When Data and Numbers Ruin the Game

My favorite shot in golf is hitting a long iron on the green. For most golfers, even pros, hitting the ball on the green from over 200 yards is a difficult shot. When you pull it off there’s a great feeling of satisfaction.

Photo by Ben Grey: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ben_grey/7452852872/sizes/m/

I was playing by myself a few weeks back on a lovely golf course and came upon a long par 3 measuring 170 yards from the tees I was playing. I noticed the back tees behind me were about 220 yards and required a long carry over water. Since there was no one behind me I decided to give it a shot. I hit my first 3 iron right in the water. Hit my second poorly and was way short. Took out a third ball and hit it perfectly. It landed on the front of the green and rolled to within 10 feet of the cup. Those of you who golf know exactly how I felt. (If you don’t, I feel a little sorry for you 😉 but here’s the thing: if I was playing a “proper round” I would have scored about 7. Not very good. I probably would have felt bad even though I hit one really nice shot. The score would have taken away from the feeling of joy that I still think about weeks after the fact.
This is not an either/or conversation about data but more about emphasis. I like data and use it when I play. At the same time, I hate it when I let data get in the way. Focusing on data too much makes me forget about the sun on my face. It makes me forget that I’m with my friends and enjoying a laugh and time together. Focusing on data can make me forget I’m on a beautiful piece of land. It makes me forget how great it feels when I make a perfect shot, even if it only happens rarely. Golf is a wonderful game but it’s so much more than a score.  I always need to remind myself of this.
Sports, like so many other worlds, has become data obsessed. I read about how hockey has evolved with new statistics and analytics and how it’s improved the game. I’m not so sure. No question, players today are more skilled but I’m not sure we enjoy it any more. Yes,  there are many factors that impact popularity but I don’t know if data is doing much to improve that. I think participation is the best indicator of the health of a sport. Participation will help produce elite athletes which also helps grow a sport. But the more people that love the sport is really what makes it great.
Now reread that paragraph and substitute “learning” for “sport”. Is that a fair analogy or assessment?

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