October 3, 2012 12:12PM

Welfare, College, and Golf

Here’s a story from the sports pages with relevance to current debates on welfare, dependency, and whether college is good for you.

After the European win in the Ryder Cup, sports reporter Matthew Futterman of the Wall Street Journal wonders why “the best European golfers are better than the best Americans now.” His tentative answer:

One difference is that the 12 Americans on the Ryder Cup team all attended college. Just two members of Europe’s team, Graeme McDowell and Luke Donald, spent those crucial, formative years of development playing collegiate golf.…

Here’s what happens when top golfers, tennis and soccer players attend college: They subject themselves to rules about how often they can compete and practice. They throw themselves at the mercy of coaching that is not always world‐​class. They live in housing filled with…let’s call them distractions. And in order to play, they have to pass classes in biology and political science.

Compared with the experience of Rory McIlroy or other European golfers, who turn pro as teenagers, then do little else but practice and compete (sometimes for their next meal or train ticket), the college life is pretty appealing.

And why is that a problem?

…the college life is pretty appealing.

But it’s also a safety net. It’s not crazy to think that the European approach creates athletes who work a bit harder and perhaps become just a wee bit tougher.

And that insight might apply to more than golf and tennis. As Peter Thiel suggests, smart young people might do better to leave college and “dedicate themselves to their work.” “Safety net” programs might trap people in long‐​term welfare dependency, unemployment benefits might prolong unemployment, and establishing religion might make the established church lazy.