Some would say I am unlucky. As I sit here writing these words, my left casted leg is propped up due to my need for elevation. Approximately one month ago, I was doing some step-ups and heard a loud pop as if someone had taken a bat to the back of my calf. Since I was alone when this happened, I knew it was not a wooden object whapping my leg. Fast-forward two days; sitting in the Dr.’s office, he informed me I had a full tear of my Achilles tendon. Peachy. I’m off my foot for many days and weeks. Looks like my luck ran out. Or did it? I had everything to do with this injury, and perhaps there was a bigger purpose for it. So, what is my take on luck? After doing some real research on the matter, I have concluded that it does not exist.
There is much more to luck and “un”luck than just coincidence. First, I need to discuss the idea of luck before I can launch into what this has to do with golf. Richard Wiseman, author of The Luck Factor, conducted a ten-year scientific study into the nature of luck, and it showed that people make their own good and bad fortune. He also noted that it is possible to enhance the amount of luck people encounter in their lives. In fact, he discovered four basic principles to people creating their luck in life. “They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition, create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.“ (Wiseman) It sounds like luck is a state of mind that may be cultivated. Over the years he studied and interviewed countless numbers of people. Based on his findings, luck is not a magical ability or the result of random chance. “Although lucky and unlucky people have almost no insight into the real causes of their good and bad luck, their thoughts and behavior are responsible for much of their fortune.”
Many people think that much of golf involves luck. If you are a scratch golfer, you might like to believe that. Maybe you constantly complain about the wind or your clubs or the clubhouse or the greens or that tree in the way of your shot. When your ball bounces off some foliage and jumps out-of-bounds, it’s not unlucky. On the contrary, if your shot sails right through the thickest tree on the course, it’s not luck. Apart from winning the daily draw for a tee time on the Old Course at St. Andrews, or weather issues, there is no such thing as luck in golf either!
Think about it. You’re on the course, and you hit one of those “unlucky” shots. Next thing you know your mental state is agitated and somehow your countenance makes you nervous. That club and ball knows you feel this way and, like a dog, can sense your frustration. Now, they will not cooperate and you are getting angrier. You’ve let that “unlucky” shot get the best of you. All these reactions will hurt your golf game. Maybe you’d start to feel like the golf gods were against you or the course is mad at you. Either way, you would probably not be in the right frame of mind to play well and you’d start thinking more about your bad luck than the shot you’re about to hit. Conversely, good luck can positively impact your state of mind as well.
According to Michael Agger of Slate Magazine, “(with extremely few exceptions) the top 20 finishers benefitted from some degree of luck. But again, according to Wiseman, “lucky people” are skilled (did you catch that?) at creating and noticing chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition, create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.” Now, if it was complete luck involved, golfers like, Zach Johnson, Steve Stricker, Peter Hanson, Bo Van Pelt, and Carl Pettersson, would be winning more trophies. Why are they not? According to Fred Altvater of bleacherreport.com, these players have performed in the big events and have earned their status in the golf world but are just under the radar and have yet to win for “whatever reason.” If we could get inside their minds, maybe we could diagnose why.
Graeme McDowell, not the usual household golfer name is being called “lucky.” Is he lucky? Just this past January, on the 18th hole at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, McDowell hit his third shot far past the green only to see it bounce off the grandstand and roll back to just near a couple of feet of the cup. This Irishman would go on to birdie the hole. He had the “luck of the Irish.” The theory behind this slogan is many, but the Urban Dictionary defines the Irish as not necessarily luck they possess but an “attitude the Irish keep; they have a positive look at a bad situation. In fact, “The Irish didn’t survive a potato famine, and being treated as 3rd class citizens upon their arrival to the U.S. (till the mid-late 1900’s) by not having a positive outlook and a great sense of humor!”(urbandictionary.com)
It is true that golf is a psychological kick in the rear. Any of the top players, like Phil Mickelson, can bring his top golf skills to a tournament and lose. You wan watch all the Golf Channel you want, and be obsessed with your swing, your grip, your speed….but maybe think strategy. Think of your thinking. The luckiest people I know are those who set themselves up to win big and do just that!
So, the next time you are “unlucky” at your game, don’t blame it on luck – you caused the ball to react the way it did once it left your clubface. Take your penalty strokes and start gearing up for the next shot. That way, you won’t let an “unlucky break” undo your whole round. If luck exists or not, either way, the luck of the game will go your way if like, Wiseman concludes, you start cultivating the right state of mind. And me? I’m not unlucky; I need to re-think every little step I take.