As Phil Mickelson Learned at Troon, Bad Breaks Aren’t Our Fault

October 6, 2016

As a scientist (I worked for years at NASA), I’ve always believed that there’s a logical explanation for everything. Then I watched Phil Mickelson’s final putt of the first round at this year’s British Open. It was tracking, tracking, tracking — and then it dove to his right and lipped out. My faith in reason was shaken.

So hear me, dear reader: Spirits are at work. Gods are at play. I now believe.

Mickelson’s putt had to go in. If it had dropped, Lefty would have shot 62 — the lowest round in major history. Nineteen 63s have been carded in majors, but not a single 62, and I now know why: the Golf Gods won’t allow it. They don’t want it. If they did, they would have let Phil’s perfect putt fulfill its destiny.

I’ve always suspected the existence of the Gods — these makers of mischief, these begetters of bad breaks. They’ve meddled plenty in my game. But this time, I had proof. It was as if the deities dwelling atop the Mount Olympus of the Links wanted to be found out. Because that Thursday at Troon, the Pelz Golf Institute had a drone equipped with a video camera hovering 2,000 feet above Phil as he finished his round. In the video-editing room, we traced the path of Mickelson’s putt, plotting the position of the ball every three-quarters of a second during its journey to the cup. The photos at left show the true line of the putt, which we overlaid onto the image that you saw on your TV.

As you can see, the ball lurches to the right as it nears the hole, defying physics and reason. I know the 18th green at Royal Troon like the back of my glove; on the putt Phil had, a sudden right turn just isn’t possible on that part of the green. But the Gods work in mysterious ways.

I talked to Phil after the round, and I could tell he was disappointed by the ball’s last-second “diversion to the right,” as he put it. He stroked a perfect putt. It was good from the word “go.” And yet it missed. Ah, 62 — so close and yet so far. Call it divine interference.

You can deny the existence of the Gods, but my eyes are open. They’ll surely continue to treat us golfers like pawns on a chessboard. My advice: The next time they meddle with your round, don’t take it personally. Instead, remember the way Phil handled it. Three days later, there he was, shooting a Sunday 65 to valiantly battle Henrik Stenson to the last hole.

So don’t let lip-outs or bad bounces get you down. All you can do is nod to the heavens and play on.