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The Tour Report

May 27 2013

12:40 PM

Mental Game: Superstitions

Zach Johnson lost his lucky ball marker at Colonial, but found it later in the week. (How/Getty Images)

By Dr. Gregg Steinberg, Special to PGATOUR.COM

Superstitions exist in all walks of life. The number 13 is considered bad luck. Unbelievably, some office buildings skip that number as a floor. We don’t walk under ladders, and we would hate to break a mirror.

Golf is no exception when it comes to superstitions and good luck charms. Zach Johnson has a very special ball maker. Johnson’s wife, Kim, made him a ball marker that contains biblical phrases and verses that he reads during the round.

Johnson is not alone in his use of charms in hopes of bringing better scores. Superstitions have always been prevalent in golf. All-time great Chi Chi Rodriguez marks his ball with the head side up, and he never uses pennies as a marker. Then there’s two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw. He has been known to play only low-numbered balls -- one through four -- because he doesn’t want to make a score higher than that. And there are countless other golfers with charming behaviors such as these.

Why do golfers have superstitions? While many of these superstitions might seem a bit strange to an outsider, they provide an important purpose to our mental and emotional health. Life is very unpredictable. We want control where there is none, and superstitions make us feel more in control. By engaging in this action (e.g., always playing with a number two on our ball), we believe to have a greater influence over the outcome of the event (e.g. having a better score).

Furthermore, this perceived sense of control derived from our superstitions gives us a more relaxed attitude. Psychologists have determined that a greater sense of control over our environment will lead to less anxiety in our lives. Thus, superstitions can reduce our anxiety on the golf course and give us peace of mind about our game.

Would I, as a sports psychologist, recommend such habits?

Of course, as long as they are not counterproductive or inappropriate, such as skipping breakfast because you believe eating the day's most important meal has brought you bad luck in the past.

More important, you should develop positive superstitions, such as the belief that you must practice your putting for 10 minutes before every round. Goethe once stated, “Superstition is the poetry of life.”  It is an art form to weave actions into your golf game that give you a peace of mind.

Bio: Dr. Gregg Steinberg is a regular guest every Tuesday on “Talk of the Tour” heard on the Sirius/XM PGA TOUR radio. He is a tenured professor of sports psychology and has been the mental game coach for many PGA TOUR players as well as top collegiate and junior golfer.  Dr. Gregg is the author of the best selling golf psychology book, MentalRules for Golf, and you can get your autographed copy at www.drgreggsteinberg.com.