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Why golf balls can play a big role in Ryder Cup foursomes matches

By E. Michael Johnson

Somehow equipment always finds a way to sneak into the conversation at the Ryder Cup. Remember Phil Mickelson's equipment switch from Titleist to Callaway just before the 2004 matches at Oakland Hills GC? And of course, the raingear debacle with the U.S. squad dominated the first-day discussion in Wales in 2010. Over the years, however, normally the most talk-about equipment situation at the Ryder Cup had to do with what golf ball pairs would use in foursomes as the alternate-shot format required some golfers to play balls different in brand and construction than those they normally play.

blog_snedeker_ball_0926.jpgIn 2010, however, there was nary a word said about the impact of using differing models of balls or strategizing to pair up players who use identical spheres. In fact, a look at the transcripts from this year's Ryder Cup reveals that the topic was not brought up a single time.

A rules change in 2006 partly explains the reduced angst. Instead of having to play one make and model of ball the entire round,teammates now can switch golf balls on each hole, providing a different kind of strategy.

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At the 2008 matches at Valhalla, Phil Mickelson summed up the players' approach given the opportunity to play a different ball on each hole. "I tee off with their ball and they tee off with my ball," said Mickelson. "Off the tee it's not going to make too much of a difference. It's the distance control and how it comes off the irons and the trajectory and so forth [that is important]. And we will be hitting our own balls with our iron approach shots."

According to Dean Snell, VP of R&D for TaylorMade golf balls, the strategy of setting up the ball used off the tee so the player with the approach shot plays their own ball is solid thinking.

"Players get out of their comfort zone when the trajectory of their approach shots is off, so hitting their own ball into the greens is a good call," said Snell. "It's easier for them to make an adjustment off the tee than on the scoring shots where the ball may climb up the face a little if it's a firmer ball than they're used to. That can make a huge difference on a short pitch, while it will make little difference off the tee."

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The opportunity to switch balls got a workout in Wales as only six of the 16 foursomes pairs played the same model ball (three on each side with each of those teams using Titleist's Pro V1x). It also puts forth the importance of finding the right ball for one's game, not just the one that allows you to bust it as far as humanly possible off the tee.

How important is finding the right ball? Well, consider that at the 2010 Ryder Cup those foursomes pairs using the same ball won four times (including all three such pairings for the Europeans) while losing just twice. A small sample, to be sure, but there's no discounting the comfort that comes with playing a ball that you're familiar with.


(Photo by Getty Images)

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