the event has been moved to Brandenton, Florida, and the Concession Golf Club. Concession, huh? Well, the Club is designed in honor of Jack Nicklaus and the famous Ryder Cup concession to Tony Jacklin.
They may not have as great a need for directing golf balls in Spanish this week.
Yet, can the golf ball hear us? Does it help to talk to your golf ball? I will keep my opinion to myself. What I do know is that this game can be difficult. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s not easy. Therefore, if there is the slightest chance that my golf ball may heed my call, we must do everything we can to maintain our convivial relationship.
John Renslow is a PGA professional, VP of Yugi Golf Management, and provides golf instruction at local courses.
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