Bestsellers and Aces

I am an avid golfer by any definition of the word. My wife would say I am addicted. Many days I feel like an addict. I play anywhere from 70 to 140 rounds a year-in Minnesota. Mind you, the season rarely lasts more than seven months. That’s ten to twenty rounds per month. One every other day, or three to four times a week. I think nothing of double-looping (playing two 18-hole rounds) on those absolutely gorgeous spring or fall days. You know what I mean. Seventy degrees and sunny with a light breeze to keep the mosquitos at bay.

To me, nothing compares, sports-wise, to hitting a perfect golf shot. Striping a driver 300-yards right down the middle. Carving a half-swing, knock-down four-iron around a tree and bouncing it on the green to ten feet from the hole. Draining a 40-foot, double-breaking putt. Hitting the purest, crispest iron shot and sticking it to kick-in distance for an easy birdie.

I have spent countless hours on the practice range and putting green, searching for that elusive holy grail, trying to find the secret that will allow me to take my rightful place among the best-of-the-best, only to have that secret elude me time and again. I can detail every shot of a round I played a week ago, describe every memorable tournament I’ve played in, recap the best rounds of my life, but I can’t remember what my wife wore to work yesterday or the year we went last went to Europe on vacation. (1997?).

I bore you with all this nonsense (and to many people, golf is the essence of nonsense) because yesterday I recorded the fifth hole-in-one of my golfing career, which spans 42 years as of this writing. The non-golfers who read this will think  “Oh, that’s nice. Aren’t holes-in-one kind of rare thing?” The golfers who have never had one will think, “That lucky bastard. Some guys get all the breaks.”, and the golfers who have recorded at least one ace will think, “Eh, no big deal. I’ve got six (or 10) (or 25).” (Some golfers are really lucky!)

Depending on your source, the odds of a golfer making an ace on any given par-three are somewhere between 3,000 and 15,000 to 1. Fairly rare, but not impossible. The fact that I have five in 42 years implies that I have played somewhere between 3,750 and 18,750 rounds of golf during my life (assuming four par-threes per round). I assure you, fanatic though I may be, I have played nowhere near that many rounds. Even assuming 100 rounds per year over that span (and I have only played that much in the last 10 years or so) I would have only played 4,200 rounds. My actual total is likely less than half that.

The point of all that calculating is that I am one of the few golfers who has beaten the odds. If I’ve played 2,000 rounds in my life, I average one ace every 400 rounds–or 1600 par-three attempts. Pretty good, considering I know golfers who have played thousands of more rounds than I have and never made a hole-in-one. I feel pretty darn lucky. And luck is what aces are all about.

It takes a certain amount of skill to launch the ball into the air in the direction of the hole. Amadefter that, it’s up to wind, the golf course, the luck of the bounce, and the golf gods. I’ve probably hit a dozen other excellent tee shots on par-threes that have just missed going in the hole. Many ended up inches away. Why those didn’t go in and five of my other shots did, I ‘ll never know, other than to assume that all the stars were aligned at those particular moments.

By now, if you’re a golfer, you’re getting bored with all this. If you’re a non-golfer, you might have stopped reading three paragraphs ago. Rest assured, dear reader, I do have a point. One more tidbit. There are no doubt dozens, if not hundreds of professional golfers who have never recorded a hole-in-one. They are no lesser players for not having made one than the next guy is for having made one or more aces.

And so it is with writing. Every year, hundreds of books make someone’s best-seller list, the literary equivalent of a hole-in-one. According to Wikipedia, roughly 200,000 books are published each year and only about one percent of those will achieve best-seller status. If we assume that for every one book that is published, one hundred manuscripts are submitted, the odds of the average author seeing a big payoff (a best seller) are about one in ten thousand. That’s in the ballpark with the odds of the average golfer making a hole-in-one.

Now to my point. As a struggling writer, I am facing the same odds of getting my as-yet-unfinished-novel published and having it become a best seller as I am of getting my next ace. The odds of merely getting published are still astronomical. Not quite as bad as getting hit by a car, but still pretty hefty. Yet, I ‘ve persisted at golf for more than forty years, whereas I’ve only been writing seriously for less than two years. I didn’t make my first hole-in-one until I had golfed for more than 20 years. I hope it doesn’t take me that long to get a novel published.

In closing, I’d like to quote one of the greatest golfers of all time, as well as one of the greatest gentlemen of sports, Arnold Palmer. He said: “Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated. It satisfies the soul and frustrates the intellect. It is at the same time rewarding and maddening–It is without a doubt the greatest game mankind has ever invented.”

I often feel that way about the game of writing.

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