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A round of golf with Mary Coughlan, Redmayne Bentley

A round of golf with Mary Coughlan, Redmayne Bentley

Golfing legend Gary Player once said of golf that ‘the harder I practice, the luckier I get.’ As I stepped out onto the first tee on Gleneagles PGA Centenary course, home of the 2014 Ryder Cup, having not hit a golf ball for a year and a half, I was hoping that I could bypass the practice part and be blessed with the latter, writes Alex Foster.

In anticipation of this year’s Open championship and the upcoming Ryder Cup, I was joined for this round by the wonderful Mary Coughlan of Redmayne Bentley’s Glasgow office, to discuss what key personality traits would lead to success in the investment world, as well as on the course.

But before any questions, the opening tee shots. Coughlan steps up first and with one buttery smooth stroke caresses the ball down the centre of the fairway. Pressure on. Can’t make a fool of myself. I mishit the ball slightly but it travels safely down the fairway. Luck may be on my side today.

Having got over the emotion of the first tee shot, I ask Coughlan whether she believes emotion has a presence within the investment world.

‘I believe that there is a place for emotion in golf, but not in investment management. The investment world requires you to be analytical and base everything on facts, you have to act with conviction but never on the back of emotionally driven instinct.’

Having placed the ball on the green with my second shot I feel the emotion Coughlan speaks of, over-enthusiastically putting my ball off the other end of the green. She kindly holds the flag whilst I take a further 3 putts to sink my ball. Alas, my luck has already ran out. At least Coughlan’s on course etiquette is sublime, something which she relates to her job.

‘Etiquette is paramount in golf, it’s what defines the game and makes it great. However, this is just as important in our business too, you have to do what is right for your client, acting always with honesty and integrity.’ As I ponder Coughlan’s comments about etiquette, she slams the brakes on in the buggy when descending a bit too quickly down a slope, nearly sending me head first through the wind-screen. I’m not remotely bitter about it at all.

A few holes down the line my game is in more pieces than an unsolved jigsaw, whilst Coughlan has been consistently shepherding the ball in the right direction. On the 6th hole, I attempt an audaciously powerful shot over the water. It sails over the lake, but ends up way off in the rough on the left, whilst Coughlan calmly brushes her ball onto the green once more. I imagine she understands the balance between risk/reward better than I do, which she confirms.

‘This is possibly where the greatest difference between the two mediums exists: taking risks in golf usually ends in tears,’ she remarks, glancing at me whilst I remove something that had got stuck in my eye. ‘With investments, taking risk pays off over the longer term in an actively managed portfolio in my experience.  This is borne out by data showing high risk does produce a higher returns, examples being in emerging and frontier markets and specialist sectors such as biotechnology.’

As my fellow Citywire employees and far superior golfing talents Hugh and James overtake us, I foray in the metaphorical haystack looking for my needle and I feel that my patience has reached its course. My playing partner has some wise words for me.

‘Having played a number of sports I have found golf to be the most non-intuitive frustrating sport there is – there is so little that comes naturally and so much practice and patience is needed to progress in the game. I once read an article extolling the virtues of golf and yoga and they do complement each other – think calm.’

Naturally this is something she has learnt within the investment sphere too.   

‘With investments I think time and experience teach you so much, there is no quick fix.  You learn from colleagues, doing different jobs, working in a variety of companies and continuous education is essential to keep abreast of changes and the best opportunities.’ 

As the rain begins to pour down on the 10th hole, Coughlan’s words prove their worth, as we both par the hole and draw a premature end to a rather wet but incredibly enjoyable afternoon. Hopefully Coughlan and I will meet again next year, so I can hear some more pearls of wisdom. But one thing is for sure, if we do, I’ll bring more balls next time.

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