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Posts Tagged ‘golf’

How Much Tax Are Athletes Willing to Pay?

The Laffer Curve is a unicorn-y concept that seeks to explain the rate of taxation at which revenues will fall because earners either move away or decide to earn less (or cheat more, I guess).

If I were a tax scholar interested in this concept, I would be taking a good, hard look at the current behavior of top-tier professional athletes. Boxing is particularly interesting because it allows a participant to choose where he performs. If you are a pro golfer or tennis player, you might be inclined to skip a particular event because of a tax situation, but you generally need to play where the event is happening. A top-ranked boxer, meanwhile, can fight where he gets the best deal.

Which is why it’s interesting to read that Manny Pacquiao will probably never fight in New York — primarily, says promoter Bob Arum, because of the taxes he’d have to pay.

Forget About Anchored Putters…This Is What the USGA Should Really Be Doing

Last week, the governing bodies of golf announced a ban on anchored putters.  Historically, when golfers putt (i.e. roll the ball along the green to try to get it into the hole), they swing the putter back and forth freely.  In recent years, a growing number of golfers have used a different technique, wedging the butt end of the putter into their stomach, or resting it against their chin.  For a variety of reasons, the head honchos of golf are against anchoring the putter.  I don’t have a strong opinion pro or con on this decision.  My hunch is that a careful data analysis would show that anchoring the putter doesn’t do much to help or hurt most golfers.  (For instance, I am about equally bad either way.)  Golfers who don’t play in tournaments can continue to use anchored putters if they like.  Tournament golfers will adjust.

In my view, the attention given to anchored putting is a distraction from the real issue that bedevils golf: pros hit the ball too far and everyday golfers hit the ball too short.  Pros hitting the ball too far is a problem because there is a huge stock of old golf courses, the value of which are greatly depreciated by the increases in distance.  Classic old courses aren’t hard enough to challenge the pros.  In response, large investments are made to stretch the distance of these courses to keep up.  And changes in the tournament courses alter the perceptions of golfers.  The course I grew up playing was hard enough when I was a kid, but now is perceived as too easy because it doesn’t compare to the championship courses. 

The Miracle at Medinah

The Ryder Cup was about as exciting as golf can get. Down 10-6 going into the last day, the European team eked out a 14.5-13.5 victory.

The headline in USA Today reads “Europe Rallies for Miraculous Ryder Cup Win.” The Ryder Cup website calls it the “Miracle at Medinah.”

So how miraculous was the outcome from a statistical perspective?

Europe needed to win eight of twelve matches for a victory.  (If the teams tied, Europe got to keep the trophy, so it is considered a European win.)  Let’s assume that each of the pairings was an even match.  Then the likelihood that Europe wins after being down 10-6 after two days is given by the binomial distribution: what is the likelihood of at least 8 heads coming up if you flip a fair coin 12 times.

The answer is about 19 percent.

Not exactly the stuff of miracles, but fun nonetheless.

Golfing the Length of Detroit

I overlapped a little bit at the New York Times with Charlie LeDuff and let me just say that his reputation as a one-of-a-kind reporter is thoroughly deserved.

He now works for the Fox TV news station in Detroit. If you have ten minutes to spare, you should check out his recent piece: “Charlie LeDuff Golfs the Length of Detroit”.

Is it a) one of the most interesting pieces of reporting you’ll ever see? b) a kind of cultural criticism that almost never shows up in mainstream journalism? c) a golfing adventure that even the most adventuresome golfers have never considered?

Levitt Is Ready for the Senior Tour

Steve Levitt has made no secret of his desire to become a good-enough golfer to someday play the Champions Tour, for players 50 and older. 

After watching his amazing performance last week, I now believe Levitt does stand a chance of landing on a senior professional tour. But not in golf.

I was out in Chicago for a couple of days to work with Levitt. After a long day, we went out for dinner at a place called Seven Ten. It has food, beer, and bowling alleys — just a couple of them and nothing fancy. Old-school bowling.

After the meal, I tried to get Levitt to bowl a game or two. He wasn’t interested. Said he was worried about hurting his golf swing. (Puh-leeze.) He said he’d watch me bowl. I can’t think of anything less fun than bowling alone except having someone sit and watch you bowl alone. So I lied and told him that bowling would probably be good for his golf swing — the heavy ball could loosen up his joints, yada-yada, etc. 

He finally agreed when I suggested the loser pay for dinner.

10,000 hours later: the PGA Tour?

Last spring, I jokingly (okay, maybe half-jokingly) wrote about my quest to make the Champions Tour, the professional golf tour for people over the age of 50.  In that post, I made reference to the ideas of Anders Ericsson, an old friend whom Dubner and I wrote about in our New York Times column back in 2006, and whose ideas later became the centerpiece of a number of popular books.  Anders is the one who thinks that talent is unimportant. Oversimplifying a bit, he argues that with 10,000 hours of the right kind of deliberate practice, more or less anyone can become more or less world-class at anything. I’ve spent 5,000 hours practicing golf, so if I could just find the time for 5,000 more, I should be able to compete with the pros. Or at least that is what the theory says.  My scorecards seem to be telling a different story!

It turns out I’ve got a kindred spirit in this pursuit, only this guy is dead serious.  A few years back, twenty-something Dan McLaughlin decided he wanted to play on the PGA tour.  Never mind that he had only played golf once or twice in his life and had done quite poorly those times.  He knew the 10,000 hour argument, and he thought it would be fun to give it a test.  So he quit his job, found a golf coach, and has devoted his life to golf ever since.  So far he is 2,500 hours into his 10,000 hour quest, which he chronicles at

The Day My Golf Dream Died

It sounded like a small explosion. That was the first hint that my dream was dying. I was standing on a driving range in Florida. Because I am completely and utterly obsessed with golf, there is no place I would rather be. It makes no sense, but I’ve stopped trying to rationalize it.
As much effort as I invest in golf, I’ve never really had any expectation that I would be an outstanding golfer. So when I’ve had the chance to play with some of the world’s very best golfers, like Luke Donald and Jason Day, it was not the slightest bit discouraging to see, up close, just how much better they are than me. I fully expected them to be as amazing as they are.
All my life I have been far more obsessed with how far I could hit a golf ball than with making low scores. I was an extremely short hitter as a kid, and much of my adult life has been devoted to making amends for that weakness. I’m still not an exceptionally long hitter, but I have probably added 40 yards to my average drive in the last four years. Those gains have fueled the (surely irrational) dream that perhaps I could add another 40 yards over the next four years, in which case I would be a long driver.

The Physics of Putting

I always love it when I’ve been doing something one way my whole life, and then someone explains to me there is a better way to do that same thing, and the new way is so simple I can immediately switch and see benefits.
Usually it is a new technology that unlocks the magic. For instance, XM Radio, iTunes and Pandora all fundamentally changed the way I listen to music. My Sonicare toothbrush is a hundred times better than a regular toothbrush. After the creation of seedless watermelons, I would never again intentionally buy one that had seeds. Microwave popcorn is another example.
What is even neater, I think, than a new technology changing things, is when someone just comes up with a better way of thinking about a problem. I’ve done a little bit of reading on the origins of randomized experimentation, and it is fascinating to see how that new and powerful idea emerged.
On a much smaller scale, I’ve recently had that sort of change in my thinking about another issue: how to read putts on the green when playing golf.

A Kid Who Can Handle His Putter — and, More Important, Hyperbolic Discounting

It’s always good to see someone willing to pass up a certain short-term gain in favor of a potential long-term gain that’s much more significant. In this case it’s a teenage golfer — with a big assist from his father. From the Washington Post:

How much is your high school athletic career worth?
That is the question an Anne Arundel County teenager had to decide last month after winning $5,000 in a putting contest at a charity golf outing.
However, before 15-year-old Garrett Sauls, a freshman at South River High School, could think about a spending spree — perhaps a new putter, some wedges and new tennis shoes — his father realized that accepting the money might present a problem.

Gary Player in His Own Words

I idolized a lot of golfers growing up, but for some reason Gary Player was not one of them. That is kind of strange, because we have some similarities. We are both diminutive. We both fall all over the place on our golf follow-throughs. And the same thing that was said about him and golf has often been said about me and economics: he did more with less talent than just about anyone else.

The Answer to My Golf-Swing Quiz

Last week, I recounted the story of my golf pro Pat Goss, upon first meeting me, comparing my swing to another player. I invited blog readers to guess the answer.

A Freakonomics Quiz: Which Golfer Do I Look Like When I Swing?

I recently began taking golf lessons for the first time since I was 13 years old. I got to the range early, and my new teacher, Pat Goss, was finishing up a lesson with another student over on the putting green. He eventually made his way over towards me and introduced himself.

Better Golfing Through Data

The game of golf has in many ways retained its down-to-earth origins. So what happens when a gaggle of statisticians and mathematical theorists bearing GPS and laser surveyors descend on the links?

Emmitt Smith and Me

Football great Emmitt Smith was just inducted into the Hall of Fame. I had the great pleasure of playing golf with Emmitt a few years back. It is a round I will never forget.

Putt Probabilities

Like many others, I was incredibly jazzed by Tiger’s victory on Monday. But I was frustrated that the commentators routinely failed to mention the putting distance to the hole. It would be nice to know, “It looks like Rocco has a 25-foot putt.” But I, for one, would like commentators to go further and routinely give us information about the . . .

Let Them Eat Golf Balls

Tourists love Bali for its picturesque rice paddy views. But they also love it for a more modern attraction that’s threatening Asia’s food security and replacing paddys in countries throughout Asia — golf courses. Reuters reports that surging Asian economies, rising living standards, and a younger generation that prefers less labor-intensive resort and golf course employment have hurt Asian rice . . .