What Watching Tiger Woods Can Teach You About Trading

Most people don’t know that Tiger Woods’ name is actually “Eldrick.”  Eldrick Tont Woods to be exact.  We all have just been calling him by his nickname, Tiger.  His other nicknames include; El Tigre.  The Woodster.  The “T” Wood.  Wood-a-licious. And in certain gentleman’s club’s in the South Florida area, “The Big Wood.”

After his performance during the last few years his nickname though should probably be “Chernobyl.”

Unless you are really into practicing Schadenfreude, watching Tiger Woods melt down in the Masters over the weekend was pretty painful.

Here you have perhaps the greatest player ever to walk the links; so dominant at one point in his career that major championship sites like Augusta National actually began “Tiger-proofing” their courses by adding yardage to their tees in order to slow him down.  And now he is turning into the butt of too many jokes to mention.

As a trader, the take away from watching Woods implode is to understand that trading, just like golf, is mostly mental.

[Note from Brian’s inner dialogue:

Really Brian?  That is the brilliant conclusion you came up with for this post?  That trading is a mental game?  Great, maybe next you will tell us that water is wet and the sky is blue.  If people wanted simplistic crap like that they could read any of a hundred other blogs or Alexander Elder’s books.  You better friggin’ dazzle us with something else here pretty quick.]

Okay, I get it.  Saying that Tiger is off his mental game is obvious, and the comparison to trading too easy.  But what isn’t so easy to understand is exactly why Tiger cracked.

This is a guy who was on national TV hitting golf balls at age two with Bob Hope.  A guy whose father drilled golf into him throughout his youth with the intensity of the Green Beret he was.  Yet that didn’t crack Tiger.

He played for Stanford and at age 20 became the first golfer to win three consecutive amateur titles, but nothing in that process phased him one bit.

He went pro, signed massive endorsement deals, was covered by every major sports outlet, and became the fasted golfer ever to reach the #1 ranking, and yet his game never faltered.

He went up against the legends of golf and proceeded to destroy them and the courses he played on.  Along the way he got married, which could mess up anybody’s head, but not Tiger’s.  Having two kids was a drop in the mental bucket for him.  And even while banging every stripper and porn star he could get his hands on, his mastery of the game never lapsed.

And then one night his wife found out about his affairs, and his game has never been the same.  But I don’t think it is because his wife found out about the affairs, I think that it is because of the publicity, that the world found out that Tiger Woods was out of control.

Tiger Woods bought his own press.  He believed in his own infallibility; not just on the golf course, but in life.  And having the public know that he was not 100% in control at all times was more than he could bear, and he snapped.

If only he had learned from Kevin Costner’s character in the seminal golf move “Tin Cup.”

Roy ‘Tin Cup’ McAvoy: The critical opening phrase of this poem will always be the grip. Which the hands unite to form a single unit by the simple overlap of the little finger. Lowly and slowly the clubhead is led back. Pulled into position not by the hands, but by the body which turns away from the target shifting weight to the right side without shifting balance. Tempo is everything; perfection unobtainable as the body coils down at the top of the swing. Theres a slight hesitation. A little nod to the gods. 

Dr. Molly Griswold: A, a nod to the gods? 

Roy ‘Tin Cup’ McAvoy: Yeah, to the gods. That he is fallible. That perfection is unobtainable. And now the weight begins shifting back to the left pulled by the powers inside the earth. It’s alive, this swing! A living sculpture and down through contact, always down, striking the ball crisply, with character. A tuning fork goes off in your heart and your balls. Such a pure feeling is the well-struck golf shot. Now the follow through to finish. Always on line. The reverse C of the Golden Bear! The steel workers’ power and brawn of Carl Sandburg’s. Arnold Palmer! 

A nod to the gods.  A surrendering of ones ego in admission that we are fallible and perfection unobtainable.  Tiger’s failure to understand, acknowledge, and accept that concept is what wrapped him so tight, that when the illusion was shattered, his game collapsed and may never recover.

The goal in trading is to make money, not to be a perfect trader.  The real take away from watching Tiger Woods is to learn that in the markets, just like in life, ego kills. Pridefulness kills. Vanity kills.  Self-importance kills.  Self-delusion kills.

As traders we lose on trades.  We sell to soon.  We miss an entry.  We top tick a move. And we have losing streaks.  We are the definition of fallible; every one of us.  And thinking otherwise is the kiss of death.

What bclund is, is the intersection of markets, trading, and life (with some punk rock, pop culture, and off-beat humor mixed in).  Don’t forget to subscribe for free Via E-mail or Via RSS and follow me on StockTwits and Twitter.

  • Bob

    Maybe banging around is his way to relax and loosen up. Without that he just not able to play his best and calm down during training.

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  • Richard

    “The goal in trading is to make money, not to be a perfect trader.”
    Bullshit. A trader who makes money (consistently) IS a perfect trader.

  • I like a follow up post… What Bubba Watson Can Teach You About Trading ;-)… great story in that guy, metaphor abounds.

    • Brian Lund

      Thanks man.

  • I had this discussion with my brother a few months after that Thanksgiving night adventure of Tiger’s. I always thought he wouldn’t be the same because he wouldn’t be able to re-create that high that he was getting living the double life. There is something to be said for the high and fulfillment that takes place when you are pushing the envelope. I’m am sure that the juggling of the lies was stressful and he used golf as his escape. People thought there was pressure in golf for him, but for him it was an escape from pressure we didn’t know about. A way to relax. When his life was on the roller coaster and going faster the course was the place that slowed everything down and centered him. Now he has to learn to play with golf being the pressure not his personal life. So far he has struggled and may continue to do so. That “edge” he had of golf being the place of calm may be gone. After all a single guy doesn’t have the pressure of his affair being found out. As you stated I’m sure he felt like Teflon where nothing sticks and he always came up shiny and new. Just my opinion, similar, but slightly different from yours. I enjoy your blog..keep up the good work.

    • Brian Lund

      Thanks Jeff. You actually add a interesting component “golf being is relaxing”. Didn’t think of that angel. Nice call.

  • Jerry Garcia

    Tiger’s motivation to be great came from within. His father gave him the financial and moral support that he needed. His father never demanded that Tiger be great or else. He recognized the gift and did everything in his power to give Tiger what he needed.

    • Brian Lund


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  • tm

    I get your point for sure, but your timing is a bit off. Tiger just had a big win a couple weeks ago, he’s been building back, now in the top 10 in the world rankings. I wouldn’t say he had a “melt down” at the Masters…he made the cut, and just shot near par. Just nitpicking from a golf fan. But to your point, he supposedly wasn’t banging strippers exclusively…also homely ihop waitresses that were “on the rag.” There’s obviously something very wrong with the guy. Not sure whose fault it is.

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Brian C. Lund

Brian C. Lund

Great father. Good friend. Decent trader/writer. Lacking husband. Solid drummer. Sometimes funny. Often A-hole. Terrible poker player. Too smart. Punk rock. Work in an ice cream shop.

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