The Best Golf Story Ever Told by an Economist

An economist friend, who is also an accomplished golfer, recently told me the following story.

He and two friends had made a pilgrimage to the birthplace of golf: the Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland. They had managed to secure a tee time and were just about to tee off when the starter stopped them and told them to wait — he had a fourth player who would be joining them. The three friends were disappointed; what sort of schmuck were they going to get stuck with?

After brief introductions, the fourth player asked them what their handicaps were. A handicap in golf more or less corresponds to how many strokes you shoot over par on average. They told him their handicaps, which were three, four, and seven (which by the way, means they are exceptionally good recreational golfers).

The fourth player, who was standing on the tee with a set of right-handed clubs, said “O.K., great, I get my left-handed clubs” — the implication being that if he instead played left-handed, it would be a more even match. He headed back to his car, grabbed a set of left-handed clubs, and true to his word, proceeded to shoot a three over par 75.

Who was this mysterious fourth player? None other than the dashing Spaniard Seve Ballesteros. Golf fans everywhere have been saddened by Ballesteros’s shocking recent battle with a brain tumor.

Ballesteros, who retired last year, was a brilliant golfer who won three Open Championships, two Masters, and 82 other titles. He is best remembered for his flair and creativity: like hitting a shot from a car park in the 1979 Open Championship at Royal Lytham and St Annes.

My golfing friend conjectures that maybe playing left-handed on occasion helped Ballesteros learn to hit those creative shots which won him so many championships.

For instance, when your ball stops right next to a tree trunk, sometimes the only option is to flip a club around and try to swing left-handed. It is extremely difficult, because not only are you swinging left-handed, but you are using a club meant to be hit right-handed. My accomplished golfing friend has practiced this shot quite a bit, and says he once hit it 60 yards this way, but he averages about 20 yards.

He asked Seve that day how far he could hit it when in that situation. “About 150 yards,” Seve said. “It depends if I want a fade or a draw.”


That's a great story. I wonder why Seve wouldn't carry one left-handed club just for that reason.

Glenn Carver

As a life long golfer, I am saddened by Seve's situation. However, this story is a reflection of his creativity and determination. I am confident that he will bring the same determination to his health and survival.


"I admit that you are better than I am"

"Then why are you still smiling?"

"I'm not left-handed either."

Jon P

CM -

On the pro tour, there is a limit to how many clubs you can have in your bag. Before this limit was introduced, players often carried one lefty club.

Mr. Winston

As you probably already know, you're only allowed 14 clubs and he probably finds it more beneficial to carry three wedges rather than a left handed club. Personally, while I like to be prepared for whatever a round might bring, I would NOT carry a club because "I think" I'm going to be hitting from behind trees that day. It's almost like presuming you are going to hit it bad. Call me crazy, but I tend to hit it poorly when I think I'm going to hit it poorly. Most professional golfers will tell you the same thing.


Why is the story-teller being an economist relevant to the situation?

I'm an economist, and, not to take anything away from Seve, I've told better golf stories than this one.


Seve is apparently out of intensive care now (says the bbc) - hope he gets better quickly!
Ronnie O'Sullivan is a volatile but brilliant London snooker player who often plays games left-handed to challenge himself. It sometimes disheartens his opponent that he can win a frame playing this way. It's a bold gambit.


That last bit explains why guys like Seve win the British Open: yhey can do just about anything they want with a golf ball.

In fact, they can do things many of us can't even imagine (like flip a club over and hit the ball 150 yards -- AND work it left or right.

Doug B

Ian #3: My thought exactly! And he's a Spaniard!

Seve Ballesteros: You are wonderful.
Economist: Thank you; I've worked hard to become so.
Seve: I admit it, you are better than I am.
Economist: Then why are you smiling?
Seve: Because I know something you don't know.
Economist: And what is that?
Seve: I... am not left-handed.


REALLY, Tyler - you have a better story than playing 18 at St Andrews with Seve Ballesteros while Seve plays left handed ???

Just because he's an economist doesn't mean he doesn't have golf stories.

This is a GREAT story.


lol - Ian - how about...

Seve - I give you my word as a Spaniard, you will finish the round
Economist - No good - I've known too many Spaniards


AWESOME! Talk about lucky! I'm jealous of those guys handicaps too...


Another perfectly good walk, ruined.


So there I was outside of Dublin with my brother at Portmanock. The starter told me that the group ahead had gone off an hour ago, and should be playing quickly as they had caddies and a forecaddie. Great, we'd be able to play a quick round of golf and then some sightseeing around Dublin.

After the 8th hole, I found a wedge by the green. Hmmm...must be from the group an hour ahead! On the 9th tee, we saw them, a swaggering 4some that looked anything but quick. Playing the hole, I quickly spied an out-of-breath forecaddie running up to us wondering if we'd found a wedge. Of course, I returned it, and he thanked us heartily before running off.

Amazingly, the group ahead never let us play through, even though the last 9 holes took 3 hours! Thank you Bryant Gumbel and son, and friends of the family for being so gracious! Yes, it was that Bryant Gumbel, you'd know his voice anywhere, and no, we did not get to do any sightseeing around Dublin that day.



Uh, Tyler? Because this is a blog about economics, was written by an economist, and this blog is followed by people who have an interest in...................economics. That's all.


When I play cricket (informally, not at a high skill level) I can bowl and bat both ways, to the amusement of other players. Table tennis likewise.

Billiard games are a prime example of games where the lie of the ball regularly calls for a shot the other way around (if you don't like going around the back).

In the movie Happy Gilmore (ages since I saw it, can't remember details), the main character was a golfer with an ice hockey background, so when he hurt his right hand, he should have gone lefty, as ice hockey players are good at hitting both ways. I thought missing this was a tragic failure of imagination on the part of the writers.


I struggle to believe that such experienced golfers would not recognise Seve Ballesteros?

Ronald S. Montesano

Fortunately, no one killed Seve's father, so he didn't have to climb cliffs to hit left-handed shots to avoid him. My name is not Inyigo Montoya either...Not the first ego-maniacal Bumbel, err, Gumbel story I've heard.


There's another reason Seve was so creative; he tought himself to play on the beaches of Santander, and learned a whole bunch of different ball-striking techniques there.
But it reminds me of a Seve story from Augusta--his ball comes to rest in the rough behind a tree, and some in the gallery start chuckling. Seve comes up, and his Spanish accent was even thicker back then, and he says, "You wouldn't be laughing if it were your ball."


Golf is boring. Economics is boring. I accessed this column because the headline made me think I would read a really interesting or amusing or tragic story. Instead, I get a boring story written by an economist, in which the punch line is that some guy I never had heard about plays golf with his left hand.

I'll stick to the interesting stuff on the front page.