News From Terre Haute, Indiana

May 3, 2008

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

By Bob Arnett

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.

When Hale’s high hook headed directly for the Pacific Ocean, it looked certain that Hale’s bid for the championship was over since he was one shot out of first place at that juncture.

Irwin’s shot drifted down to the rocks below the fairway. His shoulders slumped when he realized what he had done. Then, several seconds later, here comes his golf ball after taking a nearly impossible, high bounce back to the fairway. The announcers were flabbergasted as were all who witnessed the unbelievable lucky bounce.

Of course, Irwin went on to get his birdie on that 72nd hole and then win the championship in a sudden death playoff. I’m sure Hale would be the first to admit this example of unequaled good fortune illustrated the luckiest shot he has ever struck!

I’m reminded of Masters winners Trevor Immelman and Fred Couples, who each had his respective golf ball inexplicably stop on steep banks, where every other shot in the tourney had rolled down to a watery grave. Both players admitted that good luck played a major role in their respective victories and Lady Luck gave them the opportunity to win their coveted green jackets.

It has been said that most golfers moan and groan the ill fortune they experience on the course, all the while ignoring the lucky breaks and fortunate bounces that have come their way.

• • •

Let the games begin! It’s that time when Terre Haute’s fairways are visited regularly by members of their respective hunts. These informal competitions have been around for many decades. It was Rich Tickner who I first heard refer to a golf game as a “hunt”.

In days of yore, 1940s style, skin games were played for two bits per skin. Team bets were usually two or three dollars. Through the years, fees rose gradually with inflation. Some games required a $10 investment with five dollars targeted for the team winners and another five went to the skin pot.

Of course, there was, and is, always the possibility of securing any number of side bets which included individual and two man bets. The general idea was to have the opportunity to play for as little or as much as you wished to bet.

Some side bets could get fairly hefty, but most would not exceed five dollars three ways which included better ball matches that featured play on the front, and back nines as well as the 18 hole total. Such games are popular in that most hunts feature open competition since anyone who has the money to bet is welcome to play. Golfers who lose and then “forget” to pay at the conclusion of play are usually banished.

Golfers usually seek a hunt that has players whose abilities on the course are fairly uniform. To insure fair competition, team captains are agreed upon, and they take turns choosing their players. Names such as Tennant, Klutey, Johnson, Brown, Alumbaugh, Mundy, Keen, Kaperak and Kluesner, among others can be sure to be “choosers”. Also, Winning, Anderson, Farris, Bird, Doan, Nasser, and Horrall. Others include such surnames as Parker, Long, Jovanovich, Poore, Treash, Stewart, Eaglin and Campbell among others.

It seems that Terre Haute, Brazil and Clinton have never been short of talented players when it comes to posting some excellent numbers on their scorecards. Look for names of more “choosers” in our May 18 column.

• • •

It was a few years ago captains were being picked at the Elks Fort Harrison course for a Sunday hunt. Needing more choosers, someone announced, “Anyone who can beat Kenny Bosc come forward and stand on the putting green.” Twenty-four players strode to the putting green and answered the call.

Just kidding, Kenny. Maybe it was only 23.

• • •

• Tip of the week — Over controlling or hanging on to the golf club can cause a variety of problems. Good players let their wrists fire and release at the opportune time to gain distance and accuracy. If a proper release is your problem, you might want to try this. Get three or four old, beat up clubs, and when you swing each one, release your grip and throw the club down your target line. Make sure there is no one near you when you try this because the club may fly in a variety of directions. When it is launched at the spot you are aiming, your release is correct.

Keep your head down and your shoestrings tied. We’ll be back.

Bob Arnett can be reached by e-mail at or by mail at the Tribune-Star, P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN, 47808.