Numbers always interest us. Here are the basketball numbers: 14, 18, 13, 10, 6, 5, 6, 13. Here are the golf numbers: 372 and 18.
We don’t care about basketball, and particularly college basketball. In addition we think a 68 team tournament is a particularly bad way to crown a national champion.
Sidebar: when we saw the Syracuse won its first real game after winning in the first four we wondered if there was something to a momentum theory. Although we haven’t looked at it rigorously, the MLB wild card winner seems to exceed expectations. In college basketball there are 32 conference tournament winners in the NCAA tournament field. All those teams are on a winning streak. There are 16 teams left and six are conference champs. Of course it would like a much more exhaustive study to make any conclusions about momentum but it doesn’t seem like it is a big deal. End Sidebar.
The eight basketball numbers are the sum of the seeds in the eight games of the sweet sixteen. If everything went according to schedule then there would be eight fives. The maximum is 29 and there are none of those. Since there is only one five thing have not gone as the NCAA expected. We are rooting for the last six conference champs to go out so the Final Four has no conference champs competing.
The golf numbers are from Rory McIlroy. He won the Arnold Palmer Invitational yesterday by shooting an eight under 64. The 372 was his drive in yards on the 511 yard par five sixteenth hole. It meant he had 123 yards to the hole for his second shot on a par five. Yes, 372 + 123 is less than 511 because he cut the corner of the hole with his impressive drive. The 18 is his score (five under) for the last six holes. Three sets of 18 would be 54 and that would be an astounding score for 18 holes. These guys are good as the PGA tagline says and Rory was amazing yesterday and especially so at the end when it counts the most.
Heather Wilhelm (here she is at NRO) is the Happy Warrior in NRODT. She quotes Thoreau approvingly, “It is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.” We approve too. It might be a characteristic of expertise in general and sports in particular. For the sports we are most active in, golf, handball, bridge, it rings true.
Sidebar: OK, bridge might not be be classified as a sport: “An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” Of the five bold words or phrases it surely meets four but would have trouble with physical exertion. On the other hand, playing 26 hands in three hours has some exertion. End Sidebar.
Expertise lies in deciding that doing the same thing and expecting different results is crazy but finding something else that isn’t crazy or desperate. It is a fine line between a calculated risk and desperation. In golf, a low percentage shot over the water is likely to be desperation in stroke play but a calculated risk in match play. In handball trying a shot as a return (the second shot of the point) might be desperation but on the 14th shot when both players are tired it could be a good risk. Bridge with its long events almost always rewards avoiding desperation. Wisdom is knowing that a bottom score is a bottom score. We are on board with avoiding desperation.
The follow-up to Turnberry comes 39 years later. In between we have seen several golfers lap the field at a major but rarely seen two lap the field like Watson and Nicklaus did at Turnberry where Watson won by one and Nicklaus had a 10 stroke lead over third place.
At Troon, Stenson and Mickelson were, perhaps even more dominant. Stenson won by three and Mickelson was 11 ahead of JB Holmes in third. On the first day Mickelson tied the record for the lowest round (63) in a major. On the last day Stenson tied it as well. Lest you think that the course was easy, there were only three 66s by all the other players (156 before the cut and 81 after) in the field. Mickelson’s rounds were the lowest, tie sixth, tie eighth, second lowest. Stenson’s rounds were tie 12th, lowest, tie lowest, lowest. Mickelson was dominant and it could have easily happened that he won by 10 but Stenson was even better.
What Troon didn’t have that Turnberry did was history. Nicklaus was the greatest golfer of his era and Watson was a legitimate challenger who would make Troon his second major in 1977 and third overall. Stenson and Mickelson were under the radar in 2016 and it was Stenson’s first major at age 40. It doesn’t change how great the golf they played was but it might have an impact on the history of Troon 2016.