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"To err is machine"

The infamous words of trainer Angelo Dundee re the 'decision' after the make-believe Muhammad Ali vs. Rocky Marciano computer generated fight - a fantasy radio boxing tournament created to to determine the best heavyweight of all time, in the late 1960's.

The simulating machine providing the results?
A second-generation NCR 315 computer, packed with 5k of handmade core memory.  

The outcome of the Marciano vs. Ali contest would apparently be based on data collected from 250 boxing experts, who – according to Sports Illustrated – had filled in sheets that took "58 rating 'factors,' ranging from the obvious (speed, susceptibility to cuts, ability to throw a left) to the sublime (hardness of punch, killer instinct, courage).  This data was fed into the computer, which whirred and chugged before finally spitting out its verdict.

The magazine made the process sound rigorous and illuminating.  Every living fighter was interviewed (with the exception of Gene Tunney, who declined to be involved), and from all this was compiled as encyclopedic an accumulation of boxing trivia and technicalities as anyone had ever put together: how often and where each fighter cut his opponents, where he was cut most often himself, how many punches and what kind he usually threw in a round, what pattern, pace and rhythm he preferred, what blows hurt him most, how many fouls he had committed.

On 20 January 1970, the mock 'Super Fight' was shown (read the complete story of its making by clicking just above..) as a one-time-only offering in 1,000 cinemas across the United States and a further 500 in Canada, Mexico and Europe. The result was "more closely guarded than the gold in Fort Knox," according to Time magazine. But some sniffed the future in the prevailing wind.

So... who won - and perhaps more importantly you may be asking - what in the name of these two great pugilists does any of this have to do with you getting the golf ball in the hole sooner?  Why, quite a bit, actually... Read on (ain't it cool to be literate?).

One thing is certain: Rocky never thought he would lose. He had refused millions to make a comeback in the ring. There was no way he would risk losing a fight to a computer for a few thousand dollars. Just before Marciano died in a plane crash, only three weeks after filming, his brother Peter asked him: "How do you think you'll do in that fight?" "I'm a winner in 13," said Marciano, grinning.

After the plane crash, Peter phoned Murray Woroner (the short, chunky, balding advertising executive who married the fantasy fight with nascent computer technology), concerned that the end would be changed. He needn't have worried: the result was exactly as his brother had forecast. During the 'fight' Marciano was bloodied, put down, and behind on points before coming back to win by knockout in the 13th round.

Ali watched the fight in a crowded Philadelphia picture house; saw his left arm sagging on the middle rope as Marciano lifted his hands in celebration as the computer delivered its verdict: "Rocky Marciano wins by KO in 57 seconds in round 13. Knockout came on a combination of two rights and a left hook. Muhammad Ali though game could not withstand Marciano's final attack. Ali did not land a single effective punch this round." And he felt shame.

"I saw myself on the ropes being destroyed by Marciano, in one of the 'artistic' endings few actors could equal," Ali later wrote. "But some people thought it was real. Some sat stone-still, some booed and yelled, some cried … I felt like I had disappointed millions all over the world. It left me ashamed of what I had been doing. I had gone over the country promoting the simulation as fair and accurate, especially the Marciano vs. Ali show."

Ah... but "to err is machine" Dundee, Ali's trainer, quipped.

Why did people believe the whole grand sham? Partly because they wanted to, of course. But this was also the era when man shot for the stars, and moon-walking was a reality not a dance. Technology was taking on all-comers and winning. Its dimensions were uncertain, its boundaries unclear – perhaps using it to 'solve' sporting hypotheticals wasn't so far-fetched.

Taking on all-comers and winning

Really?  Look at the perfect, pristine and paradisaical setting above, complete with one of almost-2020's most hyped piece of tech - the Doppler Radar based Trackman (yes, I do use this device in my work at Eugene Country Club and elsewhere - yet only in ways to help my students, rather than confuse, confound & impress...). 

'Rigorous and illuminating,' the above vibe - much like what SI did in the supposed process of selecting their greatest fighters?  Indeed.  Uncertain dimensions and unclear boundaries?  Absolutely. 

Click on the sterile and surreal situation above for more details on this technology; brave of me to leave a link - n'est-ce pas - considering I'm not on their payroll..

So... why do people believe that practicing, training and 'playing' in such an environment will help them when they step onto the actual, not virtual, golf park?  Same as with Ali & Marciano: 'cause they want to believe. 

"To err is machine"

Dose of golfing reality, part 1, above.  Bethpage Black, site of last week's PGA Championship.  Wow.  That don't really look, taste, smell or feel like the picturesque indoor studio up there, does it now?  Uneven, unstable and varied terrain.  Different length, depth and types of grasses.  Undoubtedly a wee zephyr (not the air-conditioning...) swirling. 

The list goes on (and it will, boys & girls) re the dramatic differences in what is transpiring in our tech-infused enclosed bubbles vs. the real deal known as the golf course. 

And in this corner...

A 'simple' tee shot on the par-5 fourth hole at Bethpage.  Your cozy, cushy and air-conditioned chamber with the plug and play toys & blue-lit screens helping you when you gotta put the ball on the peg, then in play, on a hole like the one above? Vivid imaginations aside, might want to check your heart rate and pulse to see if there's any difference.

"To err is machine"

Click just above for some ideas on practical and purposeful practice - tenets of my signature Train2Trust programs.

Dose of human reality just north on your screen, a piece of the wreckage from the Ethiopian Air flight that went down recently.  R.I.P. to all those aboard, and blessings to family members. 

The Boeing 737 Max plane - the same plane involved in the fatal Lion Air crash - has been under much scrutiny.  And now, so are simulators used to train the pilots...

Boeing recently discovered that the simulators could not accurately replicate the difficult conditions created by a malfunctioning anti-stall system, which played a role in both disasters. 

"To err is machine"

"Can we get serious now?"

Tom Hanks initial comment during the inquiry, playing Captain Sully Sullenberger, in the clip (go ahead and click on that wreckage above - before 'malfunctioning' tech wrecks your game..), from Sully. 

So many profound takeaways in this 3 minute-ish scene - for your golf game - and daily doings.  A fistful of my favs:

  -  "We are simply mimicking what the computer told us."

CS: 'Mimicking' what exactly?  Hitting a ball off of a flat surface, into a screen, with a bunch of do-overs (17 practice runs/attempts for the pilots in the flight simulation in the film, BTW) staring you in the mug?

  -  "These pilots were not behaving like human beings, like people who are experiencing this for the first time."

CS: And you, my fellow 'fighters,' are not behaving the same in a living room theater-esque space, like you will out where Mother Nature and the elements, reside.  Take a look out the window, just south on your screen, 'cause that's what's waiting for you on the links; some of what you'll experience for the very first time.  

Some punishing jabs and a vicious left hook or two are coming your way during a round of golf, trust me; you ready, or not?

Hardened via dealing with adversity - or softened playing make-believe games indoors? 

Wisened by past actions - or dummied down by fantasmical fabrications?

  -  "Be cool.  Like you are going out to pick up the milk."

CS: Easy to be cool with such snug & safe surroundings (below), eh?  Hit a loose one (hopefully at least hit the screen, and not hoselrocket one through the windows...) and be cool: laugh it off, go pick up a cocktail, and take a seat on your swanky couch. 

Hit a loose one on the links, and you've got somewhere between 5-15 minutes to stew on it - and hope those mental demons don't sabotage your next shot - or destroy the rest of the round.  Conversely, you could pick yourself up off the canvas, learn an effective post-shot routine, and embrace a more fruitful mindset to move forward with. 

  -  "In these simulations, you've taken all of the humanity out of the cockpit."

CS: Amen, Captain Sullenberger.  And is so many of our artificial golfy habitats, we've taken all the humanity out of the equation for success.  Put a human on the par-3 14th at Bethpage Black (below) with one try and a hint of consequence & nerves, and let's see how that 'simulated' practice and non-context specific "#skillbuilding" is working for you...

"To err is machine"

  -  "No one warned us."

CS: Well - I'm warning you...  Just like someone warned back-to-back PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka (click below for some current offerings from my peeps at Nike Golf) back in the day, that the road to the top wasn't smoothly paved (and having a seven-shot lead going into the final round of a major was not going to be a casual Sunday stroll through a New York state park...). 

Climate controlled?  Restroom down the carpeted hall and to the left?  Easy game?  Not on this planet, brothers and sisters...

Technology?  Love it!  Yet the greatest piece of technology known to man - Ali, Marciano & Koepka alike - remains the human mind/body/soul system.  For, you see, to err is machine.

Human Beings

Back, in closing, to the computer-generated fantasy bout...

Throughout the filming, Ali referred to Marciano as 'champ.'  And in his autobiography, he wrote: "Rocky was quiet, peaceful, humble, not cocky or boastful" adding that he "deserves his place as one of the greatest of the great heavyweights."  Marciano, meanwhile, called Ali "the fastest man on wheels."

A friendship was forged outside the ring.  Marciano, the bashful white man who served his country in the second world war, and Ali, the brash Afro-American draft dodger, found themselves getting on famously.

No error there.  Is that not a human lesson for us all?

Coaching & Guidance


To err is machine - yet as human beings - we all have our perfect imperfections.  Are yours interfering in the betterment of your ball and stick game out in the golf park?  I understand.  Here to help...

Individual and small groups at Eugene Country Club, or at a facility near you.

"We are not robots.  We are people who are driven by feelings, inspiration and a sense of possibility.”

-- Sir Ken Robinson



          ~ CS ~
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