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Many people that play sports will develop some superstitions. Particularly in the professional ranks as they are always looking for that little edge. The very mental nature of golf makes it particularly prone to superstitions.
For example, soccer players might always put one shoe on before the other. They might like to be first or last onto the pitch. Rafa Nadal makes sure his opponent crosses the net before he does during a changeover. These seem quite mundane by comparison with some of the golf superstitions.
Having superstitions makes us feel more in control. That control can lead to a more relaxed attitude which is never a bad thing in golf.
In golf, I was also superstitious. I would never use the golf ball with No. 1 on it. If I played well one day, I would eat that same breakfast for the next couple of days. I would only mark my ball with a quarter that was heads up.Paige Spiranac
Some people consider one or possibly more of their clubs to be their lucky club. It tends to go one of two ways. Either someone will use their lucky club almost all the time even when it’s not appropriate. Sometimes they won’t use their lucky club at all for fear of ruining the aura that surrounds it.
Once you take a club out of the bag you shouldn’t put it back unless you use it. Golf isn’t chess with a touch-move rule. Indecision in golf isn’t ideal but if you are of the opinion that you have the wrong club then you would be better off changing to what you think is the right club.
Peter Uihlein had a couple of head covers made in the image of his dogs. Each week one or other of them is used during the tournament. Depending on how well he plays he will swap them around to try and change his luck.
The Golf Ball
Here is a quick rundown of some of the quirks that people have admitted to.
Some players won’t play with a golf ball featuring a number higher than three because they don’t want to score more than three!
Others such as Ian Poulter don’t want to play with a number three because they associate that with three-putting.
Fred Funk also likes to avoid number three balls.
Cathy Johnston-Forbes, the former LPGA player, was just the opposite. She only ever wanted to play with Titleist threes. Other players in the locker room were keen to trade with her as they must have thought the number three balls were likely to induce three putts!
Ben Crenshaw was happy going as high as the number 4 ball, since he didn’t want to score more than four and any hole.
Sometimes it’s not even the player, their caddy makes a decision for them. At one point Jeff Maggert’s caddy decided that number two balls shouldn’t be used during tournament play. During practice rounds, the caddy would try and use up all the number two balls so that only one’s, three’s and four’s were left for the tournament. Jeff himself wasn’t that fussed about what number ball he got. The caddy had some sort of issue with the number two!
Olin Browne’s caddie decided that even-numbered balls should be avoided during their 2015 Champions Tour campaign.
Golfers such as Ernie Els believe a ball is only capable of making a single birdie. Once the ball has made a birdie he will put a new ball on the tee on the next hole. Kevin Chappel is of a like mind to Ernie. He managed to shoot 59 back in 2019 at the Greenbrier. He believes that the fact he didn’t have sufficient golf balls in his bag to put a new ball in play on the final two holes is what stopped him from shooting a 58.
Cathy Johnston-Forbes won the Du Maurier Classic using the same ball for all 72 holes! For a pro that has to be pretty unique given they get their balls free. It’s also impressive she managed to avoid damaging the ball to the point it needed replacing!
Peter Uihlein will only use the number five ball. I suppose it helps to get hold of specific balls when your dad was the head of the company (Acushnet-owned Titleist)
Some people won’t use a ball that they retrieved from water on another hole that features water. The “reasoning” behind this is they feel that the ball will be attracted to the water again.
Don’t pick up balls from out of bounds that aren’t yours. The theory goes with this one that your score will suffer and your game will be cursed if you pick up someone else’s ball from out of bounds. While it could be considered bad manners it’s definitely not got anything to do with you playing badly.
Don’t use a found ball during the round you found it. The golfing gods won’t frown on you as long as you don’t use the ball until your next round.
Tapping your ball on the inside of the cup. If you manage to hole out from outside 3 feet you are supposed to tap your ball on the inside of the cup before taking the ball out of the hole. In 30 years of playing golf, I don’t think I have noticed anyone adhering to this particular superstition.
Don’t wash your ball if you’re playing well. This one is about as counterintuitive as they get. To maximize your chances of a good shot you really need a clean ball and a clean club. By not washing your ball between holes you are actually more likely to drop a shot rather than keep your good run going.
Never keep a spare ball in your pocket. You’re tempting fate and waving your fist in the face of the golfing gods. Just because there is out-of-bounds or a water hazard doesn’t mean you should be carrying an extra ball! From the pace of play point of view, I always carried an extra ball in my pocket if I knew I had a long walk back to a tee or I was facing a difficult tee shot. Some might argue that having the extra ball might cause you to hit a poor shot on your first attempt.
A few more superstitions and preferences regarding the golf ball are covered in Why do Golf Balls Have numbers on Them?
Some players have issues with the color and some with the number in their pocket.
Davis Love III will only play with white tees. If he gets to the first tee and finds no white tees available then he feels like he has to go in search of some. Doug Sanders who famously lost the 1970 Open Championship to Jack Nicklaus is just the opposite though. He thinks white tees are unlucky and would never use them. Tony Lema is another who wouldn’t use white tees but that was because he felt they were too “run-of-the-mill”.
Other golfers aren’t so keen on white tees because white stakes are used to mark out of bounds. If you know the rules of golf you know that you don’t want to go out of bounds!
Similarly, players aren’t keen on either red tees or yellow tees because of their association with water hazards. In some cultures red is also a color associated with stress and aggression. Colin Montgomerie won’t use red or yellow tees for that reason. He will use white though despite the out-of-bounds association.
Lee Trevino never uses yellow tees because yellow is the color of cowardice and he believes them unlucky.
Tiger likes to carry three tees in his front right pocket.
Tom Weiskopf is clearly a believer in the power of three and has to have three tees in his pocket when playing.
Cathy Johnston-Forbes could also be pretty frugal with her tees too! She managed to use one tee for over 4 weeks before it became unusable!
Even most amateurs probably have some form of lucky coin or ball marker that they prefer to use. Maybe you got a nice ball marker at St Andrews or Pebble Beach that you use all the time. Professionals take it to another level, however.
Fred Funk flips a coin to determine whether he will mark his ball with the coin heads up or tails up. Also when marking the ball with the coin heads up will always get the eyes looking at the hole. In fact, many pros seem to subscribe to that particular superstition.
DL III likes to use pennies minted in 1965 or 66. Anything minted after that will bring bad luck. Former Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger prefers to mark his golf ball with a penny. He always has the head of Abraham Lincoln pointing towards the hole.
John Cook prefers to use a quarter to mark his golf ball. He likes to use coins that have pictures of the states where he has played well.
Tiger Woods uses a 1932 quarter as a ball marker because that’s the year his dad was born.
The wife of Zach Johnson made a personal ball marker for him featuring biblical phrases and verses. He reads these during the round.
Australian Cameron Smith marks his ball with an ANZAC coin.
Jack Nicklaus isn’t so fussy about the sort of coins he has in his pocket but he likes to only have three. One of his old foes Tom Weiskopf is almost in agreement with him but he wants his three coins to be pennies.
Chi-Chi Rodriguez would never use a penny as a ball marker. He would always use a coin with the head side up. He even used a different coin depending on the type of putt. A quarter for a birdie putt, buffalo nickel for eagle putts and occasionally he would switch up to a gold coin.
Boo Weekley also marks his ball with a coin heads side up but it has to be 1970 or earlier.
Colin Montgomery marked his ball with a ten-pence piece that he always kept in his back pocket. This is actually a useful superstition in the sense that knowing where your marker is helps you to stay on track when you’re playing. The last thing you want to do is to be rooting around in your pocket trying to find your ball marker.
Holly Clyburn always liked to have two ball markers in her pocket. A small American coin and a large chip. Presumably, she prefers the coin when she is close to the hole or near someone else’s line and the poker chip when she’s further away.
Some people argue you should never mark your ball with a coin that is worth less than $0.25 as you are just showing that you are cheap. On the contrary, I believe you should be using a coin small enough that it would not put off other players when they are putting. I’m not a fan of poker chips as ball markers for example.
I couldn’t find any mention of professionals admitting to having lucky pants! There are a number of professionals that do have clothing-related superstitions though.
The most famous is undoubtedly Tiger Woods and his red shirts on Sunday. He started wearing red shirts because of his mother who believes that red is his power color.
Paula Creamer who is nicknamed the Pink Panther is renowned for her final round pink outfits.
Sophie Keech who is a young English professional always wears odd socks on the golf course.
Rickie Fowler is also famous for his love of orange on the final day.
Gary Player became known as the man in black because of his choice of attire. He said it helped him absorb the sun’s energy and stand out from the crowd.
Jessica Korda stated that she doesn’t have many superstitions. She does seem to favor clothing that she has played well in before and avoids wearing outfits during a tournament if she’s played badly in that outfit.
Players and caddies have been known to avoid cutting their hair or shaving when they’re on a good run. Graham DeLaet from Canada has been known to grow a beard when playing well in the spirit of ice hockey playoffs.
I`m sure you`ve heard about avoiding stepping on cracks in the pavement. Christina Kim takes it one step further; she doesn’t like to step on the join where the fairway meets the green since she believes it will bring her bad luck.
The next one is actually one that I have probably believed in a little too much down the years. If you start your round with a birdie then your round will go downhill from then on. I suppose it just goes to prove I’m a pessimist! I doubt if many pros would subscribe to this superstition. If so they would never make a good score.
Arnold Palmer’s wife used to give his golf balls a kiss before a round. Maybe that’s why he won seven majors!
The Masters par-3 curse. No one has ever managed to win the Masters in the same year that they won the par-3 tournament. Many players take this superstition very seriously. They will deliberately ruin their chances on the last few holes to make sure that they don’t win it.
Empty pockets. Aside from the things you actually need to play golf, you should empty your pockets. So a ball, some tees, a ball marker, your glove, scorecard and a pencil. Put your wallets, keys, watch, etc in your golf bag.
Tyrell Hatton fears he will make a bogey on his next hole should he mark his score on his card. This means he often goes half a round without putting down a score. At least we know his memory must be good.
Keegan Bradley has a number of quirks including marking his ball with a coin heads-up only. Every time he misses a putt he takes off his hat and scratches his head. Plus his famous shuffling up to the ball.
At tournaments, professionals will often eat at the same restaurant or have the same meal if they have a good round. They might ask for the same room in the hotel if they won the tournament the year before.
For Brandt Snedeker, the superstition bubble seems to have burst. He used to follow a number of rituals such as putting his socks on in the same way. However, a number of final-round 75 is put paid to his superstitious nature.
Karrie Webb even admitted to using the same toilet every day at the 2009 Nabisco.
Lanny Wadkins liked to keep his coins in his left pocket and tees in the right.
Some more caddy superstitions:
John Ward starts a round with five pencils and every time a pencil writes down a bogey that pencil is out and a new one is used. Clearly, it was the pencil’s fault! He will also never wear a white hat.
William Spencer is another who thinks changing the pencil will change your luck after a run of bad holes. He is also prone to changing his route to the course the following day after a bad round.
There’s clearly a lot of good and bad JuJu around pencils. Todd Montoya will take three pencils from the starter’s tent and then just leave them in his bib. He will then use his own mechanical pencil for marking the card!
When Jim “Bones” Mackay Started working for Phil Mickelson it was made clear that Phil didn’t want to see a ball with the number two on it. A few years later he was in a play-off and the only balls left in Phil’s locker were of course number two’s. He went on to win that play-off and for 10 years afterward any time, there was a big moment Phil was looking for a number two ball.
“Never take the putter cover off or pull the putter out of the bag when your player is chipping or in a bunker around the green ”Ryan Rue
Scott Satjinac will send hats and shirts to goodwill if the first time he wears them his player shoots a poor score.
It’s bad luck to walk onto the tee box from the front. You should always approach from behind.
Never tee off before someone if they had a birdie on the previous hole. The golfing gods won’t be happy! Maybe this should be the one exception to ready golf.
And of course one of the oldest superstitions in golf is found in match-play “2 up and 5 to play never wins”
Golf Superstitions: Summary
Obviously, there is little evidence that any of this makes anyone play any better. But even if it is only in the player’s mind then that can be sufficient to give them that little edge that helps them perform better.
I will leave you with this. In a study by the University of Cologne where test subjects were handed a golf ball, half were told that it was a “lucky” ball, the other half were not. Apparently, those handed a “lucky” ball holed out 35% more putts than those with the unlucky ball.
101 Superstitions of Golf by Mike McColgan
Do you have any superstitions?
Frequently Asked Questions [FAQ]
Why Does Ernie Els Use A Yellow Ball?
Ernie Els is using a yellow golf ball because it is easier to see the flight of the ball. It probably also doesn’t hurt that the manufacturer is probably paying him.