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Rub of the Green

May 3, 2008

Rub of the Green: Addressing the science of luck in golf

Luck on the golf course comes in two varieties as might be expected. That obviously would be luck that is good or bad, or possibly, degrees of either.

For example, player A hits a second shot on a par 4 needing a birdie to win the tournament. The shot strikes the flagstick and bounds away at a 90-degree angle, rolls off the green, down a steep slope and into a water hazard. After a most accurate shot, all is lost except for a chance to finish as a runner-up.

Conversely, player B comes to the last hole needing a birdie to tie. When this competitor’s shot hits the flagstick, it spins down into the cup for an eagle two, which makes this golfer a winner.

Luck, good or bad, makes its fickle presence felt in numerous situations. How about the time Tommy Aaron made a mistake at The Masters and gave Roberto de Vincenzo a four on his scorecard instead of the three he had made. When Roberto failed to notice the error and signed his card, it was bad luck and a runner-up finish instead of a tie with Bob Goalby. That translated to good fortune for Goalby, right? Well, not entirely. He was declared the winner, but golf fans failed to give him the credit he deserved.

A large, misguided number of individuals apparently thought that Goalby had put the four on Roberto’s scorecard. DeVincenzo had to live with Aaron’s scoring error, and Goalby never realized the honor he deserved. Instead, he got hate mail and even some death threats. In the end it was a case of bad luck all around.

It was a number of years in the past, during the Bing Crosby Clambake played at Pebble Beach when Hale Irwin was ready to hit his second shot on the par five finishing hole.

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