Golf is hard

Nobel Prize winner in economics is an avid golfer, whose expertise can't help him achieve an economy of strokes

October 11, 2017
Scott Olson

University of Chicago Professor Richard Thaler walks past portraits of previous Nobel winners as he arrives at his office after learning he had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

It has been postulated that the quality of one’s golf game correlates to their intelligence, or lack of it. The late Scottish author Sir Walter Simpson noted as such in his book, The Art of Golf.

“Excessive golfing dwarfs the intellect,” he wrote. “Nor is this to be wondered at when we consider that the more fatuously vacant the mind is, the better for play. It has been observed that absolute idiots play the steadiest.”

So with that in mind we’ll make the leap that Richard Thaler, though an avid golfer, is not necessarily a skilled one. Thaler, a University of Chicago economics professor, recently was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences “for his contributions to behavioural economics.”

“Richard H. Thaler has incorporated psychologically realistic assumptions into analyses of economic decision-making,” the Nobel news release says. “By exploring the consequences of limited rationality, social preferences, and lack of self-control, he has shown how these human traits systematically affect individual decisions as well as market outcomes.”

Fore on the right!

By the way, if you were to assume that Thaler is the first avid golfer to win a Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences you would be justified in doing so, but you also would be wrong. His friend and frequent golf partner Eugene Fama, also a University of Chicago professor, won the Nobel Prize in 2013.

Fama hinted at the quality of Thaler’s game in an interview he did with the New Yorker’s John Cassidy. Fama was discussing analyses of market returns, when Cassidy asked him whether he and Thaler “discuss this stuff when you are playing golf?”

“Sure,” Fama replied. “We don’t want to discuss his golf game, that’s for sure.”

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Suffice it to say that a Nobel laureate who maybe has a hitch in his swing at least understands golf at an elementary level.

“I fall into the following trap that every golfer I know experiences,” he said in an interview with Jonathan Derbyshire of the Financial Times. “You go out on the practice range and something kind of clicks and you start hitting the ball very crisply. And you’re sure that you’ve found it, the holy grail, that all you have to do is hold your hand in a certain way. Then you go out on the golf course and it’s completely disappeared.”

The lesson here is that even a Nobel laureate cannot outsmart the game, that Thaler's expertise in economics is of no help whatsoever in achieving an economy of strokes.


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