Dazed and confused? Not me. I’m just Lost in the Cheese Aisle.

Thursday, March 29, 2018


Today I took special care to get up early (never an easy task given the best of conditions) so I could be on time for the morning minyan. Now that we’re farther north, I have to allow about twelve more minutes for travel... and of course I had to be there, on account of it being Mom’s Yahrzeit.

After services, following our local custom, those of us observing Yahrzeit bought breakfast for the other attendees: our way of thanking them for showing up. And, also following our local custom, we had our usual Post-Minyan Bullshit Session while enjoying said breakfast.

Sometimes we talk of religious matters, sometimes of the mundane, and even (more often than one might think) of the vulgar and even profane. But today I managed something that surprised even me. I managed to conflate two very different topics: golf and quantum mechanics.

It all started with my talking about my Mom, who was a three-day-a-week golfer.

Mom was not your typical hausfrau. She didn’t stay home and bake pies. (I had a friend whose mother baked a pie a day, and often two. To me, that seemed surreal. Hell, it still seems surreal.)

No, she got out and about. She frequented the library and the golf course. She had, as described by my next-door neighbor fifty years later, outside interests. That made her different from all the other moms on the block.

I inherited my mother’s love of golf, but alas, little of her skill or perserverance. That is a story for another time, but the point is, I still love golf despite my ineptitude.

Not everyone is a golfer, though, and many people despise the game... including several of my friends at the breakfast table. What was it, they asked, that I liked about golf, aside from it being the game my mother tried to teach me?

My answer, strangely enough, involves quantum mechanics and the structure of the atom.

Most of us, when asked to describe an atom, think of those drawings of a nucleus (protons and neutrons) with electrons spinning around it like planets orbiting the Sun. But that’s not how things work in the domain of the teeny-tiny where the rules of quantum physics take over. We can’t know where a given electron is at any moment: all we can do is figure out the probability that it will be in a particular place. If we make a diagram of that probability, it looks like a fuzzy cloud... and different electrons inhabit differently shaped clouds. These clouds are (confusingly) called orbitals.

This is not the place, Esteemed Reader, for a chemistry lesson (if you want that, go to the link above), but suffice it to say that the p orbital, with its Indian club-shaped probability distribution, is a good way to model a golf game.

When I stand at the tee, I see a world of possibilities. There is the extremely unlikely prospect of the ball somehow ending up behind me. There is a much greater probability that it will end up somewhere in front of me, but the chance of it going 300 yards in a straight line is almost nil. And these probabilities can be represented by a map that looks a lot like a lopsided p orbital.

Someone like Phil Mickelson will have a “golfy orbital” that looks more like a pencil than a big fluffy cloud, because he hits the ball pretty close to where he intends for it to go. Mine, of course, is all over the damn place... yet there’s always that small chance that I will hit a shot worthy of the Teevee. Kinda like hitting a flush in Texas Hold ’em: improbable but possible. It’s what keeps gamblers in their seats at the tables in Vegas. Hey, it could happen!

That’s my story, anyway. Golf and quantum mechanics... who knew?

1 comment:

Houston Steve said...

Like I told ya - it does go where you're aiming it. You just don't know where you're aiming.