I like to think that I can play golf without superstitions affecting my game. My only ritual is a cup of coffee before I start a round, or a little waggle before I take a swing. Or so I like to think…
For some pro golfers, superstitions and rituals seem like a part of their competitive edge. There could be many reasons for these rituals; pros could use these behaviors to help to nurture the belief that they can win a big tournament, or they could equally use them to help to diminish the fear of loss.
Tiger Woods is one famous golfer who has a well-known ritual. If you haven’t noticed it yet, you will from now on. He always wears a red t-shirt when playing the final round of tournaments of Sundays.
In his own words, “I’ve worn red ever since my college days basically, or junior golf days – big events on the last days. I just stuck with it out of superstition, and it worked.”
And indeed it looks like it did work. Tiger is worth a whopping $700 million, regularly takes home major tournaments, and has spent more time ranked as the number one than any other golfer. Was it his red shirt that was the key? I would argue that his talent was the cause for victory! Either way, it’s a shame that Tiger won’t be sporting his red shirt in the upcoming Genesis and Honda due to back issues.
The famous red shirt is not the only superstition that Tiger Woods is known for; in an even more unusual display he deliberately threw the 2009 Par 3 Masters contest. He actually hit balls into water on the 9th and 10th to sabotage his 8 under par score. The reason: no one had ever won the Par 3 and then gone on to win the Masters Tournament in the same week, so Tiger Woods didn’t want to ruin his chances. He didn’t go on to win the Masters in the end; Angel Cabrera took the win.
Tiger Woods is not the only golfer to demonstrate strange and wonderful rituals. One common ritual is ball marking. Jesper Parnevik uses a tails-side up penny to mark the ball, Paul Azinger uses a penny with Abraham Lincoln’s head facing the hole, and David Love III uses a 1965 or 1966 penny, reporting that any stamped from 1970 onwards are bad luck. Perhaps my favorite ritualistic ball mark comes from John Cook, who uses pictures of states where he has previously won tournaments.
Numbers are another deeply ingrained superstition, and many of us have and utilize our lucky number, whether we admit it or not. Take Jack Nicklaus for example, who carries 3 coins in his pocket, and Tom Weiskoff, who claims never to tee off without 3 tees and 3 cents in his pocket, and also says he only ever tees off with a broken tee on par-3 holes.
Even more unusually, Ernie Els believes that there is only one birdie to be gained in each ball, and also that the number two is unlucky. You can imagine that he keeps his Caddie quite busy.
The most complex ritual of all comes from Retief Gossen. He plays the first round with a number four ball, the second round with a number three ball, the third round with a number two ball and the final round with a number one ball.
I don’t know what to think about these pros and their superstitions. On the one hand, it all seems like a lot of nonsense that has somehow found its way into a profession of otherwise flawless athletes? It’s interesting, but hardly great game development.
On the other hand, some sources do claim that superstitions can help athletes to gain a psychological edge. I’m always looking to emulate the pros and improve my chances of scoring a birdie or two, so maybe I should start wearing red t-shirts and marking my number 1 balls with pictures of Abe Lincoln?