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11/1/2007
12:37 PM
Richard Martin
Richard Martin
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Playing Through: O'Neal Putted While Merrill Burned

Bringing new meaning to the term "stay the course," ousted Merrill Lynch CEO Stanley O'Neal apparently spent much of August and September, as his firm was headed into one of the worst crises in its history, on the golf course. We know this thanks to the power of the Internet and O'Neal's meticulous score-keeping.

Bringing new meaning to the term "stay the course," ousted Merrill Lynch CEO Stanley O'Neal apparently spent much of August and September, as his firm was headed into one of the worst crises in its history, on the golf course. We know this thanks to the power of the Internet and O'Neal's meticulous score-keeping.Between Aug. 12 and Sept. 30, O'Neal enjoyed the links on 13 days, often playing multiple rounds. He played one four-day consecutive stretch, and on the 19th of August, displaying an industriousness that Merrill shareholders can only wish he showed at the office, he squeezed in four 18-hole rounds (low score: 80). He played most often at one of the four country clubs to which he belongs, occasionally traveling to prestigious courses like Shinnecock Hills, New York. O'Neal's scores are available at the USGA's Handicap Lookup online index (via Wall Street blogger Jeff Matthews).

During this time the sub-prime mortgage market, in which Merrill Lynch was heavily invested through complicated financial instruments, was cratering, and O'Neal's firm was soon to take an $8.4 billion loss on it.

"Fancy golf clubs such as the above tend not to allow cell phone calls on the course or even in the club house," comments Matthews, "presumably, then, Mr. O'Neal at least kept up with the problems on his BlackBerry?"

O'Neal isn't the only Wall Street executive who stayed connected during this summer's market turmoil via mobile e-mail, at best. The Wall Street Journal today has a front-page feature on Bear Stearns CEO James Cayne (Subscription required), who spent much of the summer playing either bridge or golf, often not in touch at all. "In the critical month of July, he spent 10 of the 21 workdays out of the office," the Journal's Kate Kelly reports, "either at the bridge event or golfing, according to golf, bridge, and hotel records."

Not to worry: Not only will O'Neal have plenty of time this fall to hone his 9.1 handicap, he'll also have plenty of cash to pay his country club dues. He "left with $161.5 million of securities and retirement funds, according to a federal filing" (said Bloomberg).

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