The rituals and superstitions found in golf are uniquely eccentric and personal. The must-have lucky tee, ball or cap because, of course, only a certain color, number or special marking will do the job.
Champions Tour player John Cook marks his ball with quarters that feature states where he played well in the past. Paul Azinger always marks his ball with a penny bearing the head of Abraham Lincoln looking at the hole for good luck. Jack Nicklaus always plays with three coins in his pocket while Ernie Els believes that there is only one birdie in each ball, which is all well and good if you are not paying for them!
Lee Trevino was once quoted as saying that he will never use yellow tees when teeing off because yellow is the color of cowardice. Doug Sanders, a peacock of a pro most famous for missing a three-foot putt to win the 1970 British Open, would never use white tees. Nicklaus, the man who benefited from that missed putt, always uses broken tees on par threes.
Tiger always wears a red shirt for the last round of golf tournaments. Why does he do this? The answer is simple – his mother told him to. According to her, it’s his power color, but it’s also the color of Stanford, his university. Either way, he has worn red on the course every Sunday since he turned pro in 1996.
Gary Player has always worn black to absorb the suns energy and stand out from the crowd. Hogan’s flat cap, Snead’s straw hat and Norman’s cowboy hat are all an integral part of their respective wearer’s image.
When it comes to pre-shot routines, nothing was perhaps as famous as Arnie Palmer hitching his pants or as tortuous to the spectator as Hubert Green pumping up and down as many as 30 times before pulling the trigger. All those mentioned are, or were, top pros but club members take ritual and superstition to a whole new level.
My friend Ernie always fixes at least one extra pitch mark on every green. He figures that if he is good to the greens, they will be good to him. Not sure about that but it keeps the superintendent happy. Henry never washes his ball on a ‘water hazard’ hole as he figures it gives the ball the wrong idea. Bob will never use a ball he just found during the round he is playing. Apparently, it’s okay to use the ball in future.
Is there really anything to all this lucky charm stuff? Well, maybe, according to the New York Times. The paper quotes a study led by psychologist Lysann Damisch of the University of Cologne where subjects were handed a golf ball and half of them were told that the ball had been lucky so far. Apparently, those with a ‘lucky’ ball drained 35 percent more putts than those with a ‘regular’ ball.
When all is said and done, kitted out in my red victory shirt, number one ball in hand, black tee, a 1962 Lincoln penny in my pocket and a rabbit’s foot key chain in my bag just in case, the words of Gary Player reverberate inside my head, “The more I practice, the luckier I get.