Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Does Randomness Rule?

Print Friendly and PDF A few days ago I finished reading Leonard Mlodinow's “The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives”.  Sunday I watched Phil Mickleson defeat the field, including Tiger Woods, in the ATT Pebble Beach Pro-Am golf tournament. the juxtaposition of those two items did bring me to realize that my route on a golf course is quite frequently just a "drunkard's walk'. Not due to any booze, however: the stroll is largely due to the randomness that is evident whenever I swing a golf club.

The most fascinating aspect of Mlodinow's book is that he makes it clear that randomness is ever-present in what we may perceive as our ordered structured lives. He makes you realize that all the effort and energy that one puts into their strive for success largely consists of attempts to swing the odds in our favor. Subconsciously, we all probably know that. How many times do we say (out loud or to ourselves), "just give me a chance".

In September 2010 I had my first hole-in-one on a regulation golf course. Despite playing for over 40 years, it was my first ace.  Some people have several. There is a web site dedicated to hole-in-one records. (Click here.) One person is claimed to have 59.  No matter what you say about holes-in-one, they do not indicate skill. Where skill comes in is in increasing your chances of an ace. Actually getting one is pure random luck. Just consider all the factors that come into play after you hit the ball: wind, grass clippings on the green, bugs in the air or on the ground, moisture in the air or on the ground, general speed of the green, etc. Add those to the factors in play before you hit the ball, and you should quickly realize the impossibility of knowing, let alone controlling, all that would be necessary to ensure an ace.

Getting back to Pebble Beach:: I wish I could listen carefully enough to Nick Faldo, Jim Nantz, David Feherty, and all the other announcers, to determine if they even verbally acknowledge the randomness that is evident in the game of golf. They do mention a change in wind speed or direction on occasion. They even acknowledge when a ball lands in a divot. But do they give randomness its due?

Speaking of a ball landing in a divot: is there any golfer who tries to make that happen? That event alone gives life to the randomness theory of golf.

No comments: