Not only do I suffer from a neurotic reluctance to use a new golf ball, but I’ve also thought of a name for the illness… novospherophobia. A long-time sufferer, my hope is that by ‘coming out’ and drawing attention to the problem, I might help others and remove some of the stigma attached to the condition.
Thanks to friends and family, whose generosity outweighs their originality at Christmas and on my birthday, I have boxes of shiny new golf balls at the top of my wardrobe next to my Spurs’ videos. To those who know me, golf balls must seem an ideal gift. After all, doesn’t Clive just love golf? Well, yes, but much as I love golf, I hate using a new ball. Why?
Sorting out my reluctance to use new golf balls is a complicated business. One explanation is that I’m an anal retentive who likes to hoard. Although there’s no history of stamps or cheese labels, I’m reluctant to throw things away and have an absolute hang up about waste. To watch me polish off the scraps at the end of a meal you could be forgiven for assuming that I was brought up in grinding poverty instead of middle-class comfort.
Maybe it’s a product of profound insecurity where I measure my own worth in new Titleists and Pinnacles. But if that were the case, wouldn’t I get them out every day, spread them over the bedroom carpet and count them? Instead of which I only do that once a week. It’s not that I especially like them, I simply hate to use them. Ah, maybe we’re getting somewhere.
Why won’t I use them? One reason is that I have a firm belief that new balls are not very different from old balls. A scratch here, a scuff there doesn’t, in my opinion, significantly affect their aerodynamic properties. In other words, struck properly, old balls fly just as straight and are no more likely to end up in trouble if they’re not.
The real reason (deep breath) I believe I can’t bring myself to take a virgin ball out of its box and tee it up is that I don’t want the added pressure. Golf is a worrying game at the best of times without the extra anxiety that comes from using a new ball. If, in a moment of extreme carelessness, I inadvertently teed one up and, God forbid, hit it into deep rough, I would feel obliged to look for it for the full five minutes. Then, if I didn’t find it, I’d be inconsolably miserable for the rest of the round and, depending on the light, might even return to the spot later to resume the search.
So under what circumstances, if any, would I break into my war chest of literally dozens of new balls? That’s a tough question. Clearly, if I were to make it through the qualifiers and find myself on the first tee at The Open, it would be just too embarrassing to declare to the likes of Rory and Jordan as I pulled a ball at random out of my golf bag, “Mine’s a weary looking Top Flite number two with a scratchy mark running down one side and an odd-looking logo on the other.”
But if I were obliged to start with a new ball, I would hope to finish the round with the same one, tee it up the next day and, assuming I made the cut, play the final two rounds with it as well. Moreover, I doubt very much that, even after four rounds, I would feel inclined to toss it nonchalantly into the crowd as I walked off the 18th green.
Taking out a new ball every couple of holes, as the pros do, is profligate nonsense. I suspect this practice is the consequence of collusion between the manufacturers, eager to dump surplus stock in an effort to maintain prices, and the caddies, looking to supplement their modest wages by flogging nearly-new golf balls on the side.
I’m comfortable with my problem, but fellow novospherophobics wishing to rejoin mainstream golfing society need not despair. David Isenberg, Emeritus Professor of Sporting Disorders at the University of East Basildon, has devised a highly effective therapy.
Sufferers simply have to attend a weekend course at a five-star clinic recently opened in England’s Lake District. On the first morning, they’re asked to try and drive brand new balls over Lake Windermere – a carry of some several miles. Initially they struggle to take the club back, their palms become sweaty and they invariably weep uncontrollably as each despairing shot splashes into the water.
However, as the treatment progresses, they learn to relax and actually appear to enjoy the experience. A cure is considered to have been affected when they dispense with their drivers and start hitting wedge shots in a carefree kind of way that betrays obvious pleasure. At $1999, the treatment in not cheap but, then again, you’ve nothing to lose except, of course, your balls.
Golf writer Clive Agran, 65 and a journalist for more than 40 years, Clive Agran still wonders what he’ll do when he grows up. Nicknamed ‘Silky Swing’, he travels the globe looking for the world’s best golf courses.