‘Stinky’ beef jerky and lucky ball marks: Inside a ‘superstitious’ U.S. Team

It's only weird if it doesn't work...

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Golf is weird. Golfers are weirder.

And great golfers? Goodness, you don’t even want to get us started.

Two weeks ago, a collection of some of the best golfers in the world descended upon Charlotte, N.C. for a weird golf event: the Presidents Cup, one of the few team events in the whole sport. For one week at least, golfers were on the same team, free to share their secrets, their swing thoughts, and yes, their superstitions, amongst each other. And what happened? Well, the superstitions took over.

In an interview on SiriusXM PGA Tour radio last week, U.S. team captain Davis Love III and assistant captain Freddie Couples shared some of the behind-the-scenes stories from the week that was for the American side, which emerged victoriously from Quail Hollow. Stories that, as luck would have it, had much to do with … luck.

The first story involved Love himself, who placed at least some of the blame for a surprisingly competitive week in Quail Hollow on a gift from International team captain Trevor Immelman.

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“Let me tell you the sports – whatever you wanna call ’em – superstitions. So I like to eat. Trevor and Carmenita [Immelman] sent us all these gifts and there’s all kinds of South African snacks,” Love III recalled. “Friday I go, ‘Hey, this beef jerky looks pretty dang good. I’m gonna throw it in the backpack for Saturday.’ And I come home Saturday night and we’re like, ‘What the heck happened?’ And I go, ‘It was the stinky beef jerky from South Africa.’ I threw it out and Sunday was better.”

Sunday was, in fact, much better for the Americans, who won 6.5 of 12 points from the afternoon singles matches en route to a 17.5 to 12.5 victory. But it wasn’t always that way. The Internationals jumped out to an early lead on Sunday afternoon — an effort Love III says was aided by an American side missing its good luck charms (plural!).

“I’ve been wearing a white hat all week, but the team’s wearing a blue hat and everybody’s wearing the rope hat,” Love III said. “So I go, ‘I can wear the blue rope hat. We’re in a good position.’ When I left the 6th tee where I was watching everybody go through, I go, ‘Oh no, this is not good.’ And I get in my cart and there’s the white hat and I switched. So basically I changed the whole momentum all by myself.” 

But the real catalyst on Sunday afternoon actually belonged to Jordan Spieth, who climbed back from an early two-down deficit to nab a dominant 4 and 3 victory, his first-ever win in singles play.

The turning point for Spieth, Love said, came when he realized he’d left his lucky charm back in the team room.

“Jordan Spieth left his lucky ball markers in his locker. They figured it out on three,” Love said. “And Fred heard all this on the radio. They call and say Jordan needs his ball markers. Somebody says, ‘I’m on my way to the cabin.’ My caddy, Jeff Weber, who’s helping the caddies goes, ‘I’ve already got them.’ And he got ’em to him before he got to the green on four. And Fred, you tell him what happened after that.” 

“Well, he won four, five, seven. He did lose eight. Guys were putting it off the green. But then he won a couple more,” Couples said. “And, again, two down, when you’re looking at Jordan Spieth…”

“He’s two down, and he’s never won a match,” Love finished. “Then he gets his lucky ball markers from the captains on the radio and he missed maybe one putt the whole rest of the day.”

After recovering his lucky charm, Spieth won his match. A few minutes after that, the Americans won the Presidents Cup just a few minutes later. Coincidence? Maybe. But you know what they say: it’s only weird if it doesn’t work.

James Colgan

Golf.com Editor

James Colgan is an assistant editor at GOLF, contributing stories for the website and magazine. He writes the Hot Mic, GOLF’s weekly media column, and utilizes his broadcast experience across the brand’s social media and video platforms. A 2019 graduate of Syracuse University, James — and evidently, his golf game — is still defrosting from four years in the snow. Prior to joining GOLF, James was a caddie scholarship recipient (and astute looper) on Long Island, where he is from. He can be reached at james.colgan@golf.com.