Yes, yes, I know, but bear with me on this one. As actuaries go, he was really quite outgoing. In conversation, he sometimes looked at other people's shoes, as well.
Anyway, one day he decided to show me what actuaries could do. Now, in his line of work he should have been able to work out that there was precisely zero probability of me being remotely interested, but let's leave that to one side for the moment. Actuaries aren't good at picking up these signals. Too busy looking at shoes.
So he put forward a theory that the circulation figures of the newspaper I worked for at the time were compromised by the statistical likelihood that they included a certain number of dead readers. "That could explain some of the letters we get," I countered, but he was warming to his subject so he pressed on.
The gist of his argument was that some readers would peg out before the figures were published. In other cases, he suggested, grieving relatives would have more pressing priorities than to cancel orders at the newsagent, so papers would still be landing on the doormats of those whose ability to actually read them had significantly diminished.
At which point, he whisked out his calculator and started stabbing at the buttons like a hyperactive chicken pecking on spilled grain. Inevitably, there was an element of guesswork in the process, but his factors included age ranges, socio-economic data, subscription figures and what-have-you. In a flurry of medians, means and binomials he finally came up with a number.
It was reassuringly low, but still worryingly greater than zero. And, if I'm honest about it, it was just a bit unsettling to think that I was spending my days bashing out prose for people who were already pushing up daisies. It was the sort of thing that might have caused anxiety in the circulation department, as well, as advertisers have an understandable lack of interest in those whose purchasing power might have been compromised by recent detachment from their mortal coils.
Yet it was the calculation itself that impressed me. All those numbers and factors and coefficients squiggling about in a mathematical minestrone. So I had a powerful sense of deja vu on Sunday evening as I watched Phil Mickelson go about his business in the final round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship in Miami. Clearly, Mickelson's decision to become a golfer was clearly a profound loss to the world of actuarial science.
Mickelson could never be accused of being a particularly slow golfer. But his pre-shot discussions with long-serving (and, I suspect, long-suffering) caddie Jim 'Bones' Mackay have lately lapsed into absurdity as they discuss their myriad options. Peace treaties have been brokered in less time than it takes Mickelson and Mackay to decide how best to hit a small ball with a stick.
Their ruminations usually begin with Mackay providing a yardage and suggesting a club. "One eighty-three to the front," Mackay will typically say. "Five's good. I like the five." So far, so straightforward, but then the conversation usually heads off into golfing la-la land as Mickelson fusses, frets and fidgets about what to do next.
At which point, a host of other factors enter the equation. Wind and humidity are only the least of them. There's the grain of the green to worry about, as well. And the shape of the shot. And the altitude. And the phases of the moon and the Dow Jones average and the likely winner of the Booker Prize and the state of the economy in Uzbekistan. After which, he finally hits the ball. Usually rather well.
Now there are those in this business who say that if Mickelson was any more stupid he would have to be watered twice a week, but I believe he's a pretty clever fellow.
In fact, I fondly recall a press conference a few years ago when he started talking enthusiastically – and apparently knowledgably – about the theory of relativity, seemingly unaware that most golf writers would probably hazard the guess that E=mc2 was some sort of rap singer. But I do worry that he might be overcomplicating things just a tad.
You see, Mickelson was born with an ability that actually defies analysis. There have been times in recent history when he would have been burned at the stake for sorcery for what he can do with a golf ball. If he had any more control over the thing it would be fetching sticks and barking at intruders.
And yet, it is as if having that ability is not enough. Mickelson wants to understand it, wants to make sense of it, wants to find the method in his own madness. Most of us would slaughter close family members for a fraction of his talent, but the wizard with the wedge wants to know what's happening. He wants to be a golfing actuary.
And it seems he's not alone these days. For just as Mickelson seems unwilling to hit a golf ball without going through his preambles with Mackay, rugby's goal-kickers seem increasingly reluctant to get on with their business without the reassuring presence of a kicking coach, as well.
We saw it at Murrayfield on Saturday, when Leigh Halfpenny had Neil Jenkins hovering in the background every time he took a pot at goal for Wales, and we saw it again at Twickenham the following day, when England's Toby Flood had Mike Catt clucking away nearby for his efforts in front of the sticks.
Has the cult of the coach gone so far that players are now incapable of doing anything on their own? Have they been nannied, mollycoddled and infantilised to the point where they have no faith in their own abilities? I hope not. Caddies are an integral and honourable part of golf, but rugby can live without the kicking chaperones.
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