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Monday, 4 September 2017

It's Fate

Most professional golfers are fatalistic. They learn that golf, as much as it is a game of skill, always involves an element of luck. Golfers learn that it has to be their "day," if they're going to win at the highest level.

Now, Gary Player coined the phrase"the harder I practise, the luckier I get." But I'm willing to bet that even Gary would readily admit that, when he won, he got some lucky breaks. Golf is not a game of perfect. The lies aren't perfect. The bounces can't be perfectly judged. A near perfect shot can hit the flagstick and go in; or it can hit the flagstick and ricochet into the pond. So, golfers tend to be fatalistic. If it's their time, they'll win. If not, no matter how hard they try, the golfing gods will smile on someone else.

We saw it again today with Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. It was JT's day. He drove a ball through a bunker and onto a green and then holed a putt for eagle. That drive, for the same money, could have ended up much worse. On seventeen, Jordan hit a putt for birdie that all day had broken right. He hit the ball exactly where he wanted and the little devil didn't break. Had he made that putt, it might have been a different story. And that's golf. 

The important thing for Spieth and Thomas, and DJ for that matter, is that they keep managing to put themselves in position to have a chance to win on Sunday. That is why they are the best players in the game right now. They just keep hanging around leaderboards on Sundays or Mondays with a chance to win, if they get the bounces. But the outcome is often in the lap of the golfing gods.

Jack Nicklaus said that golf was the only game where you could win twenty percent of the time and be the best player in the world. In other words, even the best player in the world loses eighty percent of the time. Okay, Tiger's winning percentage might have been higher; and Bobby Jones, over a seven year period, won over sixty percent of the Majors he entered. They were both, far and away, the best players of their generation. But even they had to learn to accept that they weren't going to win every week. They needed some luck in most cases. 

Recall that famous shot at the Masters where Tiger's ball hung on the lip before deciding to go in. The same thing happened this year at the PGA with Justin Thomas. For the same money, that ball could have decided not to drop. Golf is a game of skill. But you still need some luck.

Spieth has now had back to back losses when he could have just as easily won. It just wasn't his day. But is there anyone in the game right now who gives themselves more opportunities to be lucky? I think not. And that's why he is destined to be one of golf's great players. It's fate.