The legendary Black Knight of golf, South African Gary Player, coined the phrase, “The more I practice, the luckier I get,” and while this famous quote is attributed to him, he admitted that it came from a fellow pro golfer named Jerry Barber during a bunker practice session that Player was watching. So, is golf luck or skill?
Golf is a pure skill in terms of the swing technique, course management, training regimens, and mental focus, but on the course, there certainly is an element of luck, and anyone who’s ever had their ball BOUNCE out of a hazard knows this only too well.
Let’s break down the differences between luck and skill in golf and understand that even the highly skilled golfers still need some luck occasionally, and weekend golfers need it even more!
What Is Skill In Golf?
Golf is rated as one of the most difficult sports to play well, and while there are millions of golfers in the US, only 3% of them play at very high skill levels of scratch or better, and only 10% of golfers break 80 regularly. There’s no denying it; golf is hard.
Watching pro golf on TV may give you the idea that the players are supremely skilled, and relative to the rest of the golfing world, they are. But, you don’t often see the poor shots that go out of bounds, in the water or the rank bad shots they hit.
There are a few different golf skills as well.
The Skill Of The Golf Swing Or Golf Stroke
If you break down the fundamental and essential skills of the game, it comes down to the golf swing. The ability to execute a series and process of movements from a stationary position to deliver the ball to its target.
Whether this is driving, iron play, putting, chipping, or playing from the rough or bunkers, the ability of the player to repeatedly and accurately perform the swing and the associated mechanics consistently and accurately is considered the benchmark of golf skill.
Where luck comes into play here is having the ball stay up out of the water instead of rolling back down or dropping in the hole after hanging over the edge, but it’s the golfer’s skill that creates those ‘lucky’ moments.
This interesting study of skill, luck, and streaky play on the PGA Tour, demonstrated that the skill levels of PGA Tour players change over time.
The same study also found that a little luck is needed to win PGA Tour events, including the most highly skilled players, such as Tiger Woods, and a great deal of luck is required for less skilled players to win.
As a beginner, you might want to consider golf lessons, but are they worth it? Find out here, 7 Reasons Why Golf Lessons Are Worth It.
Course Management Is A Golf Skill
The ability to maneuver the ball around the course and hit strategic areas on each hole to maximize scoring opportunities is also a skill. Here, hours of play, practice, and note-taking on yardages, hazards, and layups come into play.
No luck involved there.
Where luck does come into play is when the ball rolls back onto the fairway after hitting a tree instead of bouncing out of bounds after it fades that fraction too much off the tee.
Again, the golfer can hit that shot that allows the element of luck to come into play during the round.
Reading Greens Is A Skill
One of the toughest aspects of golf is the skill needed to read the greens. The pace, line, and break of the ball across the grass surface and the strength of the stroke needed to get the ball traveling at the right place and on the right line to make the putt.
Once that ball leaves the clubface and starts on its path to the hole, the elements take over. The grain of the grass, the little wind there, and slight, almost indiscernible indentations in the green, all influence the ball’s journey.
When luck comes in, the ball drops into the hole or 360s and drops in after a breathless few seconds of indecision around the cup!
Reading a wet green is an additional skill when playing golf in the rain. You’ll need to factor in that the greens change when wet as they will be slower. As such, you need to adapt how hard you hit the putt and accommodate for the ball having less break.
Are Aces in Golf Luck Or Skill?
The Hole-In-One is the Holy Grail of golf, and while you may think that these are more luck than skill, the converse is true. We simply want to get it on the green for the weekend golfer and walk away with a par or even a birdie – if we’re lucky!
But, for the pros, they are aiming at the hole in one. They practice it, focus on it, visualize it, and then when they execute it, well, that was the plan all along.
Of course, you could argue that the ball landed in just the right place and the wind was helping, but those factors are all taken into account before the swing is made.
Herein lies the real conundrum of skill vs. luck in golf.
The more skilled you are, the luckier you are likely to be in the game as you are putting yourself in positions where you are more likely to be the benefactor of a little good fortune. The shots you hit are more likely to be accurate and on target and so avail themselves of that little extra magic.
The Impact Of Mindset On Luck
One of the greatest of all time, Tiger Woods, spent an excessive amount of time working his super-aggressive mindset, and when you watch some of his greatest moments, you may think you saw some of the luckiest shots in golf.
Not that case at all. You see, he EXPECTED to make those. He had spent countless hours visualizing those incredible shots, and when they went in, many would attribute those shots to luck, but the incredible power of the positive mind had far more to do with it than luck.
With all of the greats, they exude this aura of total confidence and belief in their ability. That played far more of a role in their success, even where luck appeared to have some influence.
Read more: Why Golf Is a Mental Game.
Being properly skilled in the game of golf lends itself to increasing odds that fortune will indeed favor you in your round, but of course, this does not happen all the time, but it certainly does increase the probability of fortunate intervention.
In my opinion, golf’s great variable is always the weather. In competition play, a lucky draw to play in calm conditions either before or after bad weather is what I define as sheer luck!
Nonetheless, there is a definite correlation between luck and skill in the game of golf, and it certainly appears that Gary Player’s legendary line has some definite underlying truth to it. Instead of saying the more I practice, the luckier I get; rather say the more skill I have, the luckier I get.