ebook essays pieces of the puzzle
Monday, October 1st, 2012
how does matter

“We were playing so well.  We figured it didn’t matter how we sent them out there.”  — Davis Love III, United States Ryder Cup captain.

A losing coach — or in this case, “captain” — is often second-guessed.  My point in quoting Davis Love is not to pile on, but to note that sometimes we get lulled into making decisions (or not making them) because of our recent success.

For those not familiar with the Ryder Cup, the biennial golf matches pit the United States against Europe.  There are five sessions.  The first four have four matches each and are two against two.  Foursomes (or “alternate shot”) is the more difficult format, whereas four ball can incite some go-for-broke theatrics.  The last session is singles, with each of the twelve golfers on one side going against someone on the other.

All of that makes for twenty-eight total matches.  Each is worth a point (a tie yields a half point), and the chart shows the score as each match ended.  Saturday night, the United States held a commanding lead, which seemed insurmountable to all.  Only once had a team come back from such a deficit (the U.S. in 1999), but that was on home soil.  As Love’s comment indicated, he didn’t think it mattered in which order he sent his golfers out.

José María Olazábal, the European captain, front-loaded his order, putting his best players out first, trying to build momentum, silence the Chicago crowd, and put stress on the Americans.

It worked.

The European victory was one of the most stunning events in sports history.  For it to happen, there had to be some luck, as Sergio Garcia, a member of the European team said.  And many cited the inspiration of the late Seve Ballesteros, whose image was on the European uniforms — and whose career had featured remarkable victories snatched from the jaws of defeat.

The parallels with investing are obvious.  Sometimes we get lucky and sometimes we don’t.  Sometimes we get inspiration from others and sometimes we don’t.  But the one thing that we can do is focus on the process, even when things are going so well it doesn’t seem necessary to do so.  (Chart:  Bloomberg terminal.)