Hard to believe, but there was a story doing the rounds from a high level source when I first joined the golf industry that former Open and Masters champion Sandy Lyle used the same ball for all four rounds of a professional tournament.
It was, I was told, a combination of straight-hitting, superstition, hanging on to a ball that was performing well and... Well, Scottish prudence!
Furthermore the late and lamented Seve Ballesteros once told me exclusively of the brand representative on the range at his first Open Championship in 1975 at Carnoustie who handed him three new and individually-wrapped balls and advised: “If you make the cut I’ll give you three more!”
Seve looked at me with those piercing eyes and a smile on his lips: “I miss cut. I had to wait!”
Sensationally the Spaniard, still a teenager, finished tied second behind Johnnie Miller the following year at Royal Birkdale from which time he received free golf balls for life!
How times have changed in 40 years.
Today’s top Tour pros have been known to use as many as a dozen balls in a round and when you see in slow motion replays the battering they take on the clubface you can understand why, although some switch after playing a hole less than satisfactorily.
According to new research for Bridgestone Golf, players at the 2012 Open Championship used around 2,270 golf balls - an average of five balls per round - while many amateur golfers in the UK still aim to finish 18 holes with the same ball. Indeed one in four see it as a great achievement.
A significant number of regular club players (42%) claim to use just 1.7 balls during an average round, while nearly half (46%) claim they figure to be no more than two. More than eight out of ten golfers with 21+ handicaps say they only ever use one or two balls per round, yet carry at least nine balls in the bag.
Oh ye of little faith!
The Modern Golf Ball Report 2012 further reveals that at least one in three golfers confess they’ll play the same ball until they lose it - seeing no correlation between low scoring and using a pristine ball during a round contrary to a Tour pro .
Most optimistic amateurs believe the same ball should last 34 holes while kept in play - and even if they find a ball, 84% would continue to use the ball in play.
In contrast, the average number of golf balls used by Bridgestone Golf Tour players is five or more each round. Former Open champion Nick Price uses up to nine balls per round if he plays a lot of wedge shots and the surface gets slightly marked and doesn’t spin as it should. Others will play a new ball at each par-5 hole and some will use as many as 15 balls during a round. Discarded balls are usually handed to youngsters eager to add to their souvenir collection.
US Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III, also a Bridgestone staffer, says he uses an average of between five and seven balls each round to improve his chances of shooting a low score, having taken out nine individually marked by his caddie at the start of the round.
The research, conducted among regular club golfers in the UK, reveals there are some signs of accomplished players appreciating the benefits of using a new ball on the back nine. Almost half of all club golfers (47%) say they would consider changing their ball after nine holes, although high handicap players were unlikely to do so (39%).
More than half of those golfers unwilling to consider changing their ball during a round (52%), say they thought it would not help to improve their score, while one in six golfers say they can’t afford to replace a ball with a new one mid-round. However, over half of these golfers will take a new ball if they find a scratch or scuff on the original during a round. One in five (23%) will replace the old ball and use a new one automatically for their next round.
When it comes to choosing a golf ball, almost one in five high handicap players and more than a quarter of Category 3 golfer (13-20 handicap) think that a premium soft ball is ideally suited to their game, despite it being designed expressly for elite Tour players.
Premium balls are more popular with men than women (42% compared to 27%), while mid-range distance and spin balls are seen as the best option for both male and female players (54% and 71% respectively).
“These findings demonstrate just how much more we need to do to explain to the average club golfer what a difference switching to a quality golf ball costing less than £4 can make to the eventual score,” says Steve Kettlewell, managing director of Bridgestone Golf UK.