The London Paper – 16 July 2007
‘The harder I practice the luckier I get’ retorted my smarmy client after he struck a near-perfect five iron at the thirteenth hole on Sunningdale’s old course and the ball landed about eight foot from the pin. Admittedly, I had had absolutely no right to exclaim ‘lucky bastard’ but my competitive nature was getting the better of me. Indeed, all I could think was that if he keeps up this cocky nonsense he’ll be lucky to be in full possession of his teeth come the eighteenth hole. As I tried to calm myself down and stop playing like Saddam Hussein (e.g. moving from bunker to bunker) I realized I was facing the most commonplace quandary that competitive brokers like me endure when playing against clients. Do I swallow my pride and let the tosser win or do I open a can of whupass and show this comedian who’s boss?
Unfortunately, in this particular game my ego was simply writing checks my swing couldn’t cash. Despite hitting a rather fortunate ‘Sally Gunnell’ on the fifteenth (i.e. it was ugly but it ran well) and then successfully putting a ‘Denis Wise’ (a nasty five footer) I realised he was too good for me. But it was only on the seventeenth when he sliced the ball big-time yet somehow produced an ‘OJ Simpson’ (i.e. he got away with it) that I accepted defeat. Later in the club house bar, as I laughed through gritted teeth at his piss-poor gags, I thought back to a lesson I’d received at the very beginning of this dreadful career which I should have heeded more closely.
Over ten years ago, like most ambitious idiots who enter the City, I made sure I was taken under the wing of a guru who wanted to pass on his ‘wisdom’. This particular chap, an overweight Oxford-educated frustrated academic, advised that I read a book called ‘The Art of War’ written by some Chinese joker called Sun Tzu in the 6th Century BC. I had heard of this classic City text and considered it to be macho nonsense. Whilst this is probably true one of it’s principal messages could have done me a favour a decade later when I was challenged to this game of golf: ‘Fight only the battles you can win’. Now, I didn’t get where I am today by such self-limiting axioms but on that rainy day last week as I stared wistfully into the middle distance I realised that sometimes, as Clint Eastwood is wont to say, ‘A man’s got to know his limitations’.
Pleasingly this story has a happy ending. The next day a clearly delighted client gave my bank a large order in my sector which, as they say, would pay for the Cappuccinos. In fact I began to think that subconsciously maybe I had wanted to lose this game so as to secure that big order … and if I can maintain this level of self-delusion then next I’m gonna head up North to find the Loch Ness Monster and after that it’s on to see Tim Henman to discuss next year’s Wimbledon victory.