When talent and fundamentals take a golfer only so far, superstition is the next best thing

"I think everyone is a little bit superstitious. They just don’t want to admit it."

Peter Uihlein
Peter Uihlein has head covers that were made using images of his Siberian Husky dogs. –John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

NORTON — When New Bedford native Peter Uihlein tees off at this week’s Dell Technologies Championship, he’ll be accompanied, in a sense, by one of his two dogs, Bagger.

It’s Bagger’s turn this week because Breya, his canine counterpart, didn’t deliver the good luck in last week’s Northern Trust.

No, the dogs aren’t physically present when Uihlein competes. But each is represented on a golf club head cover the 29-year-old uses. He rotates depending on “who played well last week.’’

“My girlfriend got me them,’’ he explained. “You have to send in a bunch of photos of your pets and they re-create a spitting image of your pet and they make it into a head cover.’’

Advertisement

This admission — that he rotates based on perceived luck — came only minutes after Uihlein answered a series of questions about the mechanics of his game and the details of the TPC Boston course. It illustrated the dichotomy in golf where science meets superstition.

Players will harness a mathematically precise approach to hitting a golf ball into a hole barely 4 inches in diameter, yet just as easily turn around and credit success to an old coin or the color of their shirt.

It presents a contrast between the two sides of the brain, and it’s been a timeless aspect of golf that stretches back decades. It’s as inexplicable now as it’s ever been.

“I’m very superstitious,’’ golf legend Chi Chi Rodriguez once explained. Rodriguez used three different coins as ball markers, depending on the shot. “I think everyone is a little bit superstitious. They just don’t want to admit it.’’

That said, plenty of famous golfers are perfectly comfortable wearing their superstitions. Tiger Woods has his Sunday red. Rickie Fowler dons Sunday orange. It’s accepted tradition.

Many superstitions are simply derived from personal preference.

“I only play Titleist 5 [golf balls],’’ said Uihlein. “My favorite baseball player growing up was Nomar [Garciaparra], and he wore No. 5. Him and George Brett, both No. 5. And I got to play with George Brett once. I only play Titleist 5s because of that.’’

Advertisement

Coins are a common part of golf superstition, though not all are as ostentatious as Rodriguez, who included in his repertoire one made of gold. Jack Nicklaus carried three coins in his back pocket. Paul Azinger spotted his ball with a penny, making sure that it was heads up, with Lincoln’s face always looking at the hole.

The tradition continues in 2018.

“The only superstition I have is I mark my ball with an ANZAC coin,’’ said Australian golfer Cameron Smith. “My caddie is from New Zealand. That was the army corps.’’

Not everyone on the PGA Tour is that superstitious. Bryson DeChambeau, the 24-year-old winner of last week’s Northern Trust, the first leg of the FedEx Cup playoffs, is skeptical.

“I see coincidences, things that happen and recur in weird ways,’’ DeChambeau said. “So every once in a while, I do get a little superstitious. But it’s not much.

“I keep looking at it, and I think of it as a couple standard deviations off. It just reoccurs in that way. It just happened to recur that way.’’

DeChambeau is an interesting example, given that he was a physics major in college and regularly applies that discipline to his game. Not only are his clubs all of equal length, but he uses what he calls “brain training’’ to help master the mental aspect of golf. In this way, he acknowledged that he occasionally dabbles with superstition, as it can put his mind at ease.

“Every road has its end, you know, and so there would be times it works for me,’’ he explained. “So it’s unique in that way.’’

Advertisement

Yet DeChambeau made it clear that he isn’t bound to superstition, in whatever form it appears. He keeps it on a short leash.

“It will work for a little bit and then it won’t,’’ DeChambeau said. “And that’s when I throw it out.’’

NBA
'Space Jam 2' is happening
September 19, 2018 | 4:42 PM
Patriots
Josh Gordon is no Randy Moss
September 19, 2018 | 5:00 AM