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.
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.
“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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
Get the Golf Monthly Newsletter
Tips on how to play better, latest equipment reviews, interviews with the biggest names and more.
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
Should You Buy Second Hand Golf Clubs?
Is purchasing second hand golf clubs a good idea? We weigh up the pros and cons to assist your decision making
By James Hogg Published
'I Still Have Game. It's Whether Or Not The Body Can Do It,' Says Woods After Third-Round 71 At Hero World Challenge
Tiger Woods admits that he's been "pleasantly surprised" with how his body has held up this week - but it's Scottie Scheffler who has surged clear in The Bahamas
By Michael Weston Last updated
How To Choose The Right Golf Grips For Your Game
If you're not thinking about your golf grips as part of your equipment, it's probably time to change your mindset
By Chris Wallace Published
How To Choose A Putter: Are You Using The Right Flat-Stick?
Deciding how to choose a putter can be a daunting task, so we have broken down the decision-making process to help you get the right putter for your game.
By Neil Tappin Published
What Golf Clothing Does Charley Hull Wear?
Charley Hull has turned heads in 2023 for the quality of her golf and her outfits. We take a look at the golf brand she wears
By Alison Root Published
What’s The Difference Between Men’s And Women’s Golf Clubs?
We take an in-depth look at the elements that make men’s and women’s golf clubs different and explain why they are designed this way
By Carly Frost Published
Five Things I’ve Added To My Golf Bag This Winter
Want to play your best and feel comfortable on course this winter? These five essential items should help...
By Dan Parker Published
Why Do Some Golfers Putt Without A Glove?
You rarely see a Tour pro putt with a glove on - but why?
By Michael Weston Published
I Went Behind The Scenes At One Of The UK's Most Exciting New Fitting Venues... Here's What I Found!
We took a sneak peek inside PXG's first brick-and-mortar store in the UK before it opened to the public
By Dan Parker Published
Why A 9-Wood Should Be The Next Club You Put In Your Bag
Former mini-tour professional, Sam De’Ath, explains how a 9-wood filled a void in his bag and why you should use one
By Sam De'Ath Published