There is a bit of urban legend working its way through the New York metropolitan golf community about a prominent investment banker who, fueled by a hole-in-one, shot 63 this past July to set a new course record at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club. As improbable as it may sound, the story is true. But there is much, much more to the story than just an amazing round of golf.
The author of that record-setting round is Jimmy Dunne III, a skilled player who is a member at Shinnecock and a slew of other prominent clubs. Dunne is the senior managing principal of Sandler O’Neill + Partners, a firm he co-founded in 1988. The story was introduced to me by one of the others in the group that played alongside Dunne on July 9.
Dunne and his three playing partners teed it up on a hot Friday afternoon, and he made the turn in 3 under at the famed course that has hosted four U.S. Opens. He then aced the par-3 11th, holing a 147-yard 8-iron, and followed that with an 18-foot birdie on the 12th and an eight-foot birdie on No. 13. He parred in for a 7-under-par 63 to break the course record set by Raymond Floyd in 1996.
Dunne, hardly objective about his favorite golf course, calls No. 11 “the greatest par-3 in the world.” Because it is a slightly elevated green, he did not see the ball go into the hole. Noticing a ball mark at the edge of the hole, Dunne looked down and saw a ball with a “Q” clearly marked looking back up at him.
Dunne has marked his golf ball with that Q every day since Sept. 11, 2001, in memory of his lifelong friend and business partner Chris Quackenbush. Along with 65 other members of the firm he and Dunne led, “Quack” died that day in the terrorist attacks. Sandler O’Neill + Partners was located on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center Tower Two. Also lost that day was Dunne’s mentor, the man he founded the firm with, Herman Sandler.
Quackenbush and Dunne met as teenagers on Long Island. They became best friends and golf partners. Quackenbush helped Dunne quit drinking in his late 20s and later quit his job to join Dunne. Along with Sandler, the threesome built a niche Wall Street investment bank that was profitable and respected. Along the way, they played an awful lot of golf together.
Dunne was not in the office on 9/11. He was taking a rare day off, attempting to qualify for the U.S. Mid-Amateur. Upon hearing the news of the attack, he promptly left the golf course and worked his way back into a dazed and confused Manhattan Island.
What he did in the subsequent months made him an authentic American business hero. Quite simply, he saved a firm that was virtually destroyed in the attacks. As Katrina Booker wrote in an opus entitled “Starting Over” in Fortune Magazine just weeks after the attacks, “the company lost 40 percent of its employees – including a third of its partners. Lost along with the people was all their knowledge, their contacts, their ways of doing business, their institutional memory. The intricate network that connected the firm to the rest of Wall Street and fundamentally made it possible to do business – that was gone, too.”
Dunne immediately declared his intention to rebuild the 13-year-old firm. And as an indication of the respect that the firm enjoyed in the rough and tumble world of Wall Street, its competitors helped, sending it badly needed business in the weeks and months that followed.
In addition to rebuilding, Dunne and his new management team had to determine how to take care of the families of the deceased. He was determined to be generous, and the reconstituted company got high marks for being so. Full-year bonuses were paid out, and health care benefits were extended for five years.
And through it all, Dunne had to eulogize the dead, including his best friend, while working his way through his own grief.
Today, Sandler O’Neill + Partners is one of the largest full-service investment banking firms serving the financial services sector. Dunne is a respected senior statesman on Wall Street. And he remains a seriously competitive golfer.
Dunne told me recently that he was well aware of what he was shooting on that July afternoon, and so too were his playing partners. He said he was “definitely nervous” and did not hit many “brave” putts the last four holes. He recalls thinking that “I could bogey 17 and 18 and shoot 65 and still have a bad day.”
There is an extremely well-written account of Dunne’s record-setting round at Shinnecock that was recently published in the Southampton Press by golf writer Robert Durkin. Click here to enjoy it. The piece goes into much greater details about the emotions felt by Dunne and his playing partners on that hot July afternoon when Chris Quackenbush said hello to his old friend.