James Corrigan: Bubba is a one-off, a true ace in the pack
If you hit the ball to a few inches, it's a great shot. If you hole it, it's dismissed as lucky. How does that work
In sport, the miraculous hole-in-one story is the weeping statue of the Virgin Mary. We want to believe it, we really do. But deep down, we query it's validity. It can't be possible. Can it? Of course, the North Korean Ministry of Information went a tad too far with its "revelation" that their supreme leader, Kim Jong-il, "made 11 holes-in-one – in his first round". With his little legs, dodgy eyesight and suspect temperamant we might have accepted "made one par". Yet what to think when the claim is utterly outrageous, but just about feasible?
The tale doing the rounds at a late-night bar in Augusta a fortnight ago concerned a club golfer making three holes-in-one, on the same hole, three days running. Unsurprisingly, I have failed to verify the facts, but I have discovered a plethora of other "ace" yarns.
How about the Herald Tribune in Sarasota last Thursday which featured two veterans holing in one on the same hole while playing against each other? Or, on the same day, the report on News24 in Tucson which showed a giggling Marie McCusker recounting how she had aced two holes in a single round after 26 barren years? Great scoops, which would have had the news editor high-fiving the cleaner.
Yet both were "bowled in one" by the West Central Tribune's exclusive. Fargo is famous as the eponymous city in the Coen brothers' dark thriller. Now the place seems even spookier. Last Wednesday two teenagers, playing in a trial for a high-school team, both made holes-in-one on a 140-yarder, using nine-irons. If that wasn't coincidence enough, Brandon Winter and Collin Larson messed up their shots in the same fashion, hitting it fat and hence short and then watching in astonishment as their balls bounced off the same cart path, on to the green and into the cup. Neither of the boys made the team.
Why should they? It was luck; freakish luck at that. Yet, with holes-in-one, when does luck start and luck stop? It is a question with which Bud Cauley has been grappling.
"It does have something to do with luck," said the highly rated US rookie, who despite being only 22 has already recorded six holes-in-one. "But then, you usually have to hit a good shot to get a hole-in-one. The trouble is if you hit it to a few inches it was a great shot and if you hole it, it's then dismissed as 'lucky'. How does that work?"
It doesn't work; not when it comes to professionals who know where they're hitting it, anyway. By this token, maybe Bubba Watson (below) should be grateful that his incredible Masters-winning shot last Sunday didn't drop. In the wails of "what a jammy bastard" the brilliance of that 40-yard hook from a forest would have been devalued. Which would have been tragic as I honesly believe that, set in its context, Bubba's banana was one of the greatest shots ever played.
The glory was in its unorthodoxy more than anything. His motion certainly doesn't feature in any text book. Indeed, the position he got his body into was more suited to the Karma Sutra than Golf Monthly. Here was the imperfect shot for the imperfect man, the one-off who taught himself how to play. In that jaw-dropping instant so many theories threatened to fly out of the locker-room window.
There has been a trend over the last decade or so to discount the presence of natural genius in our sporting superstars. It began with the fantastic Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, in which he developed the work of Dr Anders Ericsson. Put very basically, this professor published research which he claimed proved it takes 10,000 hours of practice to be "great" at something; regardless of how much "innate talent" may or may not be ascribed to you.
It was a convincing and seductive theory, which at least one reader took too far. Dan McLaughlin was a commercial photographer who had never played a round of golf. He was unfit, unsporting and clearly unsuitable to being transformed into a professional golfer. But, with "the 10,000-hour rule" as his mantra, he quit his job and set out to show that "talent has little to do with success". Yeserday saw him complete two years, during which time he has dedicated more than 2,600 hours and, thus is more than a quarter of the way there.
Dan has yet to break 80. I know friends who have practised for 26 hours and broken 80. Dan is not demoralised. The American will play in his first tournament this month and from there still intends to pursue his dream of earning his full PGA Tour card by 2016.
Dan is deluded. What he requires to get anywhere near his target is a repeated case of cart-path bouncing – or Kim Jong-il's marker. Dan will receive neither. Put simply, he hasn't the talent for golf, it's not there in his genes, he wasn't made that way.
Is that oversimplistic, uninformed, lazily researched hogwash? Undoubtedly. But all you had to do was watch Bubba to know exactly what I mean.
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