Calculating Odds: A Tale of Surface, Exposure, and Outlook

Today, the 2017 Masters Golf Tournament continues to unravel and will ultimately yield a weekend cut later this evening, sending many of its participants packing and thinking about their hopes for next year. Knowing this humbling truth, I am quick to consider the odds that different golfers have of winning the prized event, particularly those teetering the edge of garnering a weekend invitation to continue play versus watching from the clubhouse.

In conjunction with contemplating the incalculable nature of the aforementioned, I found myself viewing Jordan Spieth’s progress this morning, as he has had tremendous success on the PGA Tour over the course of the last few years. In doing so, I noticed a glaring quadruple bogey amid his first round score. Surely this was an error–Spieth, one of the best golfers in the entire world, couldn’t have put forward an amateur effort on one of golf’s greatest stages–what were the odds?

This fluke in play, error in execution–call it what you will–really had me thinking. I began examining how someone so consistent, so talented, and so steeped in the tradition of victory at such a young age, could appear to play a hole like a beer guzzling, club tossing, three-putting weekend warrior. Then it became quite clear: aside from digging a little deeper to identify that Spieth actually has a small string of triple and quadruple bogeys in tournament play that have come back to haunt him, I also realized that the armor protecting any man is only as good and functional as he allows it to be. And even the strongest, most prepared, and dedicated craftsman is subject to elaborate, unforeseeable, frustrating flaws. Moreover, this speaks clearly to the fact that as humans we can do our best to strive for perfection, and we can calculate the odds for success in measurable terms that play in accordance with algorithms and other standards, but we cannot deny that every surface will eventually face exposure.

The surface of an object, person, performance, or any other thinkable entity can be and often is the most beautiful, pristine, and prepared version imaginable–as it nearly always should be. But then what happens when that object or person is exposed, under duress, and forced to confront undesirable circumstances? Hard to say.

While Spieth was exposed on a grand stage, he was able to pick up the pieces and he now has an opportunity to climb back into contention. For some others, the stage is different, and that was the thought that raced through my mind as I considered Spieth’s anomaly on the par five fifteenth, the odds that it would have ever happened in the first place, and the odds that my mother pointed out not long ago.

It’s funny to think about The Masters Tournament, my mother, and my son all at one time–but that is exactly what influenced this entry, and while my arrival at considering a recent exchange with my mom was brought to light by my critical thought of Spieth’s performance and general speculation around the topic of probability, I promise they are connected (at least in my mind!).

You see, when I finally gave credence to the notion that the odds for Spieth performing so poorly on the fifteenth were slim but still very possible, I too thought of a recent moment wherein my mom was holding my son, Brooks, and she stated in a reminiscent manner, “Who would have thought that we’d all be here for this?” At first, I had some trouble understanding exactly who she was talking about. In my mind, it made total sense: kid (me) marries person (Tara), people (Tara and I) have child (Brooks), and grandparents (mom, and other grandparents) spoil grandchild (also Brooks). In my mind, it had been a clear and forgone equation for some time. Though as my wife nodded and acknowledged my mom’s statement, it was obvious that she had meant more.

It was revealed that my mom was observing the highly improbable yet actualized phenomenon that had, at various times in our lives, seemed impossible. In the moment that she was holding Brooks, she was appreciative of being able to do so, knowing that my life had almost been taken as a teenager at the hand of cancer, and her life had recently almost been taken by a brain aneurysm. And had either of those tragic events ended differently, one or two of the people present in that room on that day would not have been there in the first place–in fact, the entire family dynamic would likely be different.

I guess it’s hard for me to think about mortality, including my own. I believe this is likely universal–I don’t hear people willingly talking about life and death at cocktail parties, for it is so often the unforeseen and uninvited life moments that spark reactionary measures and personal reflection. We don’t plan to experience bad times.

Today, I would bet a great deal of money that Spieth stood atop the fifteenth tee box yesterday with intent to have a chance at birdie or par–and why wouldn’t he have? He is one of the world’s greatest golfers. I would also bet a great deal of money that my mom had expected me to pass the physical exam that years ago yielded bad news of the emergence of tumors–and why wouldn’t she have? I was in excellent shape and showed no signs of poor health. I would too bet that our entire family awoke the day of my mom’s aneurysm with no reason to believe that she would be in the hospital later that evening–and why wouldn’t we have? She displayed no sign of weakness or adverse health.

It is the affliction of carrying a positive outlook that can sometimes blind us to the speeding train that may already be difficult to see over the horizon. It is also the challenge of an unpredictable world that can change our lives in a moment that makes for difficulty in assuming accurately what might happen and when. I wouldn’t change it though. I can withstand tough times–we all can.



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