Rory set to benefit from a nappy event
First a confession. Four years ago, England’s Danny Willett was celebrating on the 18th at the Masters and Jim Nantz, the TV sports presenter – whose standing in the average US living room is somewhere between Des Lynam and God – pronounced: “There is an old saying in golf: Beware the joyous father.”
I cringed. Not because what Nantz had uttered was pure cheese, but because I was certain that in golf there had never been such an “old saying”. How was I so sure? I had made it up four days before.
It was the eve of the tournament, deadline was fast approaching and we had just chatted with Willett. His wife Nicola had given birth to Zacharia the previous week. “I’m on tired cloud nine,” he told us.
Willett plainly had no nerves whatsoever, with his mind still immersed in that strange mixture of euphoria and gunge. I speculated that the player, then ranked 12th in the world, “could freewheel into contention”. I knew there were many precedents and that Keith Elliott, the great golf betting analyst, had coined a catchy moniker.
Yet with the seconds counting down, I could not remember it so, in a panic, and with a shameless amount of journalistic licence, I went with: “There is an old saying in golf – beware the joyous father.” And then, that night it hit me – “The Nappy Factor”.
Get ready to hear plenty of that phrase in the ensuing weeks, when Rory McIlroy is set to step back into the arena as a proud parent. His wife, Erica, is due “any day” and with the US Open in two weeks and the Masters six weeks later, McIlroy will be an intriguing test case. And if the world No 4 does relocate his winning spikes, expect interest in Elliott’s theory to explode.
I contacted Elliott to discover his thoughts. “I’ve stated many times that Rory needs to change his mentality and that’s the impetus that the Nappy Factor would bring,” Elliott replied. It is 24 years since he first posited his theory in The Golf Form Book 1996.
By then, this retired economics lecturer had put in years of painstaking research and he cited several beneficiaries of the Nappy Factor, including Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman and Nick Price.
These were just the notables. The stats on the Tour backed up Elliott and, in his understanding, they still do. No less than Bryson DeChambeau, aka “The Mad Scientist”, seems to have confirmed so.
“I no longer keep the figures, but I know from two different sources that DeChambeau disclosed recently to fellow pro Andrew Landry that he’s worked out the percentage win-rate of new fathers and it’s abnormally high,” Elliott said.
“Over the years, I’ve been told in a whole range of sports that the Nappy Factor works. I’m not sure why, but it’s most potent with sons as the first child and with the second child as a first son. I am sure it will work for Rory given his personality.”
Of course, Elliott cannot be certain; humans are not machines. And while Landry was an appropriate character for DeChambeau to confer with – Landry’s breakthrough win on the PGA Tour came at the Valero Texas Open in 2018, one month after his first child, Brooks, was born – there are inevitably those who have experienced the reverse.
Take Geoff Ogilvy. He was the last winner of a US Open at Winged Foot in 2006. Later that year, he and wife Juli had their first child, Phoebe. Two World Golf Championship titles followed in the years ahead, as did two more daughters. Yet no more majors. Did fatherhood have anything to do with this? We will never know
“In economics, there are laws, but they’re all statements of tendency, whereas in physics, there are laws that have a universal truth,” Elliot said. “With the Nappy Factor, there is a strong tendency, like a law in economics, for this to be the case. That doesn’t mean it’s always the case.”
So how about McIlroy? Can he – like Willett and so many before – get a crucial bounce from his impending new status? Could this be the key to that missing Green Jacket and so, finally, mean the Northern Irishman is hailed as the sixth player in history to complete the career grand slam.
The great thing is that in his current state McIlroy could not give the first hoot about the answers to these questions. And therein, surely, is exactly the point.
Research has shown that the percentage win-rate for new fathers in sport is unusually high
Father in waiting: Rory McIlroy may get a boost from becoming a dad in the next couple of weeks, with two majors looming