Being consistently good is extraordinarily difficult in sports. It is especially difficult in golf. We don’t have it verbatim but we think it was Rory McIlroy that said, essentially, that variance is good in golf. About 150 players start each tournament and the top sixty (and ties) make the cut and get a check. What he means is it is much better to win one week and miss the cut the next week rather than to finish 30th each week. Money, glory, and FedExCup points are all about winning.
Sidebar One: For the uninitiated, the FedExCup is the season-long contest culminating in the Tour Championship in Atlanta. This year it is September 20-23. The winner of the FedExCup gets $10 million plus, perhaps, over $1.5 million from winning the tournament. End Sidebar One.
Tony Finau has had an excellent year because he is third in the FedExCup standings going into the Tour Championship. He was just selected for the US Ryder Cup team. Being in the top five is crucial because if anyone of the top five win the Tour Championship then they win the FedExCup and that nice eight figure check.
Sidebar Two: Well, it isn’t a check. Brent Snedeker tells the story about being on his banking app so he can see his account balance go to eight figures when the transfer was made. End Sidebar Two.
What makes Tony’s season amazing is that he hasn’t won a tournament all year. In fact, he has only one one PGA tournament, the second tier Puerto Rico Open. The four others in the top five have won either two or three times. Tony turned pro in 2007 but played on minor tours before showing up on the PGA Tour in 2015. He has come up the hard way. We hope he wins the 2018 FedExCup. It would be appropriate if he won the Cup by finishing second at the Tour Championship.
Knowing and understanding the scoring system is important. The right decision in bridge depends on whether you are playing match points or IMPs. The right decision in golf could depend on stroke play versus match play. Scoring is an important reason for the effectiveness of capitalism.
Today at the Dell Technologies Championship we saw an odd example of that. Justin Rose birdied the 15th hole to go four under and improve his Fed Ex standing from ninth to first. The odd part about the projections is that the PGA tour projects a tie for X as everybody getting X. In real life they have a playoff for first and everything else gets divided up so if there is a three way tie for second then those three guys split points (or money) for second, third, and fourth. So when Justin tied for first then all four tied got first place points and Justin is currently first in Fed Ex standings.
Scoring is critical. Pay attention to get ahead.
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.