Golf Is For Winners

Matthew Richardson Columns, Lawyer

I hate golf. These are just a few of the things I’d rather do than play it:

  1. Get my ass waxed
  2. Attend a CLE seminar
  3. See a Kate Hudson movie
  4. Work for an Asian Partner

But that wasn’t always the case. A few years back I actually enjoyed playing golf and was getting fairly decent at it. But then, much like my career, it hit a plateau, and I got lazy and accepted my fate.

This past weekend, I got what I would call my yearly reality check, spending the day at my friend’s country club. (Side note: this is not a spoiled kid who came from money. In fact he and I grew up together in a middle-class suburb.) One of our activities together in our early 20’s was to play golf together. We used to both shoot around 100 and I enjoyed spending time with someone I considered a friend and an equal. But a few years later, after I chose law school and he chose Wall Street, I am starting to think he is neither a friend nor an equal.

Of course we lawyers constantly lament our choice of this risk-averse profession rather than going after the big bucks. I’m definitely not risk averse—at least when it comes to unprotected sex with strangers—so I guess in my case, it was sheer laziness. Whatever the reason, I try never to think how different life would be if I had worked on Wall Street. On the few occasions where I have those thoughts, it naturally leads to thoughts of suicide. I think most of us lawyers try to just pretend what we have could be a lot worse. After all, we could be accountants or teachers, right? So the only time that I actually ponder it is when I feel compelled to spend time with my childhood friend. I find us spending less and less time together, mostly because every time I leave, I feel a jealous, murderous rage. I used to be able to fool myself into thinking I didn’t really care that he made more money than me, but now he’s making the kind of “more” that makes it impossible not to care. For example, we recently went on a trip and before we boarded the plane, he upgraded to first class. I considered slitting his throat in the airport bathroom. For some reason, in the little game of golf, I feel like the inequality of our life choices plays out so clearly over an agonizing 5-hour stretch.

Every year, it’s the same country club ritual, but it just gets worse and worse for me. When I arrived at his country club (in his BMW convertible), he parked it among many other luxury automobiles and was greeted by a team of migrant workers. They took our golf bags, and I noticed that his bag and clubs were much better than mine and his clubs were perfectly polished, while mine still had residue from my last outing of a year ago. He said hello to the manager guy and introduced me as his guest. Even though the manager probably makes less than half of what I do, he somehow managed to belittle me with the way he condescendingly said “guest.” We proceeded to the locker room and my anger only grew. Before playing, we changed our clothes, and I had to shove mine into a gross firm gym bag I use. He got to place his inside a quality leather bag inside a beautiful wooden locker with his name engraved on it.

While waiting for our tee time, he greeted a bunch of middle-aged men, who I was informed were big shot executives and hedge fund a-holes. They spoke credit market jargon that I could understand, but not chime in on. I basically was made to feel like his son that he brought into work for bring your son to work day. The thing is, it wasn’t intentional; it was just a fact of life. These guys are businessmen, and schmoozing is part of it. We corporate lawyers try to pretend we are businessmen sometimes, but trust me, when you are a guest in the country club locker room sitting quietly eating trail mix while the grown ups are talking, you realize just how low you are on the totem pole. After he made plans with them to bilk teacher’s pensions out of more money, we proceeded to the golf course.

On the course, he absolutely annihilated me. Throughout the day, he managed to out-drive, out-chip and out-putt me. All facets of his game and his life just seemed better. I couldn’t fathom how the gap between our games had widened over the course of a couple of years. But then it dawned on me that your golf game is pretty much commensurate with your station in life. You hear that cliché sometimes, but I was playing it out in real time. Ask around of your fellow lawyers, and see how many of them are top-notch golfers; I’ll bet their Wall Street friends are better. Why? Because they are richer. They join country clubs, they hire golf instructors, and they get off at 3 pm and go to the driving range while we are stuck with the credit agreements their junior analysts just dropped on us. Unless you’re just a gifted golfer, there is probably a very high correlation between your salary and your handicap.

While I suffered through conversation with my soon-to-be-former friend, I realized how different our lives had become. We discussed our summer plans. I had none, other than some lame summer events where I plan on abusing my station to get some from whatever mediocre girls are available. His plans was simple: helicopter out to the Hamptons every weekend to a house that he and 3 other guys rented. Naturally, he told me how much he spent, which was more than our paltry bonuses. He said I was welcome to come out for a weekend, but a day at the country club was enough suffering for me.  He showed me some pictures of a girl he’s dating. I wanted her to be ugly but she wasn’t. At this point, I had half a mind to ask him to show me his junk just to see if it had gotten larger and shinier over the decade while mine was getting fatter and shriveling. At the end of the day, I hadn’t brought a change of clothes, so while he changed into a brand-new polo, I was stuck with my disgustingly sweaty outfit for our ride back to the city. Apropos of the moment, before we said goodbye, he dropped me off at the subway station, where I could lower myself into the underworld that he was no longer a part of.

Some lawyers take solace in the fact that they aren’t assholes; they are nice, honest people—blah, blah, blah. Unfortunately, I’m none of those things, so there’s really little to hang my hat on. Honestly, some people hate Wall Street guys because they stole millions from the public. I hate them because I wasn’t one of them. I hate my friend because I’m not part of his gang of criminals. A couple of years ago, I thought of jumping ship, but now I’m afraid my laziness let the ship pass by with all the blood money on it. I really wanted some of that damn blood money. So for now, all I can do is avoid playing the game of golf (at least at his country club) because it is too harsh of a reminder of my middling career and my middling life.


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