Nearly Thirty Years Later, My First (and Last) Golf Victory

I played in my first golf tournament just after I turned thirteen years old. I emphasize the “just after” part because I have the worst golf birthday in the world: late May. I was always the youngest kid playing in my age bracket, as well as the smallest one. As Dubner and I have discussed in the past, the work of Anders Ericsson dictates that always being the youngest is bad news for a child’s future in a sport.

My first tournament was in Fairmont, Minn., a small town halfway across the state. I have no idea why my father consented to drive me out there. He should have tried to talk some sense into me. I proceeded to do terribly.

As a teenager, I was a decent golfer, but I hung up my tournament spikes at age 18 after a humiliating defeat to a 13-year-old. It turns out that the 13-year-old in question was Tim Herron. Little did I know he would turn out to be one of the best players in the world — had I known, I might have kept on competing. Still, through it all, I never managed to win a tournament.

Until yesterday.

Okay, so it was only the 2nd Annual Coyote Run Scramble. And there were only 15 teams competing. And it was a four-man scramble and I probably played the worst of the four players in the group (all Univ. of Chicago economists: John List, Derek Neal, Chad Syverson, and myself).

Somehow, this motley crew of economists managed to be 11 under par after 17 holes. Even playing a scramble (where all four players hit a shot, then you choose the best of those four shots and all four players hit from that spot, etc.), that is pretty good golf from the back tees, particularly in gusty winds. That left us tied for the lead heading into the last hole, a difficult 434-yard par-4 dogleg right — although the wind was at our back off the tee, which helped.

I then proceeded to hit a drive as well as I can hit it off the tee. That left a 9-iron into the green. The wind was whipping right to left. I started the ball out to the right, and the wind started to take it backwards. The ball hit the green, inexplicably took a hop to the left, and began to roll straight left (again inexplicably) directly into the hole for an eagle two. The victory was ours. My drought was over.

I’ve called a press conference later today to announce my retirement from competitive golf. I’m told ESPNews might cover it live.


Sarah

Inexplicable? I think you owe the Prime Designer an apology.

In all seriouness though, congratulations. Wish that shot could be up on YouTube for viewin'.

jamm

Congrats on your impressive victory!

Regarding your comment on the difficulties associated with being the youngest, I have 2 boys born in Nov and Dec and my anecdotal observations certainly confirm this. Age becomes less of a factor as kids get older, but I suspect being selected to an elite team when you are young encourages (or requires) extra practice. This in turn likely leads to kids born earlier in the year having an advantage over kids born later in the year with similar athletic abilities.

My question is whether sports like golf or tennis where there is more self-selection (i.e., where a coach isn't picking a team) exhibit as strong a bias. FYI, Tiger Woods was born Dec 30 and Roger Federer Aug 8.

Jake

Was Lumpy well on his way to lumpiness at the age of 13?

ryle syverson

Congrats Steve. We were visiting our son, Chad, in Chicago this weekend and you will be happy to know that he predicted that you guys would win it. Did his new Calaway X-18 irons, he inherited from his father, assist in any way?

Nolan Matthias

Wow! An eagle two to finish knowing that you were tied for the lead! What are the chances!? A very Tiger like way to play through the finish.

Mitch

jamm,
I think you have your calendar backwards. Kids born late in the year tend to be among the oldest in their grade level and thus oldest among their peers. Thus, Levitt is the youngest having been born in May.

Tyler

Oh man, I can completely relate. I played both golf and baseball as a kid, and always managed to be the youngest and smallest in the 'age group'. It was difficult for me to compete with other kids to be a starter, and I was overmatched at everything. I pretty much swore off sports after 7th grade. I didn't touch a five-iron or a football for about six years.

Mike

Regarding the age comments, as with underwear and old age, it depends.

It depends on the area, time, and activity. When I went to school in the Ozarks in the 50's, your eligibility to start first grade was determined by whether or not your 6th birthday was in that calendar year. In which case those with birthdays in December were the youngest for their grade. When my daughter went to school in California in the '80's 1st grade was determined by whether or not your 6th B'day was before school started in the Fall.

Certain sports determine groupigs by age at the beginning of that sport's season, such as Baseball would use the child's age cutoff in the spring whereas soccer would use the age in the Fall.

Lewis

Regarding the age issue, our local kids' sports teams are not based on age -- they are based on grade in school -- and a fair number of parents are waiting an extra year before starting their boys (but not their girls) in kindergarten. I think most parents would say it is so their children to be "more mature" when they start school, but the difference shows on the playing fields as well.

Pete

Congrats on the win Steve. I've been lucky enough to be on the winning team of a scramble format tournament as well. Unfortunately for me, i didn't contribute as much to win as you did.

jamm

In Ontario, school and all sports that I am aware of use calendar year as the basis for determining what grade or grouping you fit in. The consistency has some benefits (friends in your grade from school are in the same grouping for sports), but also results in a systematic bias (the same kids are always the youngest).

It's hard to believe people would delay the start of their children's education so that they can play against younger kids in sports, but if the parents view that as an incentive, that's just economics.

Lee

I have also swore off golf more than 30 years ago and have been promising myself that I'll give it a try one more time.

In the meantime, you might be interested in the following and set it as a personal challenge.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21116556/

LLP

Sarah

Inexplicable? I think you owe the Prime Designer an apology.

In all seriouness though, congratulations. Wish that shot could be up on YouTube for viewin'.

jamm

Congrats on your impressive victory!

Regarding your comment on the difficulties associated with being the youngest, I have 2 boys born in Nov and Dec and my anecdotal observations certainly confirm this. Age becomes less of a factor as kids get older, but I suspect being selected to an elite team when you are young encourages (or requires) extra practice. This in turn likely leads to kids born earlier in the year having an advantage over kids born later in the year with similar athletic abilities.

My question is whether sports like golf or tennis where there is more self-selection (i.e., where a coach isn't picking a team) exhibit as strong a bias. FYI, Tiger Woods was born Dec 30 and Roger Federer Aug 8.

Jake

Was Lumpy well on his way to lumpiness at the age of 13?

ryle syverson

Congrats Steve. We were visiting our son, Chad, in Chicago this weekend and you will be happy to know that he predicted that you guys would win it. Did his new Calaway X-18 irons, he inherited from his father, assist in any way?

Nolan Matthias

Wow! An eagle two to finish knowing that you were tied for the lead! What are the chances!? A very Tiger like way to play through the finish.

Mitch

jamm,
I think you have your calendar backwards. Kids born late in the year tend to be among the oldest in their grade level and thus oldest among their peers. Thus, Levitt is the youngest having been born in May.

Tyler

Oh man, I can completely relate. I played both golf and baseball as a kid, and always managed to be the youngest and smallest in the 'age group'. It was difficult for me to compete with other kids to be a starter, and I was overmatched at everything. I pretty much swore off sports after 7th grade. I didn't touch a five-iron or a football for about six years.

Mike

Regarding the age comments, as with underwear and old age, it depends.

It depends on the area, time, and activity. When I went to school in the Ozarks in the 50's, your eligibility to start first grade was determined by whether or not your 6th birthday was in that calendar year. In which case those with birthdays in December were the youngest for their grade. When my daughter went to school in California in the '80's 1st grade was determined by whether or not your 6th B'day was before school started in the Fall.

Certain sports determine groupigs by age at the beginning of that sport's season, such as Baseball would use the child's age cutoff in the spring whereas soccer would use the age in the Fall.