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Three Golf Stories About Investing

Golf is the sport that is most like investing and stock picking. Your opponent isn’t the other players. The opponent is the golf course and yourself.

John Daly burst onto the golf scene in 1991 at the age of 25. He was selected the ninth, and final alternate, for the PGA Championship. He drove through the night to make the tournament. He wasn’t even able to play a practice round. Crooked Stick Golf Club was a Pete Dye designed course. 7,289 yards – the second longest course in PGA history at that time. During a practice round Jack Nicklaus said it was the toughest course he had ever played. John Daly was completely unknown. 

Daly had a one-shot lead after two rounds. His fanfare grew throughout the tournament. He looked like a blonde-haired used car salesman. But he played with charisma, smoked cigarettes, and hit the ball a mile. Similar to Arnold Palmer decades prior, he seemed to captivate and connect with the blue-collar fan. People loved him. The morning of the final round of the tournament Jack Nicklaus left a note on Daly’s locker, “Go get him, John – Jack Nicklaus”. Daly won by 3 strokes. 

John Daly’s career would be a series of peaks and valleys. He was believed to have the most raw talent of anyone since Jack Nicklaus, but his lifestyle and addictions would only let fans see his full potential a handful of times during his career. 

On several occasions during his 20 year career he would completely fall off “the wagon” and the world rankings while struggling with drug addiction, alcohol addiction, gambling addiction – sometimes all three at the same time. And then he would get clean, devote himself to the game, and you would see him work his way up the leaderboard of tournaments – and win. Then he would fall back into addiction, and the same series of events would happen again and again – every few years getting clean, redevoting himself to golf, and winning a random tournament. It was his way of saying “I’m still here.” 

In 1998 or 1999 (I can’t remember) Daly was playing a PGA tournament. Tiger Woods was in the lead. Daly was 10 strokes back, out of contention. Tiger was lining up a birdie putt, the gallery was quiet, and suddenly a roar could be heard that made Tiger step away. The camera pans out and you see Tiger look through the trees. It was John Daly. He holed a bunker shot. It wasn’t the bunker shot that was astonishing but the roar. John Daly wasn’t even in contention, but his gallery was just as large as Tiger’s. After the tournament the announcer asked John Daly why he had such a big following. I’m paraphrasing this from a journal entry, but Daly said: 

 “When people see Tiger, they see perfection. When people see me, they see imperfection. I smoke, drink, eat too much, gamble too much, failed marriages, they see it all. But they also see I’m not giving up. When people see me, they see themselves. When they see me win, they believe they can win too.”

I always loved his response. You impress people with your successes, but you connect with people through sharing your struggles. If you want to build real connection, it’s more important to be honest/authentic than perfect.

Zach Johnson learned to play golf when he was 10 years old. He was the #2 player on his high school golf team. After high school he enrolled at Drake University in Des Moines. He was the #2 player on the Drake golf team. Zach Johnson didn’t win a single junior golf tournament or college golf tournament. 

When he was asked about how he became a top professional golfer he said, “I just kept getting better.” He would turn professional in 1998 and played on several development tour circuits before obtaining his PGA Tour card in 2003. Zach would go on to win 16 professional golf tournaments, including Two-Major Championships, and has earned over $60 million during his career. Not bad for a guy that wasn’t even the best player on his high school or college golf team. 

The #1 player on Zach’s high school team said: “He wasn’t the best in high school, not the best in college, but every single year you saw continual improvement. In a sport where a lot of guys peak early, level off and plateau, he just got better.”

Lesson: You are nowhere near the best investor you can be. Inside every investor is a better investor. 

In 1996, a 29-year-old PGA Tour Pro named Steve Stricker won two tournaments. He was no slouch. He was nervous but confident for the 1997 season. In one of the first rounds of the season, Steve Stricker was paired for the first time with a 22-year-old phenom named Tiger Woods. The round destroyed his self-confidence. Stricker said,

“Several times, I would really connect with a drive only to be stunned to see that Tiger’s ball had landed 40 to 50 yards beyond mine. After the first round had ended, I told Nicki, my wife and caddy, what I had been thinking since the moment we left the course: “I can’t compete with that type of game. I just can’t compete with that.”

When he played Tiger, he saw a cyborg. How could he compete against someone that could drive the ball 50-yards further than him? After a drive Stricker would have a 200 yard 4-iron, while Tiger would have a 150-yard pitching wedge. How could he compete against that? How could anyone compete against that? Stricker points to that round of golf with Tiger as the start of a 10-year slump that would result in him losing his PGA Tour card. Stricker would make his comeback when he refocused on his strengths, his accuracy and putting. He stopped watching the playing field and comparing himself to Tiger Woods. Steve Stricker would win comeback player of the year in 2006 and win 9 more times on the PGA Tour. 

Lesson: Golf is the sport that is most like investing and stock picking. Your opponent isn’t the other players. The opponent is the golf course and yourself. Play your own game. Don’t get distracted by what other investors are doing. 

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