People who pick up stray golf balls without looking around are off target

Something happened the other day that I’d never seen in my more than half-century of playing golf. And I’ve got to admit that it damaged my trust in my fellow golfers.

In the space of seven holes, I twice hit a shot, knew exactly where it was and then couldn’t find it – after another group had walked through the same area.

The first time, I saw a guy pick up what I thought was my ball. My second shot on No. 4 had hit a tree and bounded behind a neighboring tee – a spot where there really shouldn’t be any other balls.

I saw where it went. It wasn’t that far from me.

I started walking there and watched as the guy drove through with his cart, stopped and picked up what I thought was my ball.

I called to him and waved, indicating that I thought it was mine. He yelled back, “Don’t worry, I know it’s mine.”

Never mind that the only way it could have been his ball would have been if he had thrown it there after putting on the previous green. The only possible hole that the ball could have come from was mine.

It gets better – or worse, from my perspective.

When I got to the spot, I found another ball a few feet away. He stood on the tee and stared at me. I stared back and indicated that I had found a ball that wasn’t mine. He was unfazed.

I could tell that he was the kind of guy who wouldn’t take it well if I walked up there with the ball I had found, asked if it was his and demanded that he show what he had picked up. So, much to my disappointment, I felt as if it was best to let it go.

The round got even more bizarre after that.

On the eighth hole, I hit two shots that we never found, one of them a provisional that should have been right in the middle of the fairway.

Then on No. 10, I hooked my drive to the next fairway on the left. It had been a bad day. I hadn’t a played in awhile, and it showed. But my day was about to get worse.

Again, I went walking up there as another group came through. There were several balls in the fairway. I was sure one of them was mine.

But then they each hit a shot as I walked up, and when I got to the spot I had pegged for my drive, there were no balls to be found. I couldn’t believe it. How could this be? I saw it! No one in the other group even looked up even though they could tell that I thought my ball should be there. I hadn’t seen any of them pick it up, but who knows? Maybe one of them played it.

In both cases, I hit bad shots and probably deserved what I got, at least to some degree. But here’s my take on the issue of finding balls on the golf course.

From time to time, I have come across a golfer who says he regularly finds balls on the course. Whenever I hear that, my first thought is, “Yeah, and how many of them were in play?”

It’s a better game when we help each other out there. Whenever a ball bounces near my group from an adjacent hole, I feel duty bound to wave and let them know where it is – especially if it’s in a bad lie that might make it hard to find.

And when I come across a ball that’s seemingly lost, I won’t pick it up unless there is no possible way that someone just hit it there. The last thing I want to do is cost someone a ball that should still be theirs.

It’s frustrating enough when you lose a ball. It’s 10 times worse when you were sure you knew exactly where it was and suspect that someone took it.

So I urge you to think twice the next time you pick up a ball that doesn’t seem to have an owner anymore. Do you really need the ball that badly?

And ask yourself this: How are you going to feel the next time it happens to you? Because you know it will.

The honesty and integrity that are so central to our great game include having other golfers’ best interests at heart. If you come across a ball that’s not from your group, take a look around. You could make someone’s day rather than ruin it.



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