The story of a golf ball


The story of a golf ball


Not long ago, I was listening to a song by Vinicio Capossela “Il paradiso dei calzini” (or “The Socks’ Paradise”), and by some strange mental association I began thinking of lost golf balls.


This thought brings to mind a whole jumble of curious feelings and behaviour… and in this case the question probably has little to do with our experience of playing golf, and a lot more to do with how we relate to the idea of being abandoned or to the idea of possession. In any case, it’s something that has its origins in our childhood, in something that we felt was missing, and which now we unconsciously project onto those little white spheres that accompany us on our golf outings.


When you buy one, a golf ball is virgin perfect, white and shiny. Maybe the first time we buy some we don’t really know which kind to buy, or else we follow the advice of friends, family or the shop assistant… but before long we get attached to one particular brand name, attracted perhaps by irrelevant or futile motives, like the font used in the ball’s logo.


Then we make the ball become an extension of our identity: we feel affection for it, we like the way it bounces, the sound it makes when we hit it or the package it comes in. And often we slip into the next phase (by now involving a degree of superstitious fetishism), whereby we become fixated on our preference for a particular number – i.e. brand X, but only its number Y ball – to the point where we can no longer contemplate playing a game without those precise balls. The very thought makes us feel insecure and disadvantaged…


And at that point, how can we avoid that our golf balls, so stubbornly clung to and identified with, become indistinguishable from someone else’s golf balls, someone with identical preferences?… a truly horrible thought. Sooner or later we hit on the answer: by marking the balls, obviously, and making them simply unique, like ourselves.
This is a second Rubicon on our path towards obsession, towards investing too much emotional significance in our beloved – now ‘personalised’ – white balls.


At this point, a case study can be developed:


  • Some people use indelible markers to fill the surface of the balls with smaller balls, displaying notable artistic flair.
  • Others, more pragmatically, opt to write their initials, or name, or nickname, or even the name of their company!
  • Others, more geometrically minded, draw – freehand or with a dedicated tool – a circle around the circumference (useful for setting the direction when driving off from the tee).
  • Then there are the abstracts, the eccentrics and the abstract eccentrics, who express themselves spontaneously through symbols and fantastic hieroglyphs swirling around their balls.


I suspect that if we were to analyse in depth the choice of identification method applied to these golf balls, we’d discover a great deal about their owners.


But as in every respectable story, menace and tragedy always hover ready to strike, and sooner or later, on the golf course a water hazard or a briar thicket suddenly claims our ball. Our ball, personally chosen, purchased, lovingly marked and… lost!


Leaving aside the fact that, apart from the emotional blow, this loss is also a substantial competitive setback, let’s concentrate on the behaviour of the golf player who is enjoying a leisurely round on an enchanting golf course with a group of friends, serenely relishing the fresh air and the green glow of nature.


When their ball is lost, irrespective of the owner’s wealth or lack of it (i.e. it’s not an economic problem), there is always a sense of shock, a little shudder of the soul for a departed friend. Then serene relaxation turns suddenly into ill-concealed desperation, as the owner scrambles in brambles and bushes oblivious to scratches and nettle stings, refusing to be so cruel as to abandon their search, or else stumble for ages along the muddy edges of a lake in the hunt for that poor little ball, up to their knees in turbid water and reeds.


Tragic scenes…


And if the unfortunate victim (the ball) is miraculously found, the other unfortunate victim (its owner) is flooded by waves of joy, tightly clutching the treasured prodigal object. Then they carefully clean it while praying that it will never be threatened again… let alone on the next shot.
If there is no miracle, alas, sooner or later, perhaps finally becoming aware of the other players’ impatience at the duration of this drama, the lost ball’s owner will probably shrug and smile unconvincingly as if to say “oh well, never mind”, and start using a different ball. But the odds are that in their hearts, part of them at least will be hoping that someone else will find the little thing and – even if thanks to other hands and arms – that the lost ball will again return to flying high in the air, carrying with it the hopes and dreams of whoever has driven it soaring on its way…



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