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Getting lucky on the course, or not letting superstition ruin your day
Are you superstitious by nature? Do you always uncross crossed knives, go out of your way to avoid walking under a ladder and dread the 13th should it fall on a Friday?

Cynics, psychologists, mystic Megs and those interested in the world of astrology all have their own preconceived ideas about the strange world of superstitions and although these strange beliefs originated from somewhere in the chronicles of yesteryear it is bizarre to comprehend how some have actually stood the test of time, whilst others have long fallen by the wayside.

Superstition is something that has proven to be a great equaliser and seems prevalent among virtually everyone, from the next door neighbour to heads of state and even some astute advertising moguls, who have tried to play on our fears and ambitions by boldly advertising that 'adding our product into your daily diet means you too can play golf like one of the top professional golfers.'

If only it were that easy.

Superstition has its roots firmly embedded in the mists of time and as young carefree children everyone remembers innocently chanting in the school playground 'Stand on a crack and break your back', being told not to open an umbrella indoors because it was unlucky, or diving for cover if you accidentally broke a mirror. In retrospect they sound like the puerile, silly beliefs to which only children would cling. And one would have imagined that, with the passing of years such foolish ideas would dissipate and maturity would expose them for what they are, irrational beliefs with no basic foundation.

And yet are they truly without any basis? To put things in perspective, and according to whichever reference guide you use, they all agree on one thing: 'Superstitions are a belief or practice generally regarded as irrational, it implies a belief in unknown forces that can be influenced by objects and rituals.'
Seems logical enough written down on paper so why do some people insist on holding on to them?

According to psychologists, superstitions become part of our lives from an extremely early age and have been part of every culture throughout history. From the next-door neighbour to the bus driver, from politicians to entertainers, they all at one time or another have had a hidden ritual or superstition with which they felt safe and for some they become an important part of their life which they cannot give up. Dr. Len Zaichkowsky a professor of sports psychology at Boston University is quoted as saying: 'Superstitions have always been prominent, especially amongst sports people, many of whom feel it brings them good luck and more importantly helps avoid bad luck.'

His reasoning lies in the fact that because many sports are so uncertain and guaranteed success is out of an individual's control, (even the greatest golfers can get a bad bounce or have someone else go on a freaky scoring blitz) that those who genuinely believe that a particular superstition helps give them some command over their game have actually created an affinity with it.

Consequently, if you won a tournament each time you wore a certain coloured sweater then you may start to believe that the sweater was lucky, just as some people carry a small white elephant in their pocket when sitting an important exam. Whether right or not, Dr.Zaichowsky feels that by succumbing to a superstition you are relinquishing trust in your own talents to some hidden mystic power, although many would deny this to be the case [touch wood, Ed]. But just as there is no tangible evidence to support the belief that superstitions work, the opposite is also true. As with so many things concerning the human psyche, it boils down to, if you think it works, it probably does.

But surely professional golfers, such stalwart, confident men and women who are envied by millions of wannabe golfing enthusiasts rise above such trivial ideologies? They are seen as highly talented and focussed sportspeople so the concept that they could possibly believe it is good luck to spit on a new pair of golfing shoes or even think that golf balls with a number higher than four are bad omens is laughable.

So how does superstition relate to professional golfers? As with any sport there are different elements to attaining success with one basic common denominator, achieving a balanced state of mind. Athletes, professional boxers, tennis players, footballers, all admit to allowing themselves a few minutes prior to a match in order to psyche and prepare themselves mentally and emotionally. Although adopting the right attitude of mind can be fundamental in helping calm down pre-match nerves mind games don't work for everyone; some golfers have found alternative ways of dealing with their fears and worries.

Take for example, world number one Tiger Woods. He might deny he is superstitious but his clothing tells a different story, as it is now well known that if he's in contention on the last day of a tournament, but particularly a major, he wears a red shirt or sweater. But is red simply his favourite colour or could there be some other significance? Tiger's mum, who is an ardent believer in astrology, says: 'Red is a lucky colour for Tiger, it brings power.' However, Tiger isn't the only professional golfer who has a favourite lucky item of clothing, many golfers think that a particular colour of sweater or socks is a necessary adjunct to the success of their game.
Seve Ballesteros has the same superstition as Tiger with two minor differences. First, his chosen colour is blue and second, it's been so long since he was in contention for anything that you may not have seen this sartorial wish-fulfilment for some time. Lee Bacchus [who he? Ed] is quite willing to admit that his favoured choice of clothing is a soft baseball cap he remembers buying in the 90's and although it may well have seen better days, it goes everywhere that he goes.

Whether you believe in myths or regard them as 'yarns' that people with time on their hands sit dreaming up Jack Nicklaus, admits quite openly to carrying three pennies in his pocket during each competitive round of golf. In his autobiography he writes: 'If I carried only one penny and lost it, I'd be without a ball marker. If I had only two pennies and lost one and a fellow player needed to borrow one to mark his ball, I'd be still out of ball-makers. So logical or not, three pennies is has been ever since and I always mark the ball with the tails side of the penny up.'

But he is by no means alone. Fellow American John Cook won't mark his ball with a new quarter unless it represents a state in which he has had success, and Paul Azinger always marks his ball with a penny head upward facing, and always with Lincoln looking towards the hole. And Mark Weibe only uses coins minted in the 1960s to mark his balls, presumably because the score he wants to shoot will be in similar numbers.

Playing different tees is something else golfers regard with suspicion. Ask Doug Sanders how he feels about playing different tees but don't be surprised if his reply is unprintable. Doug, as legend has it, never played a white tee, believing them to be unlucky. As he stood on the 18th tee of the last day of the 1970 Open Championship he needed just a par to win the claret jug. The story goes that he couldn't find a tee and a playing partner handed him a white one that he decided to use, against his better judgement, to avoid slowing up proceedings. He went on to bogey the hole, missing an infamous three-foot putt, and the following day lost a playoff to Jack Nicklaus.

And there are always some who have rather strange superstitions for reasons known only to themselves. But if we are all totally honest most people have superstitions but whether they are regarded as such, or rituals or habits, if they help win a round of golf then who really cares?

Christine Green is a freelance golf writer and says, touch wood, that she's not at all superstitious

©    13 - FEBRUARY 2002

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