Kevin Markham investigates some of the strange rituals of the world’s best golfers.
Everyone knows that Tiger wears a red shirt on the final day of competition. And that Rickie Fowler wears enough orange to be adopted by every Dutch mother, but it is unlikely that Phil Mickelson’s Friday accessory is going to become part of his ritual.
He may have played a starring role in the final day at Royal Troon, but standing in the wind and the rain on day two of the Open Championship, the bulldog clip attached to his baseball cap caused considerable bemusement. Given the amount of money he earns and the sponsors he has behind him, you’d think they might have found him a cap that fits.
No, there won’t be kids or weekend golfers rushing out to buy a bulldog clip in the near future. There are, however, plenty of other habits and superstitions which golfers are prepared to adopt in their quest for better scores. Here are a few from the top players in the game, including the newly crowned Open Champion...
Ernie Els won’t play with a ball once he’s had a birdie with it, believing that the ball’s luck has been used up. We’re not quite sure what he does with a ball when he makes a six-putt.
Jack Nicklaus always played with exactly three coins in his pocket. Not two. Not four. Three.
Tiger Woods’ red shirt dates back to his earliest competitive days. “I just happened to choose a school that wore red on our final day of events. So it worked out.” He has also said that his mother believed red was the colour of power. Paula Creamer embraces pink in her final round, to the point she’ll use pink tees and balls.
The great entertainer, Lee Trevino, never used yellow golf tees as he said they were the colour of cowardice.
Colin Montgomerie always uses a 10p coin, while Ian Poulter marks his ball with a coin with the head facing upwards and never at an angle. Davis Love III has them both beat as he believes all coins minted after 1970 will bring bad luck. He plays with pennies from 1965 and 1966, instead. Oh, and he only uses white tees.
The current US Open champion, Dustin Johnson, has a superstition which combines tees and coins. He carries two tees and a 1960s quarter in his pocket. He believes the coin helps him shoot in the 60s. It only worked for him on one day at Royal Troon, although his three rounds in the 60s at the US Open saw him overtake Shane Lowry to claim the trophy.
Plenty of golfers have quirks around the golf ball they play with: Ben Crenshaw never used a golf ball numbered higher than four, as he didn’t want a score higher than the ball number; Retief Goosen plays with a ball with the number four in the first round, dropping down to number one in the final round; and Vijay Singh does the reverse. Henrik Stenson follows suit but won’t play with the number four ball, which makes his final round a lottery of the other three numbers. Whichever ball he used on Sunday, it certainly possessed some magic numbers of its own.
Many of us will wear red, or use the same marker or a specifically numbered ball, and we often do it in the blind belief that because someone else is doing it, it must work.
Karl Morris, the well-known performance coach, tells a story about the red dot he advised Louis Oosthuizen to put on his glove in 2010. Louis used this as a ‘trigger’ and won that year’s Open Championship at St Andrews, by a massive seven shots. Morris visited a driving range shortly afterwards and discovered a golfer using a glove with the same red dot marked on it. Curious, he asked the golfer why he had the dot. The golfer replied that he had no idea but it had worked for Louis, so it could work for him, too.
And here’s one final quirky superstition revealed by a TV commentator on air in the 1960s. He pondered aloud over Arnold Palmer’s pre-round rituals: “One of the reasons Arnie is playing so well,” he said, “is that before each tee-shot, his wife takes out his balls and kisses them…”
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