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What does the following Jack Lemmon quote mean:

If you think it's hard to meet new people, try picking up the wrong golf ball.

I guess picking up the wrong golf ball must be an idiom but I couldn't find its meaning online. What does it mean? Does it have anything to do with the game itself and the rules for hitting the wrong ball?

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Some people take their golf game seriously. Pick up another player's ball and you might get hit with a golf club. People who don't want to "meet" you will usually just ignore you, not strike your with a deadly object. –  user21497 Oct 26 '12 at 7:00
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I'd also infer that Lemmon spent a lot of time on the golf course. This is probably intended to be a humorous quip about golfers, more so than about meeting new folks – at least, that's how I read it. –  J.R. Oct 26 '12 at 8:36
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The phrase is meant literally, not idiomatically. If you pick up the wrong golf ball, the owner of that ball will quickly make your acquaintance. –  Mark Beadles Oct 26 '12 at 14:59
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2 Answers 2

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Yes, Jack is refering to the game of golf — no metaphors involved.

In the game of golf, several people hit their balls toward the hole several hundred yards away. The balls each come to rest somewhere hopefully close to the hole. Golfers are very particular about people interfering with their ball. They don't want anyone to move it farther from the hole than it was and other golfers don't want anyone to move it closer to the hole than it already was.

So when somebody accidentally picks up a ball that is not theirs (it is sometimes hard to tell one from another) everyone gets upset and comes over to yell at them — he's just met a bunch of new people, but probably not in the way he would have liked.

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I suspect this has no deeper meaning than is apparent in the words themselves. Go to a golf course, pick up any ball that has clearly been recently played and that is not your own, and see what happens.

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