Goodness gracious, great balls of desire

Padraig Harrington punts a football into the grandstands on the 16th hole during the final round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)

Some people place extreme value on their golf balls andAs a golfer, golf balls are important. To play the game, I’d go as far as to say they were essential, but that doesn’t excuse the golfing public who have grown too attached to the balls in their bag. What we tend to forget is that golf balls are widely replaceable and sometimes, we just have to let them go.

In my time as a first tee starter, I used to enjoy watching the pantomime of players blatantly attempting to outdo one another when it came to declaring what ball they were to use for the day. Everything from, Titleist 1, black line and three red dots to Titleist 4, red line and a loving message to my wife was uttered. Yet more often than not, it was the hardened veteran unaccustomed to the theatrics that would solely split the fairway with his rusty old Commando that I just found behind the garden shed as the shiny dimpled pills dispersed never to be seen again.

Titleist pro-Vs can be particularly tough to part with. Costing upwards of 6 euro a ball and often in the hands of unqualified operators, if you’re losing six a round then the game can prove costly. And time is cruel on golf ball detectorists these days. The designated five minute search times has been reduced to three so the clock is often ticking on your hopes of being reunited. Still, even at just 3 minutes, searches soon add up, not only to your round, but to everyone else’s. Provisional shots should be mandatory when there’s uncertainty to avoid a time consuming walk of shame back to the crime scene, particularly during competitive play.

Despite palpable frustration, oblivious golf ball owners can go to great lengths to delay their playing partners, and so it shouldn’t surprise that the golf ball retriever was such a successful invention. Never satisfied to fish out just one, I’ve played with hoarders happy to sit out the water holes if there’s a school of balls worth pursuing. Ah I didn’t play great but look how many balls I found. These are the same kleptomaniacs who go to the driving range and pour half the basket of range balls in their golf bag. How many balls can we possibly need? Well, what’s rare is wonderful and sometimes that one ball is worth going after.

I once took part in a now infamous Yellow Ball event in Carton House as part of the Liam Byrne Memorial golf day. The idea was to rotate the fluorescent ball between each member of your group hole by hole, and the group that successfully brought their original golden nugget back with the highest stableford score was the winner. With yellow balls scattered throughout all corners of Meath and Kildare, the sole remaining valid entry had been pegged up on the signature par-3, 16th. I won’t name and fame, but if there was one man who you’d want standing over this shot, this was not the man.

With the widest part of the Rye between him and golfing immortality, he let loose; the shells on the walls of Marianne Faithfull’s cottage in the background shuddering from the steepness of the strike. Legend has it, the ball almost didn’t reach the water, but it was what happened next that truly left its mark.

You see, Paul Duffy wouldn’t know the price of a Pro-V1x, but he had placed an unrivalled value on that yellow ball based around his loyalty to his playing partners. Unaware that this wasn’t common golfing behaviour, he plunged with selfless grace into the depths of the murky waters, recovering multiple yellow balls ala Happy Gilmore’s caddie. Though none were actually his, the heroic mission was heralded as one of the greatest sporting acts a golf course had seen, up there with the famous putt conceded by Jack Nicklaus to Tony Jacklin on the final green of the 1969 Ryder Cup when a knee trembling 3-footer awaited the Englishman to secure the draw for his team. To this day, unless I can equate the importance of a golf ball to that moment, I’ll simply put down another and move on. Could you say the same?



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