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.


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.


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.


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.


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.