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Clutching your balls? Could be novospherophobia

Clive AgranBy Clive Agran,

Not only do I suffer from a neurotic reluctance to use a new golf ball, but I've thought of a name for the illness: novospherophobia. A long-time sufferer, my hope is that by drawing attention to the problem, I might help others and remove some of the stigma attached to the condition.

Thanks to friends and family, whose generosity outweighs their originality at Christmas and on my birthday, I have boxes of shiny new golf balls at the top of my wardrobe next to my soccer videos. To those who know me, golf balls must seem an ideal gift. After all, doesn't Clive just love golf? Well, yes, but much as I love golf, I hate using a new ball. Why?

It's a complicated business. One explanation is that I'm an anal retentive who likes to hoard. Although there's no history of stamps or cheese labels, I'm reluctant to throw things away and have an absolute hang up about waste. To watch me polish off the scraps at the end of a meal you could be forgiven for assuming that I was brought up in grinding poverty instead of middle-class comfort.

Maybe it's a product of profound insecurity where I measure my own worth in new Titleists and Pinnacles. But if that were the case, wouldn't I get them out every day, spread them over the bedroom carpet and count them?

But I only do that once a week. It's not that I especially like them, I simply hate to use them. Ah, maybe we're getting somewhere.

Why won't I use them? One reason is that I have a firm belief that new balls are not very different from old balls. A scratch here, a scuff there doesn't, in my opinion, significantly affect their aerodynamic properties. In other words, struck properly, old balls fly just as straight and are no more likely to end up in trouble if they're not.

The real reason (deep breath) I believe I can't bring myself to take a virgin ball out of its box and tee it up is that I don't want the added pressure. Golf is a worrying game at the best of times without the extra anxiety that comes from using a new ball. If, in a moment of extreme carelessness, I was inadvertently to tee up one and, God forbid, hit it into deep rough, I would feel obliged to look for it for the full five minutes. Then, if I didn't find it, I'd be inconsolably miserable for the rest of the round and, depending on the light, might even return to the spot later to continue the search.

So under what circumstances, if any, would I break into my war chest of literally dozens of new balls? That's a tough question. Clearly, if I were to make it through the qualifiers and find myself on the first tee at the British Open, it would be just too embarrassing to declare to the likes of Tiger and Ernie as I pulled a ball at random out of my golf bag, "Mine's a weary looking Top-Flite number two with a scratchy mark running down one side and an odd-looking logo on the other."

But if I were obliged to start with a new ball, I would hope to finish the round with the same one, tee it up the next day and, assuming I made the cut, play the final two rounds with it as well. Moreover, I doubt very much that, even after four rounds, I would feel inclined to toss it nonchalantly into the crowd as I walked off the 18th green.

Taking out a new ball every couple of holes, as the pros do, is profligate nonsense. I suspect this practice is the consequence of collusion between the manufacturers, eager to dump surplus stock in an effort to maintain prices, and the caddies, looking to supplement their modest wages by selling nearly-new golf balls on the side.

I'm comfortable with my problem, but fellow novospherophobics wishing to re-join mainstream golfing society need not despair. David Isenberg, Emeritus Professor of Sporting Disorders at the University of Moose Droppings, has devised a highly effective therapy.

Sufferers simply have to attend a weekend course at a five-star clinic recently opened on Lake Michigan. On the first morning they're asked to try and drive brand new balls over the lake -- a carry of some several hundred miles. Initially they struggle to take the club back, their palms become sweaty and they invariably weep uncontrollably as each despairing shot splashes into the water.

As the treatment progresses, however, they learn to relax and actually appear to enjoy the experience. A cure is considered to have been affected when they dispense with their drivers and start hitting wedge shots in a carefree kind of way that betrays obvious pleasure. At $1,995 the treatment is not cheap but, then again, you've nothing to lose except, of course, your balls.

Although in his 60s, with a handicap of 15 and lifetime earnings comfortably below $100, Clive Agran nevertheless still believes he can win a major. Arguably England's most gifted golf writer, when not dreaming of glory he's scouring the globe simultaneously searching for lost balls and great golf courses. Follow Clive on Twitter at @cliveagran.

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