By Nate Cangemi
I’ve been playing golf since I was 12 years old. Unfortunately for me I had a lousy teacher to start out with: me. Being self-taught and playing infrequently throughout my teen year years, I was a terrible golfer for a long time. A ball-losing, club-chucking machine, I didn’t break 90 until my mid-20s and have only broken 80 a handful of times since (I’m now in my mid-forties). Currently playing to a 10.5 index the lowest handicap I’ve ever carried was 9.7. If you were to talk to me though, you would think that you were talking to a mid-am, Korn Ferry Tour hopeful that was trying to make his way to the big show. Like many of you, I keep and analyze all my golf stats for all the rounds I play; looking, hunting, hoping to find that key indicator that helps me get my game to where I believe it should be. Yes, like many of you, I am un-apologetically obsessed with this confounding game. I’ve spent an obscene amount of money on lessons, equipment, travel, clothes, green fees, and retrofitting a corner of my yard into a practice area. I’ve also spent countless hours at the practice range and on the course only to fall short of my scoring expectations time and time again. And yet after all that, I still feel like I owe golf.
Without boring you with all the details of my career resume, suffice it to say I am an over-achiever. That isn’t said with a braggadocios tone. An under-performer in school and a non-college graduate, I have been out over my career skis since I entered the workforce when I was 19. Fortunately for me though, I realized early on that my personality, skill set, and ambitions were all geared perfectly toward a career in, you guessed it, sales.
Duly acknowledged are all the sales and golf clichés out there. I’ve seen them all, I’ve been them all and they are all true. Pretending to be working when you’re on the range. Listening in to a conference call in between shots while playing, constantly checking that your phone is on mute. Talking to your boss while on the course and hoping that he doesn’t recognize the low drone of the golf cart or wonder aloud why its sounds so windy (or worse, actually hear the sound of a ball being struck). Asking for the non-itemized receipt so that you can put this expense under meals without accounting asking questions. Been there, done that.
When I say that I owe golf, I mean that golf has served me as an invaluable tool in my success in business and has taken me places and helped me position myself for jobs that I would never have thought possible. There are countless times that I can recall where a round of golf or my passion for talking golf led to developing a relationship that later served me in my career growth, but it really all started with one round in particular.
In 2001, I was working for a fabric manufacturer, calling on furniture manufacturers and upholstery supply houses (a job I had no business having but that’s a story for a different day). One of my larger customers held an annual golf tournament in Sacramento, CA. The course was a dog track called Lighthouse and the format was a 4-player scramble. Being the only representative of my company, I was randomly put into a foursome. Not the ideal circumstances for a round but it was work-sponsored golf and there was an open bar and dinner after. As it turned out my cart-mate on the team was a VP of Sales for a large foam manufacturer here in the US and many of my customers he knew well, having sold to them for years. Now at the time, I had only been in the furniture industry for a few months and knew little about it. So, I relished the opportunity to pick his brain. It was like a 5-hour mentorship. I was so intellectually curious about him, his company, and the industry in general. It ended up being a life-changing turning point for me because of what happened at the end of that round.
As most people would do at the end of a business-related round, we expressed intentions to “keep in touch” and exchanged contact information. I do not recall seeing him at the reception later that evening but then again it was open bar so who knows. But our time together on the course that day was memorable, having chatted about golf shots and strategy all the while discussing this new industry that I had entered. I just liked the guy and the memory stuck. I remember telling my wife later that night that I felt so validated and honored by being able to talk with someone so successful in business and feel like I had contributed to the conversation. It gave me hope, which I was going to need with what was about to happen.
Just a month after that tournament the events of 9/11 changed everything. With the downturn of the economy in Q4 of 2001, I was let go by from that job in early January of 2002. A job I only held for about 10 months. With not many opportunities out there, I ended up going back to an old job in the temporary labor market. It was a job I didn’t want in a field that I loathed. But I knew it well and could make a living at it. And so, I did for about two and a half years. And then I got a call.
In March of 2004, I was driving through the farmlands of central California on my way to some mom and pop construction company, hoping to sell them on the value of using my company to fill any open unskilled labor positions that might have need for. My phone rang. The voice on the other end wasn’t particularly familiar and the number on the phone was unrecognizable. He says, “Hello, Nathan”, which was odd because I go by Nate. “This is Michael Faus from Carpenter Co., we played golf together a few years ago, do you remember me?” In the moment before I answered him, my entire future passed before my eyes. We had not spoken since that round of golf but somehow in a corner my of mind I knew he was going to call me, and I knew why. So, my answer, while seemingly brash and off-the-cuff, was quite heartfelt. I said, “Michael, of course. I’ve been waiting for your call. When do you need me to start?”
So, as it turned out that round of golf that I played in summer of 2001 ended up being a job interview for a position I was given in spring 2004. And what is more is that while in that position, I was empowered to use golf as a means of developing relationships with customers. Taking full advantage of that, I used golf to forge a “brand” within our industry as someone people enjoy doing business with. Someone who people trust. And most importantly, someone that people really KNOW. Spending hours with a person on a golf course, you cannot help but develop a familiarity and even fondness for them.
That personal brand led to another company, a competitor, a few years later, to recruit me away from that job. It was an upward career move. More responsibility, bigger territory, larger staff and of course, an increase in salary. But I was also joining a company known for its willingness to spend marketing dollars on golf and golf adjacent activities. In the 4 years I was there, we hosted customer outings at Bandon Dunes, 3 times. We held company annual meetings at Merion and Aronomink (the company was based in Philly and the CEO was a member). Additionally, in my new role, I was now dealing with executives who would invite me to their clubs, so I gained access to courses I would never have thought possible. All the while, building my network and strengthening my personal “brand”.
While traveling for business I would meet fellow golf enthusiasts and expand my network that way. One such example was the time I got upgraded to 1st class (something that never happened to me) and ended up sitting next to a Scottish gentleman, named Tony. He was a General Contractor based in Manhattan and constructed high-rise buildings up to 24 floors. He was traveling from Newark to San Diego to attend his son’s soccer tournament. Even though I was returning from a work-related trip, I had put on my Liverpool (a proper football club) jersey to be comfortable. As it turns out, Tony, was as big a Liverpool fan as you can find (Literally has “You’ll Never Walk Alone” tattooed across his chest), so this led to fantastic in-flight conversation. Since he was from Scotland, I of course was curious if he was a golfer. That led to another few hours of engaging discourse, during which we discussed favorite courses and bucket lists etc. I happen to mention that I had become obsessed with wanting to play Shadow Creek in Las Vegas, to which he casually disclosed that he was a member. And what was more, his locker was two down from Tiger and right next to Jack’s. At the end of our flight, he gives me his contact info and tells me to reach out the next time I go to Vegas. Well, I did. And he came though. You can only get to Shadow Creek from an MGM property and by limo. So, there I was, standing outside of the Vdara, my mouth agape as the stretch limo picked me up and whisked me away to play a Tom Fazio masterpiece. There is no money exchanged at the course, and I only must tip my caddie. And his locker, which he let me use, was just as he described. It was incredible.
Tony and I remained in contact almost weekly and we played together recently on a trip he made out here to SoCal. We played Torrey Pines and Del Mar CC (an impossibly private course). He’s offered that the next time I get to New York, he is going to set us up at Liberty National and Bayonne. He’s also helping make arrangements for me to play some courses on an upcoming trip to Scotland (COVID-willing). I hope to repay Tony at some point for his generosity and recently discovered that I may have a way to do that.
Since leaving that last company I’ve built an independent sales consulting firm, where I represent multiple non-competing companies instead of just working for one. About a year and half ago I was retained by a company I’d never heard of based in South Carolina. Sometime after starting with them, the owner asked me to host him at a trade show. He didn’t really know my segment of their business and wanted me to introduce him to some of the key players. These, of course, are people that I’ve played golf with and typically use golf as a launchpad for conversations. “How you swinging em”, “Where you been playing”, that sort of thing. After one introduction however, we meandered into talking about Tiger Woods and the upcoming Masters tournament and my client said in a true humble, southern gentlemanly tone, “So y’all ever been to Augusta?”
Much like that call from my future boss years before, my future once again passed before my eyes. I knew what he was about to say, and I somehow knew where that was going to lead.
A short 8 weeks later, I was standing at Amen corner with that customer during the Wednesday practice round of the 2019 Masters. As it turned out, a member of the family that owned this company I now represented was a member of Augusta and in fact this family had always at some point, enjoyed that privilege since the course was built. And being the hospitable, southern company that they were, they graciously offered me and the customer I was courting for them out to Masters. And these weren’t just “Grounds” passes. No, these were Berckman’s Place Passes. I’ll leave it to the reader to discover what those are. To describe the experience eloquently would take a real author.
Golf, again, had paid off. What’s more, it’s now has given me something to work for. Once the current pandemic subsides, my client has graciously extended an invitation to come out with a customer and play Augusta. An opportunity that I hope to include my friend Tony in.
And that’s why I love this game. That’s why I owe this game. Golf has been the greatest networking and relationship building tool I’ve ever known. I genuinely do not know where I would be without this game. Without that one round in the summer of 2001. Maybe I’d still be driving around the farmlands of central California, who knows.
I can say without a doubt that I would not have been many of the places I’ve been or seen many of the things I’ve seen or have many of the future prospects I have without this enduring and transcendent game. It has helped my success in my business endeavors, which in turn has helped to support my family. But it also continues to drive me and serve to inspire me. I think often about where I want to travel to and how I am going to be able to get there and so often it revolves around what golf courses I want to play. And the places we go and the things we experience makes us who we are.
I am who I am, in no small part, because of golf. And for that I am forever indebted.
Follow Nate on Twitter at @talkinstatic.