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bjwestner

Does the "hot-hand fallacy" apply to golf?

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I'm not sure what thread this should be in, so I put it in golf talk - forgive me if that is incorrect.

Some of you may be familiar with the so called, "hot-hand fallacy" that applies to gambling and apparently some sports like basketball.  I'm wondering if it applies to golf, specifically if it applies to putting?

It took me a while to understand how this hot-hand fallacy applies to basketball.  I can understand it applying to gambling, but I struggled with the fact that since a basketball player's percentage of field goals or free throws is dictated by the skill of the player primarily (although other factors are present, i.e. defense/team/etc), how could this be right then?  Maybe I'm suffering from some sort of bias, but watching basketball for many years and witnessing many stars have great games where they got "hot" and scored a lot of points had me thinking like many, that they got "hot" that night.

Apparently the hot-hand fallacy is basically saying that when a player gets hot or cold that they are not really hot or cold but this is a normal streak and the player is not hot or cold.  There apparently is no evidence to support that a player has a greater chance of making a shot if he/she made the last two/three/four/etc shots.

While I'm not sure I totally agree (Wilt does not score 100 on the Knicks by chance in my opinion), I'm not a genius, in fact far from it and am aware that like many I suffer from many biases.....this got me to wondering though, if LeBron makes 10 threes in a row and this is just a by chance streak and he is really not hot, is this is the same for golf and specifically, putting?

How many times have we watched golf or played with someone that we thought "got hot" with the putter?  I can remember a round last year when I thought I was hot with the putter and was making so many putts that a good friend that was playing with me joked "dude, your putter is the Enola Gay, your dropping bombs all day with that thing"......is all this not what we perceive it to be?

How much data is necessary to prove otherwise?  Because 18 holes is almost certainly not a big enough sample, how many holes is?  How does this tie in with skill and practice and improving as a putter?

The world just watched Jason Day dominate the golf world for what, like the past month or so....is he not hot?  If putting is like basketball, which it can seem to be in many ways, then what/if anything does this mean?  I figured I'd ask the smart people of this website because I am confused at the moment.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hot-hand_fallacy

I was trying to learn/read more about the role of luck/chance in golf, that is what lead me to read about the hot-hand fallacy and start wondering about this which is how I got to this point......

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now I'm even more confused.....

https://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2014/02/09/the-hot-hand-might-real-after-all/N8V34bGLWhPqk0Sx9yoHWI/story.html

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I would argue that in golf, it has more to do with focus and execution than it does with luck.  Let's face it, we have all had days where we are more focused and play better golf than other days.  I think that hyper focused play builds confidence and increases execution in the golf swing.  Making one putt builds confidence in the stroke and it builds from there.  Same thing with basketball and other sports...you make a few baskets and the confidence grows and makes the rim look bigger.

I also think there is luck involved with golf as well, but not as it relates to putting.  We have all got some lucky bounces off a tree back into the fairway and things like that, but nothing that would apply to putting.  That's just my two cents on it.

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I'm going to offer my opinion anyway....

Apparently the hot-hand fallacy is basically saying that when a player gets hot or cold that they are not really hot or cold but this is a normal streak and the player is not hot or cold.  There apparently is no evidence to support that a player has a greater chance of making a shot if he/she made the last two/three/four/etc shots.

If the hot-hand isn't real, how is it that when an athlete "feels it", he or she knows they have it and will continue to perform far above their norm for an extended period of time? Also, why isn't that individual able to maintain that level of performance after they "lose" the hot-hand. Btw, I don't consider making a few shots in a row qualifying as a "hot-hand".

As to why it happens, I don't know.

Maybe statisticians can prove otherwise and psychologist can point to studies that show it doesn't exist, but it would take a lot to convince me.

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I would say that it is real.

That's how an 8 handicap shoots 72 then 90 the next round. I guess it would apply to the total round and not just putting. Sometimes things just click and you cant do wrong.

Your Wilt putting up 100 in a game is the outliers that shows when someone is already that good at something, and they get hot, they can achieve almost perfection.

Shooting a 59 on the PGA tour, for instance. Those guys couldn't do that on demand, but when the stars align they have a better chance than I do.

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I'd say its a combination.  What a statistician might view as a relatively normal departure from the norm (say a player makes 4 5-foot putts in a row, which might be a 16 to 1 chance) brings confidence, and confidence can produce better than average results.  If I'm confident in my directional control, speed control, and read, I have a pretty good chance of making the stroke I want to.  On the other hand, missing 4 5-footers can bring doubt.  If I'm not sure of my read, if I'm not sure of my intended speed, I'm pretty unlikely to be successful consistently.  So I think the "hot hand" can begin with a statistically consistent departure from the average, and feed itself in the form of confidence, which produces better efforts, and better results.

Aside from the influence of confidence, golfers often make gradual unintentional changes in their swings that can significantly influence their success.  When they hit on the right combination, good swings are produced.  Haven't we all read..."the more I practice, the luckier I get".

To me, the variability of human endeavor (like a "hot hand" in athletics) is completely different from something like rolling dice.  The dice don't care whether I'm confident or not.  I can't make either a good effort or a poor effort in a way that will influence what the dice do.

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If you equate "hot-hand" as "being in the zone", it absolutely exists, but only at certain higher skill levels. I'm 58, my "zone" moments with golf are now at most for a couple holes or so because I see it happening and start to think about it, but when I was much younger I played competitive basketball as well as being a low single digit golfer and the period of being in the "zone" could last a long time, maybe rarely all game or round.

Basically everything slows down, nothing upsets you, you don't think about fundamentals, you just see things ahead of time and let them happen. If you start thinking about it or how to artificially make it happen, it all goes to hell.

Compare that to when you are focused on outside things, or have no fundamental skills at a higher level, the "hot hand" or "zone" just won't happen.

Is Jason Day in a zone right now, or confident or in hot hand land? Whatever you call it, he is there. For all the 120 shooters out there, any chance they can experience the zone or hot hand? I'd submit no.

Funny, this fits into what I would call the mystical side of golf but I didn't see it mentioned in that recent thread here---

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Terms can be used for various conditions of many sports or events.

A golfer, tennis serve or batter could be referred to being "in the groove"

A "hot hand" could be a dealer or person rolling dice.

It could be any sport when a player "gets on a roll"

Typically, any term is nothing more than recognition of an event when situations are above or below a standard.

Club Rat

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I have problems comparing basketball to golf. In basketball, the dimensions of a men's NCAA court are 94' long and 50' wide. The rims are 10' above the court, and the free throw and foul lines all in equal locations.

In golf, a par 5 can be 517 yards long, or 606 yards. It an have one bunker and cross water twice, or be dry with eight bunkers.

Likewise, golf courses are quite different from one another, plus you have a variety of turf grasses. Let's say a player has more success putting on bentgrass rather than bermuda, He may have a statistical history of sinking more putts on bent. The comfort zone and the past memory of success helps the golfer relax more and "not get in his own way."

Approaching it from another way, consider Johnny Miller's definition of choking (I'm paraphrsing): Choking is failing to succeed in an athletic move because you vary your normal routine when under pressure. Conversely, if you feel comfort in a certain setting, it makes for smoother, more focused movement.

I would say the hot hand in golf results from drifting in and out of precision.

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I have problems comparing basketball to golf. In basketball, the dimensions of a men's NCAA court are 94' long and 50' wide. The rims are 10' above the court, and the free throw and foul lines all in equal locations.

In golf, a par 5 can be 517 yards long, or 606 yards. It an have one bunker and cross water twice, or be dry with eight bunkers.

Likewise, golf courses are quite different from one another, plus you have a variety of turf grasses. Let's say a player has more success putting on bentgrass rather than bermuda, He may have a statistical history of sinking more putts on bent. The comfort zone and the past memory of success helps the golfer relax more and "not get in his own way."

Approaching it from another way, consider Johnny Miller's definition of choking (I'm paraphrsing): Choking is failing to succeed in an athletic move because you vary your normal routine when under pressure. Conversely, if you feel comfort in a certain setting, it makes for smoother, more focused movement.

I would say the hot hand in golf results from drifting in and out of precision.


Good post. If hot = luck, then sustained success is far removed from it IMO. Luck in golf seems to have been limited to a good bounce or the hole occasionally getting in the way of a flying putt. Lightening may strike twice every now and then.. but that's it.

I don't care how unexplainable you might feel it could be, if you are sustained 'hot' then you are undoubtedly playing a physically different game resulting from many different possible triggers including but not limited to @WUTiger

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Of course you can "get hot" at a sport. For some reason your brain and body are very matched up some days and other days you feel off. I think the statisticians are viewing it as a probabilities based scenario where you would actually place odds on someone making a shot. For example, just because you've made five 3 pointers in a row, doesn't mean you are 100% likely to make the next 3 pointer. But there are certainly days where you are more likely to make a shot compared to other days you are shooting the same shot. That is evidenced by the fact that you are making a lot of shots. Making vs. missing is inherently not "luck" based. You have to make the shot. It's not like a gust of wind will swoop into the arena and guide your ball into the hoop. Just like bowling. If I feel "on" and I get a turkey, it does not mean statistically that I am more likely to throw a strike right there in the 4th frame. But it certainly means I am more likely to shoot higher scores that night than a night where I feel off.

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In gambling, no, I think it's just something gamblers tell themselves to justify continuing to gamble.  In skill-based activities, I absolutely believe players "get hot".  I don't care if there are statistics to back it up or not, I know to respect a streak...

Crash Davis: I told him that a player on a streak has to respect the streak.

Annie Savoy: Oh fine.

Crash Davis: You know why? Because they don't - -they don't happen very often.

Annie Savoy: Right.

Crash Davis: If you believe you're playing well because you're getting laid, or because you're not getting laid, or because you wear women's underwear, then you *are*! And you should know that!

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The concept applies to any endeavor, not just sports. A composer may write several masterpieces in a row out of the blue...before returning to normal. Getting Hot, El Fuego, Locked in, On Fire, In the Zone, Playing unconscious... are all great sayings. They are simply describing an elevated state in performance where the person is executing flawlessly for a constant period of some time.. The performance streak is suddenly far better than the norm and even the persons norm even if they are elite at their trade..before they come back to earth. Its best to just enjoy it when it happens and certainly don't think about it try to make it happen. You can't, things just click perfectly for a period of time. I even remember Michael Jordan in the finals vs Blazers, he was so hot in the zone he was just throwing up shots from anywhere and made everything. He finally turned to the cameras laughing and shrugged like, "I don't know, I have no idea how I'm doing this but whatever.." It's really fun to watch when someone is in zone, but thinking about it surely destroys. Think about about major league ball player teammates do to a pitcher when he's in the zone and throwing a no hitter? They don't speak to him and everyone ignores him in the dugout... For fear of making him think about what he's doing... and it will end it. Hence that's why I usually refer to hot hand or I the zone as rather..... Playing unconscious.

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I think a more interesting theory is whether golf's "natural selection" process favors people who are get that "hot hand" (and it's really hot), rather than steady play or just moderately hot hand. Tour point systems favor a top 5 then missed cut over two steady outings. Big money goes to winners. Over time, those filtering up the ranks may be streakier in nature. To be successful, maybe you need to be one of those guys who just feels it one day, and doesn't get overly down on days when things aren't clicking. Trust you'll get in the zone again and ride the wave when it does. I also wondered if this also means you must play aggressive in lower tours to get this streaky profile. Playing it safe won't get it done except your stats might be better. You gotta be hot n cold to move up. Just a theory. Don't mean to derail this thread. Just popped in my head.

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This is a quote from ESPN about Jordan when he was in the zone : "Jordan wasn’t even a 3-point shooter, but it didn’t matter. He was hot, and he was letting them fly. It all culminated with Jordan hitting that triumphant sixth 3 of the half and, as the crowd lost its mind and his teammates cackled on the bench, Jordan turned and shrugged. Even he didn’t know what was going on. It’s one of the most iconic images in NBA Finals history. Michael Jordan, the greatest player ever, hitting so many 3-pointers that he not only amazed the crowd, his opponents, his teammates, and the millions watching on TV, but he actually amazed himself. "

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