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.”