Is luck a measurable golfing ability?

The Scoop

Are you feeling lucky? It could make all the difference to your round

Over the years, the relationship most golfers have with that most elusive of commodities – luck – has always intrigued me. 

Listen to any 1st tee conversation and you will hear complete strangers wishing each other ‘best of luck’ before the game starts.

The round gets underway and Player A seems to be getting a good share of the very luck offered to him by Player B. 

He hits a tree and bounces back on to the fairway instead of going out of bounds. 

Or a ball destined for the water manages to hang onto the very edge of the ditch and a putt that is racing past the hole just dives in at the last minute. 

How is Player B feeling now? Is he glad the luck he offered to his partner has materialised or does he now feel somewhat different? 

You can see where I am going with this and can just imagine the conversation back in the clubhouse when Player B tells anyone who will listen that he has just played golf with the ‘luckiest ******d’ he has ever met!

We offer luck to others but woe betide them if they actually get it. What is your own personal relationship to luck like? 

Do you consider yourself a lucky golfer or someone who never gets the rub of the green?

As we will find out, it could well be your perception of your luck which is a big factor in what actually happens on the course.

In a fascinating book called The Hidden Mathematics of Sport, authors and mathematicians Rob Eastway and John Haigh rank golf first in the list of sports where luck is ‘more likely’ to influence an outcome of the result. 
‘It just isn’t going to be my day’ is a phrase I have heard uttered over and over again, even at the very highest level. Football is second in the list with swimming and the high jump ranked the least likely to have luck as an influencing factor.

So, statistically, golf is highly influenced by a bounce to the left as opposed to the right and a gust of wind here instead of there. Nothing revolutionary in that, but how many golfers do you know who collapse at the slightest run of bad luck out on the course? 

‘It just isn’t going to be my day’ is a phrase I have heard uttered over and over again, even at the very highest level.

In another fascinating book The Luck Factor, Professor Robert Wiseman makes the point how lucky people are lucky primarily because they think they are lucky. They tend to notice the good fortune they do get and brush off the less fortunate scenarios. 

Experiments have been carried out where people who consider themselves lucky are told to walk into a shop. On the floor just before the door will be planted a £20 note. 

A similar group of people who consider themselves unlucky will be asked to walk into the same shop with the same money planted on the doorstep. What do you think happens?  

Overwhelmingly, the lucky people bend down and pick up their piece of good fortune while the unlucky people march into the shop completely oblivious to the good fortune staring them in the face. 

The lucky people got lucky because at some level they were looking for and expecting good luck.

So, where does this leave us with our golf? Well, the next time you play it may be a good idea to consider your attitude towards luck. According to the mathematicians, it will play a big part in the outcome of your score but when it comes along, good or bad, how are you going to respond? 

Will you drop your shoulders after a couple of bad breaks, get frustrated and let the day slip away or will you hang in there with the expectation that things will change? 

So often in golf it isn’t so much what happens on the course but more to do with our reaction. 

As I have said many times we are trying to control two things on the course, one is the ball and the other is ourself. 

If you can ride the inevitable humps and bumps of luck and keep going, then you can finish a round of golf knowing you have done the best you possibly can. And you haven’t let the inevitable vagaries of luck affect you and your attitude. 

However, if someone offers you good luck on the 1st tee, it might be a good idea to silently welcome it with open arms.

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