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Math and Golf
By Anne Marie Goslak

I was playing in the Tennessee Women's Open, enjoying the "celebrity status" a golf professional feels when our entourage of nearly 300 people invades a small town. “Good Luck Golf Pros!” signs hung in every restaurant. People stopped to ask us for our autographs. We were not super stars, but to the local community, we were special. They would follow us on the course and would wait around outside the scorer's tent to see if we would stop and talk with them.

That's where I met a young boy named Jeremy. He looked to be around nine years old. His mom said he was struggling with math. Like many kids, Jeremy would say, “Math is stupid. When am I ever going to use this stuff in real life?” In a last ditch effort, his mom took him to the golf tournament and forced him to ask a big question.

Like a dog being forced into the vet's office, Jeremy was shoved my way by his mother. “Excuse me, ma'am,” Jeremy stammered. “I umů. I have a question for you.” He shuffled his feet and looked at the ground. “Does math have anything at all to do with golf? Do you actually use math in what you do, other than to add the numbers on the score card?”

“As a matter of fact,” I replied, “I use math all the time, every day. The better my math skills, the lower my golf scores.”

Jeremy seemed shocked, so I tried to explain. “Let me take you through a number crunching experience and see how you do. My ball is six yards behind the 100 yard marker (106 yards), but since the greens are firm, I need to hit it 8 yards short to allow it to run out (98 yards). But also, the green is elevated so I will have to add 10 yards (108 yards). Additionally, there is a 12 yard cross wind, determined by the angle the grass goes when I toss it in the air. I need to take half that distance and add it to my total (114) and then aim six yards to the right to allow the wind to blow the ball.”

Jeremy's eyes opened up wider, so I tried again. “Let's do a different one. I hit my ball in the rough. There is a bush directly in front of my ball. How do I know which club can get the ball high enough to clear the bush?” I then showed him that the angle of the shaft would equal the angle of the ball flight, which would help me get the ball over the bush. By this point, Jeremy was even more surprised, but no longer looking quite so skeptical.

Finally, we talked about how the golf pros keep their statistics on everything from how many fairways they hit to how close they average with their 6 iron. With that data, they can talk with their coaches and create a practice routine to make them even better. At this point, Jeremy was seeing the light and nodding his head in agreement.

In the end, I said to him, “The question is not whether you need math for golf. The question is, how many different kinds of math do you need?” He thought about it and said, “Addition, subtraction, fractions, angles and statistics.”

“Great job, Jeremy,” I exclaimed. “You get an A! Now go thank your math teacher.”

-Anne Marie Goslak