This is the third in a series of Ranked Player articles, using information gathered by surveys from players listed in our various rankings. So who are these players? Find out here: Ranked Player Survey: top amateur golfers share what they think...and what they know
- USGA/John Mummert photo
Are you superstitious?
Do you believe that what you wear, where you walk, what you carry, or what you say might affect your luck, what happens to you, or how you perform?
Many athletes are.
In golf, no less than Tiger Woods has his fair share of superstitions and rituals. In a 2019 GOLFTV interview, he and Fred Couples were asked this exact question.
"My daughter asked me...if I'm superstitious. And I said, 'well, I guess I am'. I'm more a creature of habit, 'cause I always carry a 1932 quarter. It's the year my Dad was born. He taught me how to putt. So my Dad's always there with me when I play. I always carry three tees in my right pocket. If I have a yardage book, it always goes into my back right pocket. But if I just have a pin sheet it's always in the front left pocket. Always carry Chapstick in the front left pocket and always carry my glove in the back left pocket.
In the video below, their answers start at the 2:02 mark:
In his answer, Tiger leaves out perhaps his biggest superstition of all: his practice of wearing red for the final round of a tournament on a Sunday. In fact, this was bestowed upon him by his mother, who believed that red was his "power color"; according to a custom in her native Thailand, each day of the week is assigned a different color based on the color of the God who protects the day. Sunday's color is red.
We asked the top amateurs in golf whether they were superstitious, or if they had any other rituals that they felt they had to stick to in order to perform. To allow them to answer freely, this question was marked "confidential" and no names will be used when referencing the answers we received.
CONFIDENTIAL Q: Do you have any superstitions, unusual rituals or routines that you do in order to play your best?
There was a strong split on this question, with 56% answering in the affirmative and 44% having no superstitions, rituals or routines. Some of the "no" answers were particularly emphatic (again, names withheld):
"No superstitions otherwise you put limitations on yourself."
"I used to, but I don’t believe in them any longer."
"I did when I was younger, but as I've gotten older I've really gotten away from basically all of them. You don't want to let anything bother you before/during a tournament, so why add to the potential list of things that could conceivably do it? Relax and go with the flow."
"It's bad luck to be superstitious :P"
"Superstitions are for losers."
"Not really, maybe I need some!"
The Case for Superstitions
So why are people superstitious, and why do superstitions, rituals and routines seem to pervade sports and games in particular?
Psychologists and historians have traced superstitions far, far back in human history, as our ancestors struggled to understand the forces of the natural world and their survival was threatened by predators, disease, and other natural forces. Such threats are often random, unpredictable, and may be difficult to understand. So people across time have developed superstitions to seek comfort in the face of such uncertainty, and to get the (false) sense of being able to have control over external events. The tendency may be "hard-wired" in us.
It's easy to see then, why superstitions seep into sports and games like golf. Even though the outcomes are not "life or death", they are still of outsized importance to many players, and the more important the outcome, the more serious the threats to that outcome become (if we let them).
There are any number of threats to good outcomes in golf: the variability of one's own mental and physical performance, the performance of other players, unpredictable playing conditions, and the often fine margins between shots that finish perfectly and those that find trouble. Even when playing well, randomness and unpredictability abound.
So does wearing red, using a 1932 quarter, keeping three tees in one pocket, a pin sheet and Chapstick in another, a yardage book in another and a glove in another magically make Tiger's ball go where he wants it? No. But does it reduce randomness and unpredictability? Maybe a little.
And that's important, because the psychological benefits for reducing these perceived threats on the golf course are reduced anxiety and an increased sense of control over unpredictable outcomes, both of which can enhance performance.
So in a way, a superstition, ritual or routine is just another sport psychology technique, and if being superstitious works for you, then do it.
The danger, of course, is relying too
much on them, becoming dependent on them, and feeling that you can't perform your best without
them. Then you join the ranks of those who avoid black cats, breaking mirrors and the number 13.
Superstitions, rituals and routines of the top players in amateur golf
The unique rituals of our survey respondents were too numerous to list, but here are most popular categories, with some of the more unique answers at the end:
The Ball Marker
What players use to mark the ball on the green was the most popular answer in our survey; not only the choice of marker but the reason behind it. Quarters, dimes, logoed markers; heads, tails; certain years and orientations. Some examples:
"Heads up if marking with a coin so I use my brain more on the course"
"I always mark my ball with a coin from Seminole. Buffalo head nickel, Buffalo one side, Indian head on the other."
"I always mark my ball with one side of the ball marker on the front 9 and I use the other side for the back 9."
"I mark my first putt with a silver coin, any second putts get a penny mark."
"I only use a quarter from VT, SC, or CT to mark my ball. CT is where I'm from. SC is where my wife and I got engaged and where we vacation every year. VT is where we got married."
"I will always mark my ball on the green with a marker from a tournament where I’ve putted really well before, in most cases a tournament that I had won. It just gives me a little bit of good mojo before I hit the next putt."
"I use a mid-1960s quarter to mark my golf ball on greens and mark it with the heads side of the coin up."
"If I have a good putting day, I use the same ball marker the following day. If I have a bad putting day, I'm going to a new ball marker."
"Have to use the same ball marker. Had it for 12 years."
What to wear and how to wear it
No one claimed to wear Tiger red in the final round, but there are lots of other ways that our survey respondents choose what to wear and even how they get dressed:
"No logos on the chest that I can see."
"No change of clothes if playing well (that is a hard one sometimes)."
"I tend to wear the same outfits if I need a good round."
"If I play bad I never wear the outfit again in a tournament."
"I don’t wear the same golf shoes on back-to-back days."
"I will not remove or add a layer of clothing if I’m playing well."
"Left shoe always goes on first."
"I put my right sock and shoe on first."
The golf ball
The number on the ball, the markings that a player puts on his golf ball for identification or inspiration, and when to put a new ball in play; lots of decisions to make for those who care enough to do so:
"I never tee off the first hole of a tournament with a brand new ball."
"Big red square around the name of the golf ball I play."
"Odd-numbered golf balls."
"I don't take a ball out of play when I have not made a bogey with it."
"I draw a line on my ball even though I never use it."
"I only play with Titleist balls numbered 1 2 or 3 no higher numbers."
"Never play with a number 3 ball."
What goes into the pockets
Like Tiger, many of our top ams are very particular about what they carry in their pockets. Some examples:
"2 tees, 2 ball markers (small and large), and a divot tool in my right pocket."
"3 tees, 1 quarter and a flat marker in my right pocket."
"I always have four tees in my pocket."
"I always keep two ball markers and between 4-6 tees in my right pocket."
"I keep 4 tees and a quarter in my left pocket, phone in my back left pocket, yardage book in my back right, cash in from front left."
"Same quarter in back pocket for 30 years."
Best of the rest
Here are some of the more interesting answers we received. Give one of these a try at your next tournament (or for bonus points and an appointment with your sport psychologist, try all of them!):
"I was given a hamsa (amulet that wards off the evil eye) a number of years ago from family friends and it's attached to my golf bag."
"Sometimes I prefer to hit it bad on the range before my round because some of my best rounds came from either no range session, or a really bad range session."
"Usually warm up before all rounds with only a driver. Start real slow and build up to full speed."
"Par threes - can only use "used" wooden tees that are broken."
"I re-tie my shoes after a bad hole or two.
"Do not write scores down unless I make a bogey or play 9 holes."
"I eat a half-pound of turkey before I play. It calms my nerves and gives me enough energy to finish the round."
"Make sure I don't have to go #2 on the course!"
"I spin the putter three times before each putt."
"In multiple-round tournaments I take the same driving route if I played well the previous day, and change routes if I played poorly."
"I like to watch standup comedy the night before a competitive round."
"I listen to a song with slow, even tempo before a round. I sing the song to myself as I play."
"I ask God to help me do my best and not give up out there."
Be sure to revisit AmateurGolf.com as we continue our Ranked Player Survey series, sharing the expertise and experience of our group of ranked player survey respondents.