7.9.06

ANCIENT VERITIES? Somewhere in my archives of railroadiana is a Chicago and North Western Railway scorecard for a golf outing. It's configured in such a way for the player to keep track of performances better and worse than par. In the margins near the best scores is the warning, "You have been neglecting your business." The note near the worst scores advises, "You have been neglecting your golf." USA Today reports anecdotal confirmation of that wisdom.

Golf Digest magazine today releases its biennial rankings of the top CEO golfers, and a USA TODAY analysis finds that two-thirds of the best 12 have seen their stock perform worse than the Standard & Poor's 500 index in 2006.

That includes the nation's best CEO golfer, Jim Crane of EGL, a shipping logistics company that ranks No. 599 on the Fortune 1,000. The 52-year-old Crane boasts a 0.8 handicap index. A handicap is an estimate of what a golfer shoots above par on his or her best days, so on Crane's best days he can be expected to shoot nearly even par.

EGL stock has fallen 20% vs. a 4% rise in the S&P 500. However, EGL rose 26% in 2005 vs. the 3% gain in the S&P.

Crane, who carries an extra set of clubs aboard his personal plane, said he was reluctant to make the list because he fears that people will think he's playing too much golf. He says he plays only on the weekends and hits a few balls in the evening. The stock, he says, is down due to investor fear that a slowing economy will hurt shipping. He jokes that the only influence he has on the economy is the greens fees he pays.

“There is no correlation whatsoever” between his golf and company performance, Crane says.

Trying to draw conclusions from CEO golf scores makes for entertaining reading, but they have nothing to do with each other, agrees Intuit CEO Steve Bennett, who moved from 17th to ninth by improving his handicap to 4.4 from 6.1. Intuit stock is up 18% this year after a 21% jump in 2005.

The sample of CEOs is probably small enough that Mr Crane's assertion is true if imprecise.

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