You've done this before: You show up to the range on a Demo Day, and, curious, you grab one of the new drivers from the gigantic staff bag. You look at it, take it to your station, take a swing and...absolutely rip it. It goes a mile.
You're sold. You'll take 10 just like that one, even if it isn't fit to your specs. That one drive convinced you.
Well, that great drive may not have been entirely because the driver is that much better than what's in your bad. Researchers at the University of Notre Dame have found that there is a measurable Placebo Effect of new, brand-name equipment on golfers' performance.
In a series of studies conducted in the Mendoza College of Business, approximately 200 students were asked to make putts of various types. About half of the students were handed what they were told was a Nike Golf putter, which, as you know, is a major manufacturer and has near universal name recognition to consumers. The other half were told they were using a Starter brand putter (something which has never existed, and the only Starter thing I would wear is a jacket from the early 1990s like Kirk Cousins) or a generic, brandless putter. The putters were, in fact, the same. The results weren't. The students using the supposed Nike putter took 20 percent fewer strokes to hole out compared to the students who got the Starter/dud putter.
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Frank Germann, who led the study, emphasized that these findings only apply to the short term. He has no evidence that the effect lasts or if it can be combined with using up-to-date equipment through the bag.
Germann also said the important factor for the Placebo Effect was the subject believing the equipment would improve performance, not necessarily that it was prestigious or more expensive than others.
Another important finding was that the biggest effect on putting performance among the study group was experience in playing golf. The more inexperienced the player, the more the Placebo Effect manifested itself. And that makes a ton of sense, not only in considering the experience level of players but also when thinking about the diminishing effect over time.
As players gain more experience and use more equipment, they realize that technique has more to do with performance than equipment. Further, as golfers use a particular piece of equipment for longer, the newness wears off and their performance moves to the mean, ruining some of the shine and influence a new piece of equipment will have on performance. In other words, as golfers learn they can stroke poor putts with their new, modern putter similarly to their old flatstick, the power of the putter loses its luster.
And that's precisely when it's time to buy a new putter to get back that rush!
Perhaps most interesting of all in the study, however, is that the players who received the biggest benefit from the perception of their equipment remained confident that their performance had more to do with them than the equipment itself.
And now you know why all golfers are delusional.