In sports, we often say of a spectacular play (say, a full-court shot in basketball) that it was simply "lucky." But if a player intends to execute a particular play, in what sense can it be considered lucky?

If Tiger Woods gets a hole-in-one on a rather short hole, he's got lucky. But he is a great golfer. He hit the ball with immensely practiced skill: and it is because he hit it with that practiced skill that he got the ball onto the green and then it happened to go down the hole. Indeed he can, let's suppose, get the ball from the tee onto this green nineteen times out of twenty. That's not luck at all but the result of a finely honed talent.

Now, let's suppose, Tiger Woods would always try to hit the green from the tee on this hole, and he is very good at doing that. But even for him, intending to get the ball as close as possible to the pin isn't enough. He is at the mercy of the caprices of the wind, the manufacturing flaws of the ball, etc. But just once in a while he may fluke it and sink the ball on the first stroke. It is, to be sure, a bit of luck when the attempt succeeds, rather than the ball landing fairly near the hole but needing a putt or two. If he tried even fifty times more he probably wouldn't succeed again. But still, as they say, Tiger Woods "made his own luck" here -- it's no matter of luck that he gets the ball into just the right vicinity, and he's so good that he will get lucky from time to time and sink the hole-in-one -- and a lot more often than once in a billion years let's suppose (his hard work has at least considerably reduced the odds).

Now you pass me a club (despite my never having held one in my life). I take a wild swing at the ball. Unbelievably I make contact and the ball sails off the right direction ... and plops down the hole. Now that is the sheerest luck at staggering odds. I am exercising no skill here whatsoever. Far from reaching the green with my stroke, nineteen out of twenty times my swing wouldn't even make contact with the ball. Even give me a billions years' worth of attempts (at my current level of coordination and skill) and it wouldn't happen again.

So the initial, rough-and-ready, distinction we need is that between mere luck (succeeding irrespective of skill, etc., as with my golfing triumph) and what we might call skillful good luck, worked-for luck, we might even say deserved luck (where skill has markedly reduced the odds). True, it was a matter of luck that Tiger Woods's shot came off on this occasion while most of his attempts don't. But it evidently wasn't mere luck.

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