Archived Newsletters - SUPERSTITION IN THE MENTAL GAME OF GOLF :
Newsletter May 2011
Recently I heard a knowledgeable speaker talk about the PGA Tour events. He mentioned that in 2009 Tiger played in the Par 3 contest at the Masters. The winner of this contest has never gone on to win the Masters in the same week. Tiger was 8 under par and hit balls in the water on 9 and 10 to make sure he wouldn't win the Par 3 contest and jeopardize his chances of winning the Masters Tournament. Angel Cabrera won in a playoff against Kenny Perry that year. And in 2004 Tiger withdrew from a three-way playoff just in case the superstition was real. He finished tied for 22nd.
This got me to thinking about how superstitious professional golfers are. I had always heard about tour pros repeating rituals when they were winning. They would drive the same car to the golf course, wear the same shoes, the same clothing, go to the same restaurant, eat the same food, and use the same number on their game balls. Since their livelihood depends on their ability to play consistently, it is understandable that they don't want to change anything when they are playing well. However, some of the pre-game rituals they use make me wonder if they have convinced themselves that it will affect the outcome. A ritual is an action an athlete takes with the belief that it has the power to influence their performance.
Why do golfers believe in superstitions?
When a golfer has an exceptionally good round, s/he usually goes over the round to figure out how it happened. What did s/he do to "cause it? In addition to reviewing their swing mechanics, they might notice what they wore or ate, and anything that might be unusual. The success of the round is then attributed to one of these "causes" and the golfer will then try to recreate the same situation in the hopes of being successful again.
I remember hearing of a high school golf team who won their first spring match when everyone was wearing their team sweaters. They didn't want to "jinx" their success so the coach made them wear their sweaters even when the temperatures climbed into the 90's. Does this make sense?
Superstitious beliefs on the Pro Tours
The Reader's Digest Universal Dictionary defines superstition as "an unfounded belief that some action or circumstance completely unrelated to a course of events can influence its outcome." Here are some examples of superstitions that world-class professionals believe will make them perform better.
Nick Watney defended his 2009 Farmers Insurance Open January 30th at Torrey Pines. He shot 63 in his final round and finished T-6. His caddie Chad Reynolds said that he wouldn't cut his hair as long as Watney finished in the top 10. After five top 10 finishes the string was broken, and we can assume that Chad had his hair cut.
Tiger Woods always wears a red shirt for the final round of a tournament.
John Cook marks his golf ball with the quarters that have pictures of the states where he played well in tournaments.
Doug Sanders considered white golf tees unlucky and refused to play golf with them.
Tom Weiskoff said he never tees off without 3 tees and 3 cents in his pocket. He will only tee off on a par-3 hole with a broken tee.
Paul Azinger always marks his golf ball with a penny, with the head of Abraham Lincoln looking at the hole for good luck.
Christina Kim doesn't step on the edge where the fairway meets the green, as she believes this will bring bad luck to her golf game.
Jesper Parnevik always marks his ball with the tails-side up.
Jack Nicklaus always plays with three coins in his pocket.
Ernie Els believes that there is only one birdie in each ball, and that the number two is unlucky.
Retief Goosen starts the 1st round of a tournament with a number 4 ball, plays number 3 in the 2nd round, number 2 in the 3rd round and a number 1 ball in the final round.
Vijay Singh uses balls in the reverse order.
David Love III marks his ball with a 1965 or1966 penny believing that pennies minted after 1970 are unlucky.
Golf balls with a number higher than four are often associated with bad luck and are hardly made anymore.
Fear vs. Luck
Would it affect your luck if you did not act on your superstitious beliefs? Does acting on your belief bring you luck? I believe there is a certain amount of luck in the game of golf. I also believe that luck happens when preparation meets opportunity. Stewart Cink says he stays clear of all superstitions because all they do is bring him bad luck.
To have consistent results in the game of golf, it is necessary to have a consistent pre-shot routine. The rituals listed above are routines that are not needed. Golfers practice superstitious rituals in the hopes of bringing success, or conversely, to keep away the fear of bad luck. Fear is always a belief conjured up by the individual that keeps the mind emotionally engaged. If the golfer forgets to do the ritual, the fear of creating bad luck takes over.
Golfers always want to have more control on the golf course. Practicing superstitious rituals gives away your power as it occupies the mind with thoughts that have no relevance to preparing for the shot/putt. Visualizatin and mental imagery are mental routines that recreate successful past shots and feelings as if they are happening in the present moment. Prepare your mind with these useful mental skills and forget about any ritual based on a useless belief.
"Fear is the main source of superstition and one of the main sources of cruelty.
To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom."
-- Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)
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