The decision of how many golf balls to put in your bag is something that every golfer can relate to. In a way, it's like placing a bet on yourself before you get to the course. With reserved confidence, you load up with five balls, thinking, 'yeah, that'll be enough.
I'm feeling good today.' Then, just before you start up the car, you remember that there's a lake on the 5th, 12th, and 14th, and so you run back to the garage and grab another five.
Personally, I won't go anywhere near the 1st tee if there aren't at least ten balls in my bag (my handicap is higher than I'd care to admit).
But what about the pros? Surely they roll out with a lighter load?
In this article, we'll learn about the thought processes involved in a pro's ball management, as well as some other interesting tidbits and stories about golf balls.
How many golf balls do tour pros carry?
As with most golfers, there's going to be a difference in the amount of balls used and the amount of balls carried.
Many of the best golfers in the world will tell you that they didn't get to where they are by habitually losing 5+ balls per round, but also that they like to carry a few more than they need. It's always nice to have a bit of a safety net.
As PGA Tour pro Brendan Todd explains, 'the reality is that hardly any of us need more than five or six balls, [but] I normally carry ten golf balls a round, just in case.' Similar to Todd, most pro golfers start their rounds with nine balls (three sleeves).
It's not so few that losing a couple of balls causes a panic, but it's not so many that the caddie has to haul around unnecessary extra weight (golf balls may be super light, but it all adds up!)
Superstition can sometimes dictate how many golf balls a player brings along. Gary Woodland, for example, takes the peculiar amount of 11 balls each round. He can't remember when he started doing it, but it's a habit he refuses to break.
You'd think that, for most pro golfers, the number of balls carried would vary from course to course. Imagine, for instance, tackling Augusta with less than ten balls. Madness!
But according to Russell Knox, it's common for pros to always bring the same number of balls, regardless of the difficulty of the course.
'Maybe it's the way pros think,' Knox reflects, 'but we have a routine and it doesn't change for a course or a tournament.'
Golf is very much a game of routine, and most players are reluctant to stray too far from their own. It makes sense, therefore, that a pro would add to the consistency of their routine by carrying the same amount of balls every time they head out.
Do pro golfers use a new ball each hole?
Despite being sponsored by a ball manufacturer, thus having an effectively endless supply of free golf balls, pros tend not to use a fresh ball on every hole.
It would be a little on the excessive side, and there is very little difference between a ball that's been hit two or three times and a ball that's fresh from the factory.
That said, the likes of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, and Rickie Fowler have been known to use a fresh ball every two holes. That means bringing 9 balls along before even accounting for all the other stuff that can happen in a golf competition.
Some balls, particularly 'bogey' balls, are gifted to the crowds, or discarded entirely. In fact, you could safely bet that any pro would change their ball after making anything more than a double-bogey.
Call it superstition or concrete logic - either way, pros have no interest in sticking with a ball that's just cost them some shots.
Conversely, if a ball is treating them to a string of birdies, then they will be reluctant to change it, even if they feel that the ball is past its prime. As if golf needed more mind games!
What happens if a pro runs out of golf balls during a tournament?
If a pro is having a particularly bad day and runs out of golf balls, all is not lost (though they probably won't be taking any trophies home). They can have someone make a dash to the pro shop, or to their locker, to retrieve a fresh batch.
However, this is likely going to result in a delay in play, incurring a two-shot penalty. Of course, the player can always borrow some balls from one of their fellow competitors.
Whichever way the player gets new balls, the "One Ball Rule" must still be adhered to. Basically, if the pro started their round with a Titelist Pro V 1, they can't switch to an AVX halfway round.
So, under the rare circumstance that the player can't get a hold of any ball that's the same as the one they started with, it's game over.
Has a pro ever run out of golf balls?
It did, in fact, happen to Jason Gore a few years back. He was stood on the 17th tee of the Highlands Spring Country Club during a Web.com Tour event, when his caddie told him they were all out of balls.
Apparently, the caddie had rather liberally been gifting balls to the crowds throughout the round. 'Then at No. 16,' Gore explains, 'I hit one in the water, and later, on the green, I putted out and just flung it into the water without thinking. Then on the next tee, he tells me we don't have any more balls.'
To make matters worse, Gore had been using a Nike prototype ball which wasn't yet on the shelves of the pro shop. Resigning to this rather bizarre situation, Gore walked off the course. 'I was going to miss the cut anyway.'
Tiger Woods (almost)
Tiger Woods himself once came perilously close to running out of golf balls. It was during the second round of one of Woods' greatest ever performances - the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
Only 12 holes had been played on the Friday due to severe fog - Tiger would have to play the remaining six early next morning.
Despite finishing his Friday with a 30-foot birdie, Tiger had been dissatisfied with his putting, so he decided to do some practicing in his hotel room that night...
... And he forgot to put the balls back in his bag.
Saturday morning. Unaware that he only has 4 balls in his bag (Tiger usually carries 9-12), he gives a couple of balls away to kids upon his arrival at Pebble Beach.
With just two balls in his bag, he safely fires his way through five holes to get to the 18th. Then, on the 18th tee, he pulls his drive into Carmel Bay. One ball left - but Tiger doesn't know.
His caddie, Steve Williams, now realizes the situation. He doesn't want to tell Tiger, so instead he encourages his boss to play an iron to get safely on the fairway. Tiger wasn't up for that.
Swinging his driver, Tiger launches his ball onto the fairway. Only then did Williams tell Tiger that that was his last ball. Woods then went on to win the Open by a record breaking 15 shots.
What was one the most famous golf victories in history, could have instead been one of the most famous disqualifications in history. Of course, running out of balls wouldn't have been an instant DQ - he could have borrowed a ball from someone else.
However, Woods was debuting a new ball for this tournament: the Nike Tour Accuracy. It was very unlikely that anyone else was using it.
He could have also had someone go back to the hotel to grab the balls he left behind, but the time delay would have resulted in shot penalties (not that that would have mattered in the end).
It goes to show the importance of packing enough golf balls. As an amateur golfer, if I run out of balls, I can just pester my fellow players to give me some of theirs, or go rummaging around in the bushes.
For a pro golfer in a tournament, however, it's a bit more of a headache. There are no exceptions to the One Ball Rule, and suffering a two shot penalty could easily cost you a victory (unless you're Tiger Woods in the 2000 U.S. Open).
It's also reassuring to know that pro golfers, like myself and many others, make a habit of bringing a few extra balls. Golf is a fickle game, and even the best in the world can send numerous balls plummeting into the waters and wilds.
However, the pro's tendency to pull out a fresh ball every few holes is not a strategy I'll be adopting anytime soon. Forget the score; if I can miraculously use the same golf ball for 18 holes, I am one happy golfer!