How many golf balls do tour pros carry? You might be surprised
By Garry Smits
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Double-digit handicap players would load up with extra golf balls in a heartbeat when taking on a water-laden course such as the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass.
But the best professional golfers in the world don't seem to vary the stockpile of ammo they pack for competitive rounds of The Players Championship.
Indeed, it's almost a badge of honor not to add more balls on a course where water is in play on 11 holes. To their way of thinking, if you have to throw in an extra sleeve or two, you probably weren't good enough to get into The Players in the first place.
"The reality is that hardly any of us need more than five or six balls," said Brendon Todd while preparing to warm up on the TPC Sawgrass practice facility. "Guys didn't get out here by losing that many in a round."
Russell Knox, of Jacksonville Beach, said he takes three sleeves (nine balls) with him for a tournament round – changing balls every other hole. He does that for a desert course with no hazards or the Stadium.
"Maybe it's the way pros think, but we have a routine and it doesn't change for a course or a tournament," he said.
Sometimes the number of balls a player puts in his bag is odd, to say the least.
For example, Gary Woodland takes 11 balls each round. He's not sure where or when he started that routine.
"Sometimes you give a few to kids after a bogey," he said of a habit many Tour players have in getting rid of "a bogey ball."
"If you're carrying 11 balls and worrying about whether you have enough, you're going home early, or you never would have gotten to this level in the first place," Woodland added.
While the players questioned said they didn't change the number of balls they take for tactical reasons, Padraig Harrington did say that a course with numerous wedge-shot approaches over water has the potential to gobble up more balls because there's more of a chance to spin a ball back off the green.
"If you're not hitting a lot of wedge shots over water, you will tend to lose less balls," he said. "But 12 [balls] is the maximum I'd use."
At least two players let their caddies decide: Kevin Kisner and Jason Gore.
"I never control that ... my caddie does," Kisner said of caddie Duane Bock. "He tells me how many he's bringing. He puts a few sleeves in there, whatever he thinks it takes."
Kisner, one of the Tour's more accurate tee-to-green players, said he's never lost enough balls to wonder if Bock guessed right.
"If I fire a few in the water, I might start asking," he said.
Gore said caddies he's used in the past generally put about a dozen balls in his bag.
One day, one of his past caddies requested that they pack only three sleeves. Was there that much of a difference in weight between three and four?
"I don't know ... I just work here," Gore said.
The closing scene of the movie "Tin Cup," in which Kevin Costner's character Roy McAvoy keeps pumping balls into the water and gets down to his last pellet (which he holes for a 12) likely wouldn't happen on the PGA Tour unless the player is just as stubborn as McAvoy.
Anyone running out of golf balls during a tournament round has the option of dispatching someone to the pro shop or his locker, but might incur a two-stroke penalty for delaying play.
The player also can borrow a ball from one of his partners, or even someone in an adjoining fairway. The rules say only that an "outside agency" can be the source of replacement balls.
In either case, the balls must be the same brand and the same model. For example, a player running out of Titleist ProV1x balls would not be able to put into a play at Titleist ProV1.
There have been times when the bottom of the ball pocket is being scraped.
Harrington said that in a European PGA Tour event in 1996, he hit four balls in a row into the water on a par 5 at the Oxfordshire Golf Club in England during the Benson and Hedges International Open.
"I didn't run out, but I did have to use an old ball," he said.
Gore said he came to the 17th tee of a Web.com Tour event at the Highland Springs Country Club in Springfield, Mo., a few years ago when his caddie told him they were fresh out.
"For whatever reason, he [the caddie] was giving a lot of them away to kids. Maybe to girls. Probably the girls," Gore said. "Then at No. 16, 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."
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While Gore could have gotten a tournament volunteer to get more balls, he had one problem.
"They were a Nike prototype and the pro shop wouldn't have had them yet," he said. "And I think only one other guy in the field was using them."
"See you later," Gore said of walking in. "I was going to miss the cut anyway."
Perhaps the most famous example of a player getting dangerously low with his ball supply was in the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. The second round was suspended because of fog and Tiger Woods had to finish the par-5 18th hole early Saturday morning.
The night before, he had been putting in his hotel room and forget to put the balls back into his bag. On the tee, Woods had two left – then hooked the first one into the Pacific Ocean.
Caddie Steve Williams initially didn't tell Woods they had one ball left. He did ask his boss to pull out an iron and get the third shot in play.
Woods kept the driver in his hand and hit the second ball into the fairway. Only after that did Williams tell Woods it was their last ball.
Woods went on to win the Open by a record 15 shots.
This article was written by Garry Smits from The Florida Times-Union and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.