Grady Durham's unflagging friendship and financial support has propelled his one-time caddie, Matthew Zions, to success on the European Tour.
B. Grady Durham knows something about investing for the long term. Monticello Associates, the Denver-based asset-management consultancy he founded 20 years ago, invests mainly on behalf of endowments, foundations and “clients with abnormally extended time horizons,” he explains. Monticello currently has approximately $58 billion in assets under advisement.
But little did he know in 1999 that one of his longest-term investments would take the form of the 21-year-old Australian carrying his bag at Castle Pines Golf Club. “I had just joined in ’98, and I was 36, closer in age to him than I was to most of the members at the time,” Durham remembers. “On the back nine, I asked him why his name sounded familiar. He said he played golf for Colorado. I told him I was a CU alum.”
Zions, a who arrived in Boulder from rural Kempsey on a full-ride golf scholarship, had just set the freshman record for stroke average (73.76) en route to a stellar collegiate career highlighted by a first team all-Big 12 honors, four NCAA Championship appearances, six top-5 tournament finishes and three academic all-Big 12 honors.
And during his four summers at CU and the three after graduating in 2002 with a degree in finance, he always found himself on Mr. Durham’s bag at Castle Pines. “He could hit the ball a mile in those days,” Zions recalls. “Everyone was blown away.”
Durham, however, was blown away by the humble, hardworking and extremely talented Zions. So were other members at Castle Pines, “which basically adopted him,” Durham says. The two had become extremely friendly during their loops, discussing golf, work, life and Zions’ possible future as professional golfer. “We had a lot of conversations about having to have a backup plan if you want to make a career out of professional golf,” says Durham.
Still, Zions remembers, “From the day I graduated from CU, Grady was adamant I chase my dream and that he was there to help me in anyway he could.” Durham facilitated a work visa and hired him with “very flexible hours” at Monticello. “It worked out brilliant,” Zions says. “I was doing accounting and performance analysis, and during summers I could compete in tournaments, play some golf with Grady and caddie at Castle Pines on weekends.”
Zions’ character revealed itself on the golf course, at work and socially. He became well known to Durham’s wife and two children, and to members of his well-connected golf circles (in addition to Castle Pines, Durham belongs to Sunningdale and Royal Dornoch in the U.K., and to Whisper Rock in Arizona). “Everywhere I go, people always ask me about Matt,” Durham says. “He makes that kind of impression.”
In 2005, Durham had the impression Zions wasn’t where “he needed to be psychologically to be a professional golfer.” So he used one of his connections to send Zions to Dr. Bob Rotella, the preeminent performance coach to elite professional golfers.
“My two days with Dr. Bob at his house was, without a doubt, the life-changing moment that spurred me on to where I am today,” says Zions. “I realized that in order to be successful at anything—not just golf—you have to separate yourself mentally from the rest of the crowd.”
After the session, Rotella phoned Durham. “Matt is the real deal,” he said. “He has the potential to be a professional golfer.’”
He lived up to that potential by winning the 2005 Denver and Rocky Mountain Opens, as well as the 2006 Saltwater River Open in Wyoming. Those wins and Rotella’s evaluation also confirmed Durham’s faith in his friend and the sizable annual financial contribution he continues to make to this day.
“Everybody needs help,” Durham says. “It’s incredibly difficult to make it as a professional golfer, and I’m not going to let him not be successful for of lack of funds. You can fail because you make a bunch of eights on the 18th hole. That’s a failure of talent. But to have the talent and fail because you don’t have the backing is something I’m not interested in seeing.”
Nor is Durham, a long-term investment professional by nature interested in a quick return—or even a financial one. “Matt puts enough pressure on himself,” he says, knowing his friend’s determination. “The pressure for him to pay me back would have crushed him.”
Zions agrees and can’t thank Grady enough. The public misperception, both agree, is that unless you achieve immediate success like Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson, you’re not going to be any good. “We’ve had many conversations about this,” Durham says. “More players succeed in their thirties these days because you really need a five-or ten-year runway. You can’t be out there trying to make it in one year. That was a very important part of our thinking—try to get a ten-year plan where he wouldn’t have to worry about a bad year, which is inevitable when you’re in your 20s.”
Before turning 30, Zions had two of his best years. In September 2006, he got married. Two months later earned his European Tour card at EPGA Q-School, which he only entered as “a warm-up for PGA Tour Q-School,” and would soon find himself competing on courses more suited to his game than those in the States.
In 2007, in Scotland, he tied for first in a local British Open qualifier, getting his photograph taken with the Claret Jug along with a cap he gave to Grady. In contention during most of the first two rounds of the Open at Carnoustie, he dropped six shots on the last four holes to miss the cut by one.
The Zionses moved to England. Matt spent three years competing on the Challenge Tour, “appropriately named because you can play brilliantly and make no money,” says Zions, who recalls tearful, heart-wrenching conversations with Durham in 2010.
“I just told him I didn’t think I could do it any more. I think my game is as good as anyone’s. But the stress was overwhelming. I couldn’t think of a better mentor to get advice from than Grady. There’s no smoke and mirrors. He tells you what he thinks. He said, ‘I believe the best is yet to come. We’ll make it work.’ And he doubled what he was giving me.”
“I said, ‘I don’t want you to worry about making the cut because you don’t have any money in the bank,’” Durham says. “I may have also given him a motivating speech about what I pay an entry-level accountant—and he’s not even well qualified for the job.”
Regaining his EPGA card, Zions rewarded Durham’s faith the following June by winning France’s Saint-Omer Open. Across the Channel at Royal Dornoch, Durham and a cadre of Zionsists were monitoring the final round “I was more nervous following him that Sunday than I was in any golf situation I’ve personally been in,” Durham remembers.
After the win, Zions called Grady “one of my biggest supporters, not only financially but mentally. I’m sure he’ll be over the moon.”
Durham was—and quickly returned to earth. “I sat Matt down and said, ‘Now’s the time to press even harder because most professional golfers make their year in a four- to six-week period when they’re playing well.’”
Zions heeded the advice. He had his best year ($285,735), finishing 124th on the 2011 European Tour money list. He dropped to 146th in 2012, but notched top 20s at the Korean and Irish Opens. Conditional playing privileges should get him about 12 starts on the main European Tour this year.
“One thing we never talk about is the future,” says Durham. “He has enough on his mind. I could never ask, ‘What are you going to do if you don’t keep your card?’ If you’re an athlete at that level, positive thinking is worth a lot.”
“I feel my game and my mind is on track to have a great year!” Zions writes in an email. The ever-humble Aussie knows his journey as a professional golfer would never have been possible without his friend Grady’s financial, personal and emotional support.
“It’s just been about friendship and giving back—that’s it,” Durham says. “If somebody contacted me about sponsoring them, I’d immediately say I’m not in that game.”
And what is his game? “The only thing I ever said to Matt is, ‘you’ll be in a situation where you can help somebody at sometime, and I want you to do that.’” Zions has taken an interest in former CU star and two-time Colorado Open winner Derek Tolan, and this summer at Sunningdale, he walked the back nine with Grady’s teenaged son, Gavin, who was struggling with his game. “He coached him, gave him an extra driver,” says Durham. “For me, that’s where the return is.”