Dave Coupland had one of the most consistent seasons by a professional golfer in 2018, but fans who didn’t notice are forgiven. There aren’t many people keeping tabs on the PGA EuroPro Tour. But Dave had at least one interested follower across the pond in this golf writer—and a very happy one at that.
In March 2017, I invested approximately $250 of my own money in Coupland’s golf career. The English journeyman had taken a common road of taking on sponsors to help cover the costs of being a tour pro. What wasn’t as common was how accessible his process was. Through a tweet that directed me to his website, Coupland was allowing anyone to buy shares of himself for £100 a pop.
Last January, I gave a more detailed account of how this business partnership came to be and the results it yielded after the one-year shareholder contract expired. They weren’t great. Dave earned a little more than £11,000 pounds (after a 5-percent PGA levy) and my two shares were worth £64 or about $170. I could have taken an $80 loss and cashed out, but when he essentially offered his investors a mulligan, I took it for three main reasons.
1.) I found investing in a golfer to be fun.
2.) If I was willing to do it once, why not make the same bet again?
3.) I had that feeling all gamblers get: I was onto something!
Turns out, that last hunch was right. Did I get rich in Year No. 2? No. Did Dave get rich? No. But he did win two tournaments and claim the PGA EuroPro Tour Order of Merit, earning nearly £45,000 as well as a promotion to the Challenge Tour, the European equivalent of the Web.com Tour.
My two shares were now worth £157 (or about $200) each, meaning the investment had reaped a 57-percent profit in two years. Eat your heart out, Warren Buffett.
"It’s been brilliant," said Coupland, who also had two runner-ups and nine top-10s in 16 starts. "Everything came together this year, and I was able to tick off all my goals, which is rare."
Coupland had played consistently good golf the prior season as well, but in pro golf's minor leagues, you need to win to earn serious cash. Here’s a look at the prize money breakdown for 2018 that the 32-year-old sent all his shareholders:
In last year’s piece, I wrote that I justified my initial investment, in part, by skipping that year’s service contract on my home’s air conditioning. Wouldn’t you know it, but my AC stopped working last summer. That's not a joke, and I don’t think I need to tell you the replacement system cost a lot more. But I chalked that up to coincidence, not negligence. And if Dave keeps playing like this, who knows all the fun things I can buy?
Crazy enough, the season was almost exponentially better. Late in the season, Coupland lost a playoff after having to wait for more than eight hours because of weather delays. Then he finished runner-up at the season finale. Had he won those other two events—yes, a big if—he would have been the first player to earn a £250,000(!) bonus for a four-win season on the PGA EuroPro Tour. That exorbitant amount of money would have been divvied up among shareholders like all his other earnings (Under the current agreement, Dave keeps 60 percent after a 5-percent PGA levy and shareholders get 40 percent), and to be honest, I probably would have cashed out my winnings.
Instead, my decision to roll the money over into another year was an easy one. As Coupland pointed out in his annual letter to shareholders, last year’s Order of Merit winner on the Challenge Tour earned more than four times what he had. And you never know what can happen in any given week, especially during the occasional starts Dave is likely to get on the European Tour as a result of his upgraded status as a member of the Challenge Tour. And he has an easier route to qualify for both the British Open, which he's played in twice, and the U.S. Open now that he's cracked the top 400 in the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time. Talk about having a potential lottery ticket.
"If I keep my card or move up to the European Tour, I’ll probably have to change [the contract's structure] for next year,” said Coupland, who finished T-35 at the second stage of European Tour Q School, failing to advance to the finals. "But this year I’m not going to change it because of loyalty.”
While most of those investors are staying on, some have cashed out their profits, meaning Coupland is looking for some new backers to invest at the new share price of £157.
“Fingers crossed we get a full house of investors,” said Coupland, who noted his expenses will go way up this year with air travel. “The plan is to try to do the same thing this year.”
And there’s no reason to think Coupland can’t play at the same, newfound level. Through a combination of tweaking his mechanics and putting more work in the gym, Dave says he's gained 40 yards (not a typo) off the tee since 2016. It was that added distance that helped him improve his scoring on par 5s by 60 strokes in relation to par in 2018.
"I now understand myself a lot better, the direction I want to go and I'm sticking with my method,” Coupland said. "That’s the difference between other years. I know what’s right for me, and that positive confidence keeps going up.”
Hopefully, the earnings—both Dave’s and mine—will keep following the same trajectory.