Will Golf Balls Influence The Ryder Cup Foursomes Pairings?

Will, and more importantly, should the captains consider which golf ball their players use when selecting who to pair up?

Will Golf Balls Influence The Ryder Cup Foursomes Pairings?
Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood both play the Taylormade TP5, but does that mean they’re more likely to play foursomes together? Not necessarily
(Image credit: Getty Images)

As the Ryder Cup has grown into the sporting behemoth it is today, data has played a more and more significant role for captains when it comes to selecting their pairings. Each side's leadership are now scrutinising their players games down to the smallest detail to inform their decisions and establish compatibility. 

In the lead up to this year's contest at Marco Simone, I have been hearing a lot of chatter around the importance of pairing players in foursomes who play the same model of golf ball. I decided to take a deeper look into this idea and see if it holds any merit.

The most prevalent memory in my mind of the golf ball model being an issue in Ryder Cup foursomes is back in 2014 at Gleneagles. Tom Watson, who was subsequently heavily criticised by his team for various decisions, made the late decision to pair Jim Furyk and Hunter Mahan together in the afternoon foursomes after their strong showing in the morning fourballs. And when I say late, I mean late! The pair were only told of the decision at the end of their morning match and were left frantically testing to familiarise themselves with the others' golf ball. Needless to say, the match did not go well for them, with the US pair going down 3&2 to Rory Mcilroy and Sergio Garcia.

Photo of Jim Furyk and Hunter Mahan at the Ryder Cup against Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia

Jim Furyk and Hunter Mahan had to learn each others golf ball in a hurry at Gleneagles

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Another occasion when ball selection became an issue was at the 2004 Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills where Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were infamously paired together by Hal Sutton in foursomes.

Woods, who played a particularly spinny ball, and Mickelson, who preferred a lower spinning model, now had a problem to solve. Ryder Cup rules did not permit them to switch between balls on each hole so they opted for Tiger's Nike ball because Woods simply could not get on with Mickelson's Callaway ball.

The decision meant that Mickelson had to effectively 'learn' the new ball with just two days notice before the event... once again it didn't go well.

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson at the 2004 Ryder Cup

Tiger and Phil struggled in the foursomes in 2004

(Image credit: Getty Images)

“I grabbed a couple dozen of his balls, I went off to the side, and tried to learn his golf ball in a four-or five hour session on one of the other holes, trying to find out how far the ball goes," Mickelson said.

"It forced me to stop my preparation for the tournament, to stop chipping and putting and sharpening my game in an effort to crash-course learn a whole different golf ball that we were going to be playing.

“And in the history of my career, I have never ball-tested two days prior to a major. I’ve never done it.

"Had we known a month in advance, we might have been able to make it work. I think we probably would have made it work. But we didn’t know until two days prior."

Table of which players are using which ball in the Ryder Cup

The golf balls each player is using in Marco Simone

(Image credit: Future)

The Ryder Cup rules changed in 2006 to allow foursomes teams to switch balls at the end of each hole which should in theory make the decision less critical. Players now tend to tee off with the ball that allows the correct player to hit the approach to the green with their preferred model. The level of flight and spin control with the approach shots being deemed more important than from the tee. 

Titleist Pro V1x Golf Ball

The Titleist Pro V1x will be the most used ball at The 2023 Ryder Cup

(Image credit: Golf Monthly)

That said, even using this method players will still hit many tee and short game shots with an unfamiliar ball, so it must have an effect right?

Well let's use the last Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits as a case study. Of the sixteen pairings put out by the captains over the two foursomes sessions, only six (or 37.5%) of the pairings were made up of players who used the same model ball. The other ten (or 62.5%) pairings all played a different ball to their partner.

Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas at the 2021 Ryder Cup

Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas at the 2021 Ryder Cup

(Image credit: Getty Images)

To break it down even further, it seems that the golf ball was even less important to US Captain Steve Stricker, with only one of his pairings being comprised of matching ball players! Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, who both play the Titleist Pro V1x, paired up in both foursomes sessions in 2021. So, of the 8 foursomes pairings Stricker put out, only 25% played the same ball.

European Captain Padraig Harrington seemed to place a little more stock in the ball matching idea with 50% of his pairings being same ball players. Lee Westwood and Matt Fitzpatrick paired up in both foursomes sessions using their Titleist Pro V1x balls, while Viktor Hovland partnered both Bernd Wiesberger and Paul Casey, who all played the Titleist Pro V1.

Lee Westwood and Matt Fitzpatrick at the Ryder Cup 2021

Lee Westwood and Matt Fitzpatrick at the Ryder Cup 2021

(Image credit: Getty Images)

What about the success rate at Whistling Straits? Well, it may surprise you to learn that only 1 point from the 8 available in foursomes was won by a pairing using the same ball, the other 87.5% of the points going to pairings who played different models.

With this information in mind, maybe the Captains Luke Donald and Zach Johnson will prioritise other data over which golf ball potential partners play.

Joe Ferguson
Staff Writer


Joe has worked in the golf industry for nearly 20 years in a variety of roles. After a successful amateur career being involved in England squads at every age group, Joe completed his PGA degree qualification in 2014 as one of the top ten graduates in his training year and subsequently went on to become Head PGA Professional at Ryder Cup venue The Celtic Manor Resort. Equipment has always been a huge passion of Joe’s, and during his time at Celtic Manor, he headed up the National Fitting Centres for both Titleist and Taylormade.  He’s excited to bring his knowledge of hardware to Golf Monthly in the form of equipment reviews and buying advice. 

Joe lives in North Devon and still plays sporadically on the PGA West region circuit. His best round in recent years came earlier in 2023 where he managed a 9 under par 63 at Trevose GC in a Devon & Cornwall PGA Tournament.

Joe's current What's In The Bag? 

Driver: Srixon ZX5 LS 9.5

Fairway wood: Taylormade M2 Tour 2017, 13.5°  

Irons: Callaway Apex CB 24'  3-11

Wedges: Taylormade MG4 54 and 60 degree

Putter: Odyssey Toe Up #9

Ball: 2023 Titleist Pro V1x