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For Most At Royal Melbourne, Ball Choice Was Foursome Factor

Alternate-shot format gets captains, players thinking about ball selection and on-course strategy. Only a handful of foursomes matches involved just one ball

Charl Schwartzel

Schwartzel said he found no difference in balls so he deferred to partner Ogilvy, who found just the opposite was true.

November 28, 2011

One of the oddities of team play is foursomes, which often requires players to use a ball different from the one they ordinarily play. Such was the case at this year's Presidents Cup where only five of the 22 foursomes pairings were composed of players using the same ball.

Although International captain Greg Norman said it wasn't an issue ("At the end of the day, the guys can make the adjustment or adapt very quickly," he said), there is strategy involved. The prevailing wisdom is that the teams should tee off with the ball preferred by the player who will hit the approach shot. Performance of most low-spinning, multilayer tour balls is fairly similar off the tee, the thinking goes, but the players would notice a different feel (and perhaps spin) when hitting irons and wedges. Since distance control from the fairway is critical to setting up birdies, you want the player who is going to hit the approach shot to use his preferred ball. (A change made prior to the 2007 Presidents Cup match allows teams to switch balls after completing a hole.)

Not that all teams adhere to that. At Royal Melbourne the Jason Day-Aaron Baddeley tandem practiced using only Baddeley's Titleist Pro V1x (Day plays TaylorMade's Penta TP) and used that ball during their foursomes matches against Dustin Johnson-Matt Kuchar and Phil Mickelson-Jim Furyk. The rationale, according to Baddeley, was simple.

"My ball suits his game more than his ball suits my game," Baddeley said. The Geoff Ogilvy-Charl Schwartzel pairing also went with a single ball after a practice session. "We were messing around with the two different golf balls. I play Nike and he plays Titleist, so we were just seeing which ball we were going to hit," said Schwartzel. "I found no difference in the balls. Geoff found that [with] the Nike, he was struggling with the irons a bit, so [we just went] with his."

Jack Nicklaus was captain of the U.S. team in 2007 and when asked if the type of ball each player used was taken into consideration when making the pairings, Nicklaus answered in the affirmative.

"My little cheat sheet has not only the players and who they wanted to play with, but also their balls and how they would match up ball-wise," said Nicklaus, as he showed a little piece of paper listing all the players and their respective golf balls to a reporter. "We worked very hard to ensure not only the compatibility of the guys, but the compatibility of the golf ball. It is a big deal."

That thought was echoed by Curt Byrum during Golf Channel's coverage of the opening foursomes matches: "It's an issue," commented Byrum. "Mickelson and Furyk played eight holes during a practice round playing alternate shot, trying different strategies to get used to who they wanted to tee off, who they wanted to putt -- and the golf balls definitely play a role."

In fact, they may have played a role in the outcome of the matches. The five foursomes pairings using the same ball won 3.5 points and only lost 1.5 points. For the Americans, they won 2.5 and only lost a half-point. Flip that score the other way and the matches would have ended in a tie. Now that would have been a big deal.

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equipment

BAG ROOM
The Presidents Cup isn't exactly an ideal place to alter equipment, but Dustin Johnson made a couple of tweaks at Royal Melbourne. Johnson changed the grooves in his TaylorMade TP xFT wedges for some added grab on the course's firm greens, while also altering the movable weights in his R11 driver, placing 6 grams in the toe and 5 grams in the heel to help him turn the ball over. Johnson's previous setup was 10 grams in the toe and only 1 gram in the heel. ... Caroline Hedwall tested some Adams equipment prior to the CME Group Titleholders and put the company's Fast 12 LS driver, F12 stainless-steel 3-wood and XTD Super Hyrbid in play en route to a T-26 finish. Although Hedwall does not have a deal with Adams, the company has a strong presence on the LPGA Tour and it would not be surprising to see her sign an endorsement contract with them before next year. ... Few equipment switches work as well as the one made by Na Yeon Choi. Benching her Callaway X-Forged 5-iron for a TaylorMade Rescue TP FCT at the Titleholders, Choi made four (of her seven) birdies in an opening-round 66 using the club for approach shots. "I hit five or six times with that club, and I made four birdies," said Choi, who hits the club anywhere from 160 to 175 yards. "I like that new club." Choi finished T-4 in Orlando.

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