Today, I’m going to tell you a true-life golf story. I beg you, don’t fall asleep from boredom quite yet.
This is actually a metaphor about the Great Recession, about our 401(k)s and our elusive baby boomer retirement dreams. Think of it as a fable, one that I find inspirational, although it’s just as likely to make you cry about the unfairness of life.
I was playing golf at the Creek at Qualchan when I hit my second shot onto the green. This was a par-4 hole, so I was quite pleased about hitting my second shot onto the green. This is what is called “hitting a green in regulation,” which is what golfers aspire to do.
In fact, my ball was only about 15 feet from the hole, which means all I had to do was get my first putt within a foot or two and tap the next one in for a par. A par, in my world, is cause for a modest fist-pump.
I already had that “4” mentally inscribed on my scorecard.
This was exactly the way a lot of Americans, including me, felt right before the Great Recession descended in 2008. We had saved almost enough money for retirement. Now all we had to do was put in a few more quiet years of work and saving to be happily home free. It was as easy as gently tapping two easy putts.
And then came the meltdown. Lehman Brothers, Washington Mutual and just about every other financial institution in the world came down with toxic asset derivative syndrome and took everyone’s savings and investments down with them.
Back on the green, I stroked a putt that behaved like a toxic asset derivative. I watched in horror as the ball veered sharply away from the hole and toward the edge of the green. It rolled all the way onto the fringe. Then it kept rolling. It teetered on the edge of a slope. Then it picked up momentum and started bouncing. It careened down the hillside. It ricocheted onto an asphalt path and kept bouncing, bouncing, bouncing off toward the horizon.
The ball was now 75 feet away. I had managed to hit a putt that had, essentially, gone backward.
So I shook my head, took out a club and lobbed the ball back toward the hole. The ball landed near the hole but somehow went into reverse and started rolling back down the same hill, back onto the cart path, etc.
I was so shocked, I almost failed to jump out of the way when the ball rocketed past my shoes.
I’ll spare you the ensuing details, except to say that as I prepared to hit shot No. 7, I was still not back on the green. To recap: I had been safely on the green in two. I was now, spectacularly, not on the green after six.
Which is when I started thinking about the capricious nature of golf, of life and of our personal finances during the Great Recession. Just when you’re positive you’re gonna be lounging securely in the clubhouse with a par, you find yourself sweating over a putt for quadruple-bogey.
Some might find this metaphor depressing, since the message seems to be: Disaster can strike without warning. No one is secure.
Me? I prefer to find it inspiring. On my eighth stroke, that ball rattled solidly into the hole. The moral: If you keep at it long enough, you’ll reach your goal. It just may take you twice as long as you thought.