Ever been to a retirement seminar? You know the ones extolling the virtues of saving for your retirement yesterday rather than tomorrow? 401K is King…

And they do have a point! The keys to accumulating wealth are (1) spending less than you earn, and (2) saving money starting as early as possible. Because of how compound interest works if you save just a little bit when you are young you will have a lot more money when you get to retirement age than if you save starting later on, even if you put in more. Here is a typical example:

  • Let’s suppose Joe receives a gift of $5,000 from his parents when he is 20 years old. He wisely decides to invest it immediately in a Roth IRA that returns at 8% and never touches it again. When he is 65 years old he will have $160,000 without ever contributing another dime.
  • Let’s say Nicole signs up for her company’s 401K program and puts away $7,500 into a retirement account every year beginning when she is 25 years old. By the time she is 65 years old she will have $1.9 million dollars waiting for her to live off of in her golden years. However, if she waits until she is 35 she would need to put away $17,059 each year, more than twice the amount, to get to that same value. It’s all about time.

The most powerful force in the universe is compound interest – Albert Einstein

So what does this have to do with golf?

Well golf is the same way. This means that there is a “compound interest” in golf.

You know the guy whose Dad took him out on the course when he was 6, 7, or 8 years old? He quit playing altogether when he grew up and got a job, right? He took it back up again when he got older and is better than everyone else who didn’t start until they were older.

When you are young your body and mind are better wired for learning. During developmental stages things like language, motor movements, and certain cognitive abilities are framed and established. The nervous system is designed to establish and form connections some of which have a critical stage during which they must be learned. The brain begins to shed non-critical neurons once there is no apparent need for them. Use it or lose it goes for when you are young too.

I play with woman who spent almost every summer in her teens playing nine holes with a friend barefoot in the mornings and then coming home in the afternoon to the typical teenage activity of sipping soda pop while watching soap operas and talking about boys. She never, ever practices. I have never seen her at the driving range in all the hours I spend there. However, SHE CRUSHES ME EVERYTIME WE PLAY. I watched her shoot a 78 in the soggy pouring rain.

I can almost guarantee you that the person who starts playing golf in their teens and stops 10 years later will, at 50 years old, ALWAYS play better than the person who started playing golf at 30 and played for 20 years until they were 50. It’s no accident that the majority of the elite pros began when they were very small. Time is on your side!

Well this sucks for the rest of us (I didn’t start playing golf until I was 35 years old)!

For one thing, you don’t exactly have control over everything you’re exposed to as a youngster. My parents are as far away from being sports people as is imaginable. So unless it was available through my school it simply wasn’t going to happen. For another thing, when you are young you just don’t know what opportunities you are creating or denying for yourself. It’s kind of not fair really.

There is some good news!

Rules for achievement in golf are not hard and fast. Money might be able to grow indefinitely given market principles but physical principles are different. There are issues of talent, drive, and resources. Golf is a skill that falls under the 10,000 hour rule. You don’t just keep getting better and better with more time added, if that were the case then pros would move from shooting in the 60s and 70s to shooting in the 50s and even 40s. There is a natural cap that all humans are capable of in the game of golf; it just takes some longer than others to get there. The key is to get there before life issues or physical constraints impede your progress.

Wisdom counts. Money and dollars don’t know anything about how much smarter and wiser you are when you are older. Golf, however, is a game that uses your experience. You can’t use your accumulated wealth of knowledge and intelligence to change interest rates or other mathematical principles. You CAN, however, use this knowledge to be as specific as possible in your strategy for playing and for getting better.

Neuronal development can continue. Although certain some abilities are harder to learn when you are older, language in particular, the brain is in fact capable of mapping new pathways and learning new things. So it pays to keep at it!

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Is it too late for me?
When he’s better than you are
Putt on the carpet

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