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After another fine round of golf spoiled on the last hole by an errant tee shot and the calamity that followed I wondered about the odds. Playing the percentages: The mathematics of golf might be the way to approach this issue. It is all too common to observe this kind of thing happening to competitive golfers. My playing partner Craig did the same thing last week stuffing up a good score on the final hole.

Mito Pereira did it on the 72nd hole of a major at the US PGA Championship in 2022 at Southern Hills. Sahith Theegala did it this morning at the Travelers in Connecticut.

The Stats of Stuffing Hole Up the Final Hole

Statistically there must be a numerical percentage for golfers who blow it on the ultimate hole of their round. It hurts real bad when you do this. It is sickeningly painful because you cannot do anything about it, as you have run out of holes. You leave the course with a bad taste in your mouth and the feeling of failure writ large upon your soul. Emotions, however, are not going to solve this problem. Maybe mathematics can approach it from a more practical perspective and provide some clarity.

What Are the Golfing Odds?

We have all been there, standing on the 18th tee needing a fairway finder to get the ball rolling in the right direction toward par or birdie. The butterflies in your stomach, as you set up to unleash a great drive down that final fairway, can flutter like crazy. What are the odds that you are going to hit a good shot or carve the ball into deep trouble one way or another?  This is the moment when push comes to shove and neither of these adjectives are going to help you hit a great shot.

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Let us crunch some numbers to begin with. If you regularly shoot 80 or 90 around 18 holes of golf, what are the chances of that final tee shot being a beauty? Say the par of your golf course is 72 and is made up of 4 par 3s, 4 par 5s, and 10 par 4s. Let us agree that you will hit driver or 3 wood off the tee 14 times in this round. Do you do your own stats on how many fairways you hit each round? What is your average? Do you hit 10 out of 14 fairways or more like 7 out of 14 fairways? 70% or 50%? A good idea is to document how often you hit that last fairway. Documenting your round of golf can provide some useful insight per se. If you usually run at 50% of fairways hit, then, the chances of finding that final fairway is just over 7% when viewed over the entire round. It is one shot out of 80 or 90 shots played in total, but, boy, is it important to finishing that round and posting your best score.

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Obviously, we can tighten up on that 18th hole, especially knowing that we have achieved a pretty good score up to this point in the round. We have to factor that into the equation when working out the odds of getting the job done. Going for too much on that final tee shot can be a recipe for disaster when trying to get home without stuffing it up. Finding the fairway is the first step in setting yourself up to complete this hole without a bogey or worse. Everything in life is about timing and the golf swing is the perfect example of this.

Remember to be smooth in your takeaway and downswing for best results. Trust your swing in these moments and let it happen.

Robert Sudha Hamilton
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Golf is a lot about mathematics and having to do your own scoring was one of the things very different from other sports and games that I first noticed. Golf makes you an accountant and an athlete. Maybe a bookkeeper is a better fit, as they are generally more honest. Honestly keeping your score is paramount in golf, as the game is all about integrity. Playing the percentages: The mathematics of golf can provide a clear headed view of your game. Standing on that 18th tee and surveying the final fairway calls for a steady hand and heart. May the odds be with you.

Things to Remember

1. Document your rounds of golf & keep your own stats.

2. Work on perfecting a fairway finder off the tee.

3. Keep cool under pressure & remember to breathe.

4. Trust your golf swing when it really matters.

5. Say a little prayer to the golfing gods!

Robert Sudha Hamilton is the author of The Golf Book: Green Cathedral Dreams.