What most investment banks will tell you, via their carefully curated careers websites, is something like this: "We're looking for highly motivated, detailed-oriented individuals with outstanding academic records and strong interpersonal skills who thrive on working in a team environment." What they don't tell you is this: "Rather than a 3.9 GPA and/or scoring a 790 on your GMAT, being able to par the 14th at Pebble Beach and/or birdie the 11th at Shinnecock will give you a much a better shot at getting hired here, as well as going deep into a career on Wall Street."
Although that might be a bit of an exaggeration, the point is this: a solid swing will take you a lot further than an impressive grade point average or GMAT score. And, for that matter, the length of your tee shot and putting skills will not only take you further faster in your Wall Street career, but will also make you tons more money -- both on and off the course.
As for getting hired in the first place, when applying for a job in investment banking, you'll definitely want to differentiate yourself from other applicants. You'll also want to impress your potential interviewers, showing them that you're capable of working hard and excelling, that you're somebody they'll want to spend hour after hour with, and that you're somebody they can bring to client presentations, meetings, and events.
And what better way to convey all these things in such a short amount of resume space than with a very low handicap.
Once you're in the door, as a junior analyst, although you won't be given the chance to convince any big swinging CEOs to make any billion-dollar acquisitions just yet, you will be able to impress them with your ability to hold your own on the course (if you can), which could score you repeated invitations by senior bankers to repeated golf outings (aka pitch meetings). And, of course, when you get in good with the seniors, you can move up the org chart rather quickly. And when you move up the org chart quickly, you'll be given the ability to start hatching deals of your own. And that's when you start making dealmaker money.
In any case, there's a long list of famous Wall Street dealmakers obsessed with the game of golf. So let's let them speak to the link between success on the Street and on the links.
Exhibit A: Eric Gleacher. Gleacher is perhaps one of the more well-known investment banking golfers. Gleacher, the founder of his eponymous advisory firm, was the brains behind Lehman Brothers' M&A practice back in the day (he founded the unit in 1978). Later, he headed up Morgan Stanley's M&A practice. During his dealmaking career (he's now 71) he became known as one of the few "rock stars" on Wall Street (so says author William Cohan in his book The Last Tycoons). Gleacher was also mentioned in another, even more famous book: Barbarians at the Gate. But before all of the multimillion- and billion-dollar deals he put together, Gleacher was a golf champion: in 1959, he won the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics' national golf championship, which helped him earn a scholarship to Northwestern. From there, he enlisted in the Marines (and served in Vietnam) and then went to the University of Chicago, where he received his MBA. Gleacher, who reportedly still plays a round of golf at least once a week, partially credits the game to his ability to thrive on Wall Street. He has called the game "a puzzle that you never quite solve." And he believes the "perfectionism that golf demands fits his ethos of never doing anything half-heartedly." (Note to interviewees: steal this last quote, and use it wisely and often; and if you can't use "golf," substitute another sport or activity.)
Exhibit B: James "Jimmy" Dunne III (pictured above). Dunne, the co-founder and current senior managing principal of the respected investment bank Sandler O'Neill, is known by some as the man who shot a 63 at Shinnecock Hills Golf Course. The round, which Dunne shot last summer, was a record at the Long Island, N.Y., course, which has served as the site of the USGA's U.S. Open Championship four times. To many others, though, Dunne is known as the man who rebuilt Sandler O'Neill after 65 of its employees were killed in the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. (Incidentally, the reason Dunne was not at work the day of the attacks was due to the fact that he was trying to qualify for the USGA's U.S. Mid-Amateur Golf Championship.) One of the Sandler O'Neill employees who died in the attacks was a friend and golf partner of Dunne's for decades: Chris Quackenbush. In Quackenbush's honor, Dunne has emblazoned all of his golf balls with a "Q." And it was one of those balls with one of those letter Qs that played prominently in Dunne's record-setting Shinnecock round. On the course's par-3 11th hole, which Dunne calls "the greatest par-3 in the world," he shot a hole in a one. But since the 11th green is elevated, Dunne didn't know that he'd eagled it until coming to the green, spying a ball mark near the hole, then peering down into the cup and seeing a Q looking right up at him.
Exhibit C&D (actually, exhibit K & R): Henry Kravis and George Roberts. Kravis and Roberts hold two of the three names in what is perhaps the most prestigious private equity shop on the planet: Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts & Co. (known widely as, simply, KKR). Both men, who are first cousins, are avid golfers, with Roberts holding perhaps the better game. On Golf Digest's "Wall Street 150" ranking of the top dealmaking golfers, Roberts ranked 43rd, while Kravis was tied for 61st (with Seth Waugh, the CEO of Deutsche Bank Americas). Roberts, who, like Gleacher, believes the game has taught him much (aside from which club to use on his second shot on the 13th at Pine Valley) and has been quoted as saying, "Golf is the best game ever invented by man. It treats everyone as an equal, and whatever you do well or poorly you've done yourself."
Exhibit E through J: Warren Buffett (Berkshire Hathaway's CEO), Sandy Weill (ex-Citigroup chief), Pete Peterson (Blackstone co-founder), John Weinberg (vice chair of Goldman Sachs), Paul Hazen (former chair and CEO of Wells Fargo) and Douglas Warner (former chair of JPMorgan). All of these men are members at what is arguably the most exclusive golf club in America: Augusta National, the site of the annual Master's Golf Tournament. Located in Augusta, Ga., a few miles from the South Carolina border, Augusta National only has about 300 members, a very high percentage of which are men like the aforementioned: Wall Street titans.
And if the list of big swinging bankers who like to head out to the links doesn't convince you that a low handicap matters on Wall Street, here's a story I can relate from my own experience:
Back when I worked in investment banking I remember coming to work one day and being introduced to a new vice president. I was an associate at the time and this VP, I was told, was going to be working on some of my deal teams. I was also told to show him around, to show him how we did things, etc. Pretty quickly it became clear to me that this VP knew little to nothing about investment banking. In fact, he didn't have any previous experience in banking. Later, I discovered the two qualifications that got him the job: (1) He was a good friend of another VP in the office; and (2) He was a scratch golfer.
(Times Online: At leisure: the 19th hole is a place in the Wall Street pantheon)
(Business Insider: 13 Wall Street Titans Who Are Members Of Augusta National Golf Club)