With the exception of Alan Greenspan, no one has more influence on the $30 trillion bond market than Bill Gross. The blackjack player turned mutual-fund kingpin made billions for investors during the bear market and runs the biggest mutual fund in the country. As a golfer, Gross has one claim to infamy: He just about killed Tiger Woods.
Does running America's top mutual fund help you get tee times?
I wouldn't accept them. Well, except an invitation to Augusta National. I played there once and shot eighty-seven. It's pretty wide open, you can hook and slice it and still have a chance. The greens were faster than spit, and Amen Corner kicked my butt.
How did you get into the game?
I caddied at my dad's club—eight bucks for a double loop. My first clubs had hickory shafts. As a teenager I hacked around and developed a banana slice that took me thirty-five years to correct.
Bond investors are methodical. Do you play that way?
I used to go to the range, beat two or three buckets and go home exhausted, thinking I was on the path to improvement. It was like banging keys on a piano: Now I'm taking lessons from Butch Harmon, who tells me to imitate Jim Furyk to cure my slice.
What sort of investors make the best golfers?
Bond investors are better amateurs. At the double-digit-handicap level, golf is a loser's game. You need to minimize mistakes. But as you get closer to scratch it becomes a winner's game: aggressive play, making birdies. So stock guys make better pros. But in the amateur ranks, the bond investor's conservative mind-set pays off.
Tell us your Tiger Woods story.
Do I have to?Okay, it was at Pebble Beach during the 2002 AT&T. Tiger was off to the right in a bunker, maybe fifty yards ahead of me, with his back turned. I was 220 yards out in light rough. I hit my shot and half-shanked the son of a bitch. By the time I yelled "Fore!"—it was more like "Fo"—he turned and the ball whizzed within half an inch of his left ear. Tiger never said a word. He knocked his ball on the green and sank the putt for a birdie.
You led the AT&T for a while this year.
It was mostly because my partner, Kevin Sutherland, had the lead at six under. I was jumping out of my skin, looking up and seeing our names on the leaderboard in big red letters.
How much pressure do the amateurs feel at the AT&T?
It's so fierce that at the end of a round, all I do is head back to my hotel room. The fans might see Bill Murray joking around, but it's intense. The first year we played together, Kevin hit his ball in the ocean. I looked out at the Pacific thinking, "Okay, it's up to me."
How do you react to pressure like that?
I thrive on it. My goal is always to finish on top. The pressure makes me focus. The bigger the gallery, the more focused I get.
How good a professional blackjack player were you?
I supported myself between college and going to Vietnam, where I didn't see much combat, just a few firefights. I played cards, won $10,000 and paid my way through grad school.
Do you bet on golf?
A little. I'd rather shoot a great score and lose $20 than play poorly and win money.
Do you get asked for investment advice?
Sure. I say I'm worried that we're still in a postbubble economy. If we are, it will mean slower growth and poor returns from financial markets for the next few years. That's not Armageddon, but it's not "Happy Days Are Here Again," either.
What's your goal in golf?
To match my wife, who has the only hole in one in the family. She made an ace on the Desert course at The Vintage. I will play as long as it takes to match that.
Scorecard: BILL GROSS
MEMBERSHIPS Big Canyon Country Club in Newport Beach, California; The Vintage Club in Indian Wells, California
FAVORITE COURSES Pebble Beach and Cypress Point in Monterey, California
EQUIPMENT "I'm Callaway all the way!"