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Why a great financial planner is a lot like an elite level golf caddie

A great caddie is more than just someone who carries a player’s bags. Keen golfer Dan explains more…

Playing golf has been a passion of mine since I was old enough to hold a club. In my ‘prime’ I had a handicap of three, and now manage to still get around in fairly good fashion! During my golfing life, I’ve represented my golf club in inter-club match play competitions (Ryder Cup style) and, earlier on this year, I did exactly that.

In these competitions, I usually get the services of a good friend to caddie for me.

To cut a long story short, in my match I was three down with three holes to play. I managed to galvanise myself to win the last three holes and claim a half point for my club. I credit this comeback to my caddie; a close friend and fellow golfer who managed to get me thinking on the right track, clear my head of distractions, channel my frustration and anger, give me sound advice and allow me to just hit the shots I needed to hit.

This experience got me thinking about how what a caddie does is very relatable to what I do on a daily basis as a Financial Planner.

It is often said that a good caddie does three things: show up, keep up and shut up. But a great caddie wears many hats. They’re the player’s psychologist, mother/father figure, technical advisor and confidante. You just need to look at the working dynamic between famous partnerships like the heartfelt story of Tom Watson and his caddie Bruce Edwards.

The caddie is an extremely important resource for the professional golfer. We would think that the main job of a caddie would be carrying the clubs, cleaning them, taking enough food and water, making sure that there are enough balls in the bag (see a famous story about Tiger Woods former caddie, Steve Williams) and ensuring that the bag is packed for all types of weather conditions.

This is, of course, a vital part of the job. However, there is much more to it!

A typical caddie goes out prior to the tournament to walk the course, check yardages, identify ideal targets and landing spots, identify any danger areas to avoid, check the slope and breaks of the green, and check weather patterns and the prevailing wind direction.

They collect this information to help the player make informed decisions during the tournament or to help a player strategically prepare for a round prior to teeing off.

Increasingly, and more importantly to elite golfers, their caddie is also there to provide moral and mental support, giving them the confidence to stick to their plan and process and ensure they stay calm during pressure situations. We can hear this more now due to better TV coverage where we can often hear the conversation between player and caddie.

If a player is unsure about which club to hit, then the caddie can give them a few words of encouragement like “This is the right club” or “Trust your swing”. Or, if a player is in contention to win and the adrenaline is pumping hard, the caddie can help the player to focus on the shot and not make any mental mistakes. Alternately, if a player is suffering from some negative emotions (from bad shots or missed putts), the caddie can help them try to stay positive, and perhaps even regain the confidence they may have had earlier in the round.

That last part is extremely critical, as many tournaments are won or lost by what happens inside a player’s head. Jack Nicklaus once said: “The most important six inches in golf are those that lie between the ears”. A good caddie helps a player keep their mind focused and their emotions in check.

Of course, the player is the one swinging the club, but golf is so much more than just hitting the ball a certain distance. The caddie is truly an integral part of the team and should be recognised for helping contribute to a player’s success.

Why a great financial planner is like a top caddie

This is where I think we can draw on the comparisons between ourselves as Financial Planners and that of elite level caddies.

Yes, of course, we do things expected of us like updating a balance sheet and taking care of investment portfolio stuff. We stay current on financial regulations and rules, inflation expectations and interest rate movements as well as stock market movements and total expense ratios.

We also look at risks that may need to be eliminated by insurance protection. These things allow us to us have a great conversation with a client and more importantly, give them the foundation to make sound financial decisions.

But, more importantly in my eyes, we are there to provide moral and mental support – and confidence too. It is very hard to make all these difficult financial decisions alone. We can be there to say that “Yes, going on that amazing holiday is OK” or “Yes, you can really retire whenever you want”, or “No, this purchase would jeopardise your financial plan.”

When life gets off track and someone hits a ball into the trees, we can help individuals get out of trouble and back on the fairway. Life can often throw tough transitions our way like losing a job or a spouse or making the big leap into leaving employment and enjoying your financial independence. We can help clients stabilise and become comfortable with what will become their new normal.

Then there is the lovely all-too-human and emotional brain.  It, too, gives us fits about our money. It says things like, “Do I have enough money?”, “Will I run out of money?”, and “What if the markets drop?”

We try to keep clients focused on their goals and help them keep the emotions that will detract from those goals in check. Much like if a golfer starts to doubt if they can hit a particular shot or start to become indecisive when looking at the speed and breaks in a putt, the caddie will keep them on track and stop emotional biases from hindering their performance and reaching their goals.

Of course, this is the client’s life and money we are talking about here. Nonetheless, the Financial Planner plays an integral role in how successfully our clients achieve their goals, live the life they deserve and enjoy extraordinary results. After all, we want to build an unbreakable bond with our clients and enjoy being part of their winning team!


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