Check Your Myths at the Door

“Golf is game of inches.”

“Drive for show, putt for dough.”

Drivel. Complete and utter bullshit. The wisdom of the ages is wrong and it is statistically wrong. And the truly bloody thing is that it was so easy to check with a simple thought exercise.

Would you rather compete one-on-one against a professional golfer for 10 drives for total distance in the fairway or for 10 putts from 10 feet away?

In August, 2010 Michael Agger in Slate wrote about why most golf statistics whiff  and Mark Broadie‘s research into golf statistics that demonstrate the relative contributions of each part of the game – driving, approach (to the green), short game (pitching and chipping), and putting. Further, the book Lowest Score Wins by Barzeski and Wedzik takes these concepts and turns them into practical advice and guidance about the game.

The simple facts are these:

  1. The farther you hit the ball on the first shot on a par four (a “scratch” or near-perfect golfer takes an average of 4 strokes to play the hole) the shorter the second is.
  2. The shorter your second shot needs to be, the shorter the club you can use. Players tend to be increasingly accurate with shorter clubs.
  3. The closer to the hole your second shot lands, the easier (shorter) your third putt is.
  4. And so on.

In other words, hit at as long as possible (and keep it safe) so that your next shot is short as possible. Repeat.

Why did people believe the myth for so long, that putting mattered more than a driving?

Here’s a new truth: The last thing that happened is what you remember best.

Yep, we tend to forget how we started out. We most remember the end. And why does this matter?

Because it is probably not the only arena in which we act this way. I think is especially true of higher ed. Too often we focus on things high school GPA, SAT/ACT scores, status at entry, and other characteristics reflecting 17/18 years or more of personal history. With the creation of state longitudinal data systems over the last (almost) decade, we are getting closer to at least understanding the impact of other aspects of those 18 years of experience. As we get further along, I suspect we are going to come to a very clear conclusion – wealth and poverty are pretty much all that matters. Without addressing the negative impacts of poverty, nothing else will matter. This is pretty much the conclusion I have come to after looking at so much data on student outcomes.

This is why the work of scholars like Sara Goldrick-Rab and Tressie McMillan-Cottom is so important.

The myth of merit is a great myth. It gives us comfort and allows us to feel special about our own accomplishments. Somehow we earned our way. This despite the fact that we pretty much always end up close to where we start out. Exceptions allow us to reinforce this belief. “See? She did it, so all the others can.”

This is not to say that merit and hard work don’t have a role to play. They do. Just like putting. Once you are on the green, they help you get all the way to hole. And the prize. It’s getting to the green that counts.

Any fool can putt. It is the simplest stroke in golf. Driving a ball 250 or 300 yards down the middle of the fairway is much, much harder, especially multiple times.

Any fool can putt. I will happily compete head-to-head in putting contest from 25 feet with any professional golfer. After all, they are only expected to make that putt one time out of 10. I can do that. So can you, almost on the basis of pure luck alone.

In other words, how close you are born to the green makes a difference.

Check what you think you know. Is it real or a myth?


Be nice. It won't hurt either of us.

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