Garnett: Former investment banker turned pickleball pro

Garnett: Former investment banker turned pickleball pro

DALLAS, TX - Connor Garnett is the fourth-ranked men's singles player in the world, but pickleball wasn't his first career. 

He actually started off as an investment banker before pursuing America's fastest-growing sport on a full-time basis.

“A lot of things had to go right for me to get here,” said Garnett.

After graduating from the University of Nottingham with a masters degree in finance and investments, he planned to focus on tennis. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, put things on hold. All tennis tournaments were canceled, so Garnett was forced to make a switch.

“I had to get a job instead. Investment banking was the one thing that I gravitated towards. I got with a firm and started as an investment banking analyst,” he explained. “But, I was always itching to do sports.”


Now that Garnett had full-time employment, his tennis skills declined a little bit.

He wasn't exactly training like he used to as a four-year member of the NCAA's Santa Clara Broncos.

“I was playing tennis once a week, and I would play with guys that I was typically beating in college. Now, they were beating me,” he remembered. “That was a little tough, but I still loved competing.”

Then, a few friends introduced him to pickleball. Major League Pickleball (MLP) pro Christa Gecheva took him to a court in Orange County to learn the fundamentals of the game.

“My first tournament was in San Clemente and I was still working at the time, so I was like sneaking out to play,” said Garnett with a chuckle. “I played 4.0 with a buddy and just got beat by some gentlemen that were definitely twice my age. That showed me the complexity of pickleball and how there was a lot more strategy than I was giving it credit for. That hooked me on the sport.”

During his first year as an investment banker, Garnett clocked 80 hours a week, so he simply couldn't go all-in on pickleball. 

Nevertheless, he kept practicing and going to tournaments on weekends.

“For about six months, the deal flow slowed down at our company. That was when I was looking to transition to pickleball full-time. The extra time allowed me to play tournaments and get my name out there. Since singles was on Sunday, I was able to play. All these random things like having singles on Sunday started to get my name out there,” he noted.


Garnett’s co-workers knew all about his growing involvement in pickleball.

“I would tell everyone about the pickleball stuff because I just thought of it as a hobby, and then as I started to have some good wins, I thought, ‘Oh shoot, I might actually do this instead.’ I had to have some more serious conversations about pickleball,” he shared. “I tried to play as much as I could, but I wasn’t training a ton. I was just going out and playing. Basically, I just wanted to get out there and see if I could hang with the pros while I still had a job.”

Garnett clearly could because he received an offer from MLP in 2022.

“Once I got the PPA Gold Card offered to me and got picked up by an MLP team, I thought that was enough proof of concept. I was going to go full-time into pickleball and quit my job,” he said.

Luckily, Garnett's former employer understood the unique career shift.

“Most people from investment banking, if they leave a company, they go to private equity or a competitor, so for an exit from investment banking, that was a pretty cool one that I think they probably throw in as a joke with new candidates saying, ‘Hey, from our firm you can go play pro pickleball,’” he joked.

Garnett has been a full-time pickleball athlete for a year now.

Needless to say, all of his hard work is paying off.


“Going full-time allowed me to really understand the fundamentals of the game, get very good in those areas, and then keep my flair that I had been using to succeed before I was really practicing all the basics,” he shared.

The biggest lesson he has learned over the last few years has been the discipline required to take his game to the next level.

“You can usually see the people that are just hopping out of the scene and they’re not full-time. They’re a little bit more sporadic with their shots. They go for shots that you typically wouldn’t see a lot of the top players do,” said Garnett. “Discipline is huge. You see people come into the sport and really commit themselves. The discipline of their shots just becomes tremendously better.”

There are a couple of skills Garnett picked up from investment banking that have surprisingly translated to pickleball, too.

“Investment banking gives me a unique perspective on the finance side of the sport, just with sponsorships and all that. It definitely helps having that perspective and being able to look at things from a player's side, but also from a business side,” he explained. “People don’t realize how hard it is to manage your schedule when you’re going out, traveling to all these events. If you play like 25 events and are doing camps on the side, it’s a lot to stay up with that, so just having that organizational foundation from investment banking helped as I was kind of navigating, making sure I knew who all my partners were, and not forgetting to book that hotel the day before I show up.”

It's safe to say Garnett is enjoying everything about his pickleball life these days.

He appreciates the amazing journey thus far.

“People came from a lot of different avenues before pickleball, all these different former professions and lifestyles but all coming together to play the sport,” he concluded. “It’s just really cool.”