By Joseph Bidwell
Of all the formats in the Ryder Cup the Foursomes matches are probably the most intriguing. It’s a format that can potentially force players to use a piece of equipment they are not familiar with: their partner’s golf ball.
In the Foursomes format for the Ryder Cup prior to 2006 teammates would have to use the same single type of ball for the entire match as they alternated shots to complete a hole. In 2006, that rule changed allowing players to change a ball whenever the rules would normally allow it (in between holes) and vary the brand/type of ball they use. This change took the emphasis off of pairing players with similar golf balls as teammates could put balls in play particularly on par 4’s that would allow their teammate to hit approaches with their own golf ball.
Players chose to tee off with their teammates ball as discrepancies in launch conditions have less effect on the outcome of a shot off of the driver or fairway wood than compared to an iron or wedge. This makes sense in that if your partners ball is 10 yards shorter off the driver because it spins too much you’ll still be in the fairway if you hit it straight. A ball that spins too much off of an iron or wedge could be catastrophic, especially into the wind. So the strategy after the rule change makes logical sense.
Launch angle and spin rates off of irons and wedges from one ball to the next can vary enough for players at this level that they won’t switch when a new ball model comes out. A prime example of this is Luke Donald still playing a 2007 model Titleist ProV1X.
Given this rule change, it’s surprising that two U.S. groups chose one player’s ball in their Foursomes matches. Phil Mickelson was on record saying that he and Keegan Bradley would only use Bradley’s Srixon Z-Star golf ball during their Foursomes matches. They won both their matches handily, 4&3 and 7&6. As was reported in several broadcasts, Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker choose to only use Woods’ Nike One Tour D during their matches.
Another team of note on the American side was that of Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson. Dufner uses a ProV1 and Johnson uses a ProV1X. Of all the players paired together during Foursomes play, their golf balls varied the most in performance characteristics, but they too won both of their matches. Johnson and Dufner both spoke of how well they know each other’s games and how often they had played rounds together during the FedExCup.
On the flip side, the European duo of Ian Poulter and Justin Rose won both of their Foursomes matches. They were the only side for Europe to do so. In a post-match interview Saturday Rose said, “We know each other well enough not to say sorry if we hit a bad shot and we back each other, especially around the greens, both of us have great short games…”
Overall, the U.S. won five Foursomes matches to the Europeans’ three. The rule change has put less emphasis on the equipment and more emphasis on how well players are playing and how well teammates match up together. The camaraderie of the groups of Mickelson and Bradley, Dufner and Johnson and Poulter and Rose proved that on Friday and Saturday. But unfortunately for the Americans, the singles matches were a different story.