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Beating the Odds

Ritual or Superstition?

Golf is a game that is played on a five-inch course — the distance between your ears.”  ~ Bobby Jones

Today marks the eve of the Masters golf tournament, the day when the players go through the ritual of the par-3 competition.

And here’s where you’re likely to see lots of superstition: Since no one has ever won the par-3 and the Masters itself in the same year, you won’t see a lot of players going out of their way to win the par-3. Some will actually make sure they lose it.

So here’s a question for players and coaches: What is the difference between a superstition and a ritual?

According to dictionary.com, a superstition is: a belief or notion, not based on reason or knowledge, in or of the ominous significance of a particular thing, circumstance, occurrence, proceeding, or the like.

Ritual is described as: any practice or pattern of behavior regularly performed in a set manner. Let’s add our own definition as it applies to sports: it’s a series of familiar actions, performed in the same sequence and with the same timing.

The difference is an important one. Rituals can really help athletes because they are based on something the athlete can control: actions.

Superstitions, though perhaps they can lend comfort in some situations, are ultimately based on things that players cannot control: beliefs that may or may not be true.

Athletes are most successful when they are in control. And controlling the mind can start with controlling the body. That’s where rituals come in. When the pressure kicks in on the last nine holes on Sunday, golfers want to surround themselves with what is familiar.

So even though golfers may bow to superstition today and avoid winning the par-3, what will really win the Masters is a strong pre-shot routine.

Coach Tully’s Extra Point: When Gene Sarazen, whose double-eagle in the 1935 Masters is one of the greatest shots in golf history, received golf tips from baseball Hall of Famer Ty Cobb and flying tips from Howard Hughes.


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