Statistical Bucket List

As I’ve written before, I am a math and statistics geek. I’m also fascinated by the way people use, abuse, misuse, and misunderstand numbers and statistics. For example, the lifetime odds of dying in a plane crash are about 1 in 20,000. The odds of dying in a car crash are 1 in 200. Yet, every time I fly I see hordes of travelers putting the Vulcan death grip on the arm rest and every time I drive I see hordes of people chit chatting on the phone (thereby increasing the odds from 1 in 200 to something much worse). More stat stuff in a moment, but since we’re talking about death, let’s talk about bucket lists.

I’m sure by now everyone has seen the movie “The Bucket List” with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. Two cancer victims (lifetime odds of dying of cancer is 1 in 7) plan out all the things they need to do before they kick the bucket. Having a “bucket list” has now entered mainstream lexicon. Whether we write them down, mentally or physically, or just have a vague sense of the stuff we want to do before we depart, everyone has their bucket list. I confess that, on occasion, I’ve tried to write mine down. I never seem to get past “own a motorcycle” before my wife snatches it away from me. That said, I checked off a huge bucket list item yesterday and it was a statistically improbable event. I got a hole-in-one! I’m still floating on air 24 hours later. It was also a very pretty hole in one. Not one of those bounce, bounce, bounce, roll and….kerplunk. Nope – I dunked the damn thing on the fly. The ball went from club face to the bottom of the cup with no stops in between.  I’m an avid golfer and I know many dudes who’ve had holes in one and I did not. Not until yesterday. Did I mention that I got a hole in one yesterday?!

A thing of beauty!Never been happier!


As an aside, my club has a policy whereby if any member gets a hole in one, the entire bar drinks for free for 2 hours after he gets back into the clubhouse after the round. Kids – if you want to be popular, scrap all notions of buying the right skinny jeans or being quarterback of the high school football team. Just do something, anything, that enables a whole bar full of people to drink for free and your popularity will soar! You may only be popular with middle-aged men who like to play golf and get plowed in the middle of the day, but you will be popular.

OK, so what were the odds of my bucket-list-checking hole in one? I looked it up. The answer varies depending on the source, but the consensus seems to be around 1 in 12,500 for the “average” golfer. So, here’s the math. I probably play about 40 rounds of golf a year. The average golf course has 4 par 3 holes. That’s 4×40 or 160 par threes I play per year. If the odds are 1 in 12,500 of acing the hole, then the stats say it should take, on average, about 78 years of steady golf for me to get a hole in one (12,500/160). There are probably some flaws in the analysis, like the odds probably getting worse than 1 in 12,500 when I’m 127 years old, my age at the end of this 78 year run. Bottom line – I feel like I cheated the odds.

This got me wondering about the odds of other stuff happening to me or around me. Hell, if I can beat 1 in 12,500 odds on the golf course, who knows what else is possible. Of course, I started with my beloved Redskins. The odds, from today, of the Redskins winning the Super Bowl are 1 in 40. Holy crap – it’s a veritable shoe-in compared to my hole in one! I’ll be right back; I’m going to Stubhub to buy Super Bowl tickets. What about something a little more financially beneficial. Hey, if I can get a hole in one, maybe Powerball is next. Odds are 1 in 195,249,054. Never mind.

What about the presidential race? Most people have written off Michele Bachmann, but her odds are 1 in 66, almost 200 times more likely than my hole in one. You may not like her and I have no particular opinion on her, but look again at that picture of my ball in the bottom of the cup and get used to the sound of President Bachmann.

Finally, what about some of the scarier stuff we have to face up to? Actuarially speaking, we’re all gonna die some day; it’s just a question of when and how. Aside from plane crashes, car crashes, and cancer, what are the odds of other stuff getting us and should we be worried about it in light of my hole in one? The odds of drowning are about 1 in 8200 so, with my hole in one in mind, stay the hell away from the beach next summer. But, the one that has me really nervous is that the statistical odds of dying from an earth-impacting asteroid are 1 in about 200,000. I shit you not; this number comes from NASA and the Southwest Research Institute. While it’s a bit less likely than my hole in one, it is way too close for comfort. Close enough that I’m heading out to the golf course to get #2 before the asteroid hits.

I'm heading out to play golf before this puppy hits....

About Bruce Robertson

Bruce Robertson is an amateur writer and professional provocateur
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