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Investing Lessons from the Putting Green


I enjoy golfing, however, I’m pretty crappy at it.

I take some lessons and work on the basics, and every year I seem to get just a little bit better. But while sometimes I have a really good round, other times I play like I’ve never held a club before.

That’s golf, I guess. It’s one of those games that’s really hard to be good at unless you have played your entire life or get to play consistently throughout the season.

Neither applies to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I get the ball down the course. But I would say that every time I line up to hit a shot, there’s a 50% chance it goes in the general direction I want, a 25% chance that it goes exactly where I want, and a 25% chance that it goes precisely where it shouldn’t go.

…Like into the water.

Putting is a different story. I am a horrible putter. I would give myself a 50/50 chance that a putt goes anywhere near where I want it to go.

That brings me to my quick story.

I played in a tournament recently, and there was a moment where winning the hole for my team was on the line…but I had to sink a 15-foot putt to win and all eyes were on me.

I made the putt.

It was beautiful. I had the perfect tempo, I hit it with perfect pace, and the speed was just right. I picked the perfect line and knew it was going in the hole the second I saw it start to roll.

And so did everyone else.

There were cheers, congratulations and fist bumps all around. Everyone on the green said, “What a great putt, that was AMAZING!”

But no one should be fooled. It really wasn’t skill…it was mostly luck.

How do I know? Because I’m just not that good. Sure, I lined the putt up and did my best to estimate the distance and the rolling of the green. I took it all into account.

I tried. I tried really hard. And I made the shot.

But if I had to make that putt 10 more times, I would probably miss all 10. Everyone on the green was congratulating me on my skill and finesse with the shot… but it was really just luck.

Never confuse skill and luck. If I made that putt because of my skill, I would be on TV every weekend playing other professional golfers for money. But I’m not, and I never will be.

Always be smart enough to know the difference between skill and luck. It’s okay to celebrate the wins when you get lucky, but don’t kid yourself into thinking you have the skill of a professional golfer just because you drain a 12-foot putt.

That goes for investing too.

Keep looking forward.

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David B. Armstrong, CFA

President & Co-Founder

Dave got into the industry when he discovered his passion for finance in his mid-20’s. He’s a combat veteran and served as an officer in the United States Marines Corps on both active duty and in the reserves, retiring at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. While serving on active duty, Dave was unable to spend money on deployments, so he became a self-taught investor. Along with a few bucks cash as a bouncer, his investing performance grew to be good....

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