RENSLOW: The most difficult act in sports
February 23, 2018
For each occupation there are obligatory questions. Those in the area of finance or investments are likely asked about a stock tip. A coach would be asked how the season is going.
Amateur golfers, when they discover another player ask, "What is your handicap?" Yet, for some unknown reason, I tend to be asked, "Have you ever had a hole-in-one?"
Not "how many tournaments have you won?" or "what's your favorite golf book?"
It is generally about a hole-in-one. My good-natured, but sheepish reply informs them that…no, I have never had a hole-in-one. However, I quickly defend this underachievement by reminding them that Ben Hogan did not have a hole-in-one in competition.
So…let's take a look at how difficult it is to hit a hole-in-one. For those new to the game, let's make sure everyone understands the phrase "hole-in-one." Also called an "ace," it is when the golfer stands on the tee and their first swing sends the ball into the hole. No putts, no chips, no mas. The hole is over and a "1" is placed on the scorecard.
The odds are 12,000 to 1…for the average person. If you're really, really good, the odds go to about 4,000 to 1. It has been called the most difficult single act in sports.
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Now some would argue that there are more difficult individual things to do in sports – hitting a baseball, bowling a perfect game or driving a 200 mph race car top the list (according to USA Today).
Yet, honestly, let's consider this for a moment. Hitting a baseball is difficult. I get it. It's a round ball and a round bat, with the ball moving toward you at speeds of up to 100 mph. But, the best players hit the ball fairly well over half the time and get "base hits" more than three out of 10 times. The odds are not 4,000 to 1.
Perhaps a 'home run' would be getting into the odds ballpark (pardon the pun). But, realistically, can you see Tiger and Phil at this year's "Hole-In-One Derby"? Or, sitting around the driving range…."Hey Phil, I'm up to 40 aces this year, how about you?"
Bowling? Okay, it's not easy, but bowling a 300 game is more a rite of passage. On balance, they happen almost every day at bowling alleys across the country. Nice job, but not 4,000 to 1 for the best players.
The boys and girls of NASCAR and Formula One, have my respect. But, the truth is that nearly all of them accomplish a primary goal – they finish the race. Alright, sometimes the car has problems or they make a mistake or some other driver makes a mistake. And, it may feel like a 300-pound lineman driving you into your seat for a few, long hours. But, generally odds are good they finish the race and there may not be a specific act in racing equivalent to a hole in one.
Of course, there is a certain amount of luck in any individual shot and a strange thing is that some people seem to make multiple aces, while others go their entire golfing lives without one. There are average players who have recorded an ace on each of the par-3's on their home course. Yet, as mentioned, Ben Hogan, perhaps the game's best ball striker ever, never had a hole-in-one in competitive play.
With much appreciation as you digest this pile of numbers and the challenge I face, it is important to note that the shot is so rare, when it does happen, everyone heads for the restaurant and a free drink.
The irony is that no one is buying drinks for the player who had the hole-in-one. The one who strikes this remarkable shot is buying the drinks for everyone else. Sometimes this is the players in your group and sometimes it is literally everyone else.
Hmmm…but wait a minute. Maybe I'm not so disappointed that I've never had a hole-in-one. Think of the money I've saved.
John Renslow is a PGA Class A Professional and Instructor at Alta Sierra Country Club. Please contact John with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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