The Art of Winning Ugly in Golf and Finance

“Good golfers, I think, have to get over the notion that they only want to win by hitting perfect shots. They have to learn to enjoy winning ugly. And that entails acceptance of all the shots they hit, not just the good ones.”

 – Bob Rotella, “Golf is Not a Game of Perfect”

60 FooterI am unable to vividly recall many things from my high school golf career, but there is one shot that I will never forgot…and I didn’t even hit it.

As a junior, I was the #4 or #5 golfer on our varsity golf team in a conference that would be considered far from elite. My scoring average was somewhere in the range of 40 for a 9-hole match, which ranked near or at the top of the conference for that position on a team. Most of the players I would be paired with would shoot closer to 50 than 40. Needless to say, none of us were playing for college scholarships.

One match, I was paired with an 8th grader from a nearby school. From the moment he missed the opening fairway, I knew the kid had some talent, but completely unreasonable expectations of himself.

The fifth hole was about a 150 yard par 3 with a pond to the front right of the green and bunkers on the back right and front left. The pin was located on the right center of the green, requiring a shot over the water to reach the flag.

After the first three players hit toward the center of the green, I distinctly recall this kid pulling out his 7-iron and taking aim directly at the flag. He bladed his shot, immediately swore and snapped his club in half over his knee. He didn’t even watch the result.

The rest of us watched in amusement as the ball landed on the front edge of the green and came to rest about 5 feet from the cup. I ended up getting down in two putts from about 40 feet away. Rattled by his own antics, he proceeded to three-putt for bogey.

In the game of golf, it doesn’t matter how well you hit shots. It only matters how many times you have to hit it before it drops into the hole

In the financial world, we all want to win pretty. We are tempted by the sexy water cooler story and we want to look like we know what we are doing. The reality is that a great investment strategy is extremely boring and there is nothing heroic about it. It just gets the job done.

At the end of the day, however, all that matters is that you are making progress. If a financial decision works out favorably, take it and run. Too many people fret over perfection in a “game” where precision is overrated and progress matters far more than perfection.

Perhaps you bought “too little” of a stock that outperformed, found out you have been overpaying for your various forms of insurance, or you refinanced a week before rates hit bottom. The reality of the situation is that that you bought some of the stock, you were covered in the event catastrophe struck, and you have a better loan now than you did before.

A perfectly executed strategy is a beautiful thing, however, an ugly par is still a par.