Kohler becomes a big name in world of golf

By Doug FergusonAugust 7, 2010, 6:13 pm

2010 PGA Championship

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Herb Kohler still isn’t sure how a stack of suggestion slips wound up on his desk, or what possessed an employee from the accounting office at his Kohler Company to put them there.

“That’s what got us into this mess,” he said with laughter that rumbled from his thick chest.

Any golf enthusiast would love a mess like this.

Sipping on a cup of coffee as the third round of the British Open was just starting, Kohler looked across the landscape of St. Andrews from a conference room on the fourth floor of the Old Course Hotel, which he bought six years ago. Next to the Royal & Ancient clubhouse is another property he now owns, Hamilton Hall, a five-story Victorian building of red brick that has become a landmark behind the 18th green at the home of golf.

It gets even better next week for the final major of the year.

The PGA Championship returns to Whistling Straits, one of four golf courses Kohler built in Wisconsin along the shores of Lake Michigan. By the end of the decade, it will have hosted three PGAs and a Ryder Cup.

Rex HoggardGolfChannel.com senior writer Rex Hoggard catches up with Herb Kohler in this Q&A as the season's final major gets set to take place at Whistling Straits.

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All this from the leader of a business conglomerate known for its kitchen and bathroom fixtures.

“He got into the game at a late age,” USGA executive director David Fay said. “When you think about how he wasn’t a golfer, and you consider the courses he’s involved with and the golf properties, it’s pretty remarkable.”

Kohler would be the first to agree with that.

His only venture into golf used to be an occasional game using his father’s wooden shaft clubs. He now counts among his favorite memories that cutthroat match – a $1 Nassau – he had with a two-time Masters champion (Ben Crenshaw), a three-time U.S. Open champion (Hale Irwin) and the 41st president of the United States (George H.W. Bush).

Last month, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem presented Kohler with an oil painting to commemorate his hole-in-one on the 11th hole at St. Andrews. This wasn’t a token gesture. Finchem was playing with him that day, along with Fay and NBC Sports president Ken Schanzer.

“We’re lucky to have him in the game,” Finchem said. “I just wish it didn’t take him so long to get in.”

What got Kohler into golf is nothing short of remarkable.

“It wasn’t because I had any knowledge of golf, or a passion for golf,” Kohler said, still amazed after three decades where a logical response to a recurring question has taken him.

Attribute it all to that pile of suggestion slips.

The Kohler Company, founded by his grandfather, took a dormitory that once housed European immigrant factory workers and transformed it into a five-diamond resort hotel an hour north of Milwaukee. The American Club opened in 1981 and was an overnight sensation, pulling guests in from all over the Midwest who were looking for a weekend getaway from the big city.

“I was convinced that the level of service would be visible to people across the street in manufacturing as to what they had to do in selling products,” Kohler said. “I wanted them to see what five-diamond service really meant. And I was convinced that it would reflect well upon the company. And it would match the level of quality of the engines, generators and plumbing products that we were trying to sell under the name Kohler.”

It offered just about every amenity except one that Kohler never considered – until he saw the suggestion slips.

With some 3,500 acres around the village, why wasn’t there a golf course?

“Guests would write these suggestions out at the front desk and they in turn went to the accounting office,” Kohler said. “Every once in a while, the general manager or someone would go through them and try to collect them by topic. This particular pile had gone for a little more than two years and had gotten to be some size. Some young analyst was wondering who to bring it to— the general manager couldn’t respond to it. And he had the courage to bring it up to the CEO.

“He dumped this pile on my desk and I said, ‘I’ve got to do something here.”’

Kohler eventually hired Pete Dye, the start of a relationship stretching over three decades. He was impressed that Dye could build something as penal as the TPC Sawgrass, yet also create a natural course such as The Honors in Tennessee.

First came Blackwolf Run, where Se Ri Pak won her first U.S. Women’s Open in 1998 and thus inspired a nation of golfers. Later that year, Whistling Straits officially opened and went after a U.S. Open.

The USGA could only promise that Whistling Straits would be a finalist for 2005 (eventually awarded to Pinehurst No. 2). Kohler instead decided on the 2004 PGA Championship, won by Vijay Singh.

And then came a defining moment for his golf course in Wisconsin.

He said the USGA floated the idea of a Women’s Open in 2007, a Senior Open in 2009 and a U.S. Open in 2011. Wanting more than just another major, he negotiated a deal with the PGA of America to bring back the PGA Championship in 2010 and 2015, followed by the Ryder Cup in 2020.

“The toughest phone call I ever had to make was to call David Fay and tell him we were disinviting the USGA for a U.S. Open,” Kohler said.

Whether it’s selling bathroom fixtures or renovating golf properties, Kohler is big on relationships. Not long after Dye complete the first course, Kohler figured he better take the game more seriously. He has that ace on the 11th hole at St. Andrews. His low round is a 78 on a small course in Wisconsin. But his handicap never got lower than 15.

Even so, it’s the people he has met and the places he goes that makes it all so rewarding.

He was along the fairways of South Africa in 2003 watching the Presidents Cup. Three years later, he was in a golf cart with the former president George H.W. Bush at the Ryder Cup. He counts among his most respected friends Sir Michael Bonallack and Peter Dawson, the last two chiefs at the R&A.

“I love the game because of the people associated with the game,” Kohler said. “Some of the finest people I’ve ever met in my life are associated with the game and have devoted their lives to it. And I love the game because of the spotlight it created on what we do. It shines on this company and reflects on its products and services like nothing else could have done.”

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Davies headlines field at Senior LPGA at French Lick

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 14, 2018, 10:40 pm

Laura Davies will be looking to win her second senior major championship this year when she tees it up in Monday’s start of the Senior LPGA Championship at French Lick Resort in Indiana.

Davies, who won the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open in July, will join a field that includes fellow World Golf Hall of Famer Jan Stephenson, who was announced last week with Peggy Kirk Bell as the Hall’s newest members. Hall of Famers Juli Inkster and Hollis Stacy are also in the 54-hole event.

Trish Johnson is back to defend her title after winning the inaugural Senior LPGA Championship a year ago. Brandi Burton, Jane Geddes, Helen Alfredsson and Liselotte Neumann are also in the field of 81 players who will compete for a $600,000 purse, with $90,000 going to the winner.

Golf Channel will televise all three rounds live from 4-6 p.m. ET on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

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Langer (65) wins regular-season finale by six

By Associated PressOctober 14, 2018, 10:07 pm

CARY, N.C. – Bernhard Langer ran away with the SAS Championship on Sunday to take the points lead into the PGA Tour Champions' Charles Schwab Cup playoffs

Langer shot a bogey-free 7-under 65 for a six-stroke victory in the regular-season finale.

''I just played very solid all day long,'' Langer said. ''Putted well, hit the ball where I was looking and did everything exceptionally well.''

The 61-year-old German star has 38 victories on the 50-and-over tour, also winning this year near Houston. He has a record four victories after turning 60.

''I don't have anything to prove, but I still have golf,'' Langer said. ''I still want to improve my own game. I still want to play to the best Bernhard Langer can play. I don't think I need to prove anything, but I love competing, I love winning or being in the hunt. As long as I can do that, I think you're going to see me out here.''

Langer finished with a tournament-record 22-under 194 total at Prestonwood Country Club, the tree-lined layout softened by heavy rain Thursday from Hurricane Michael. He opened with a 62 on Friday to match Gene Sauers and Tom Lehman for the lead, and had a 67 on Saturday to remain atop the leaderboard with Sauers.

Full-field scores from the SAS Championship

''The 10 under was amazing,'' Langer said. ''I couldn't believe there were two other guys who shot 10 under.''

The four-time Charles Schwab Cup winner also won at Prestonwood in 2012.

''It's always fun to go back to where you've won before because you feel like you know how to play the course and you're somewhat comfortable and that's certainly the case here,'' Langer said. ''I've been probably 50, 70 times now around this golf course and I know how to play every hole.''

Scott Parel was second, closing with a double bogey for a 65.

''Bernhard is just in his own world this week,'' Parel said.

Jerry Kelly had a 68 to finish third at 15 under, and Lehman followed at 13 under after a 71.

Sauers shot a 75 to tie for fifth with Miguel Angel Jimenez (68) at 12 under.

The top 72 players in the Schwab Cup standings qualified for the playoffs, the three-event series that begins next week with the Dominion Energy Charity Classic in Richmond, Va. Dan Forsman tied for 56th to jump from 74th to 72nd, edging John Huston for the final spot by $932. Huston tied for 46th.

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Pepperell captures British Masters, eyes Augusta

By Associated PressOctober 14, 2018, 5:29 pm

WALTON HEATH, England -- Eddie Pepperell won his second European Tour title with a two-shot victory at the British Masters on Sunday and likely secured the even bigger prize of a place in next year's Masters at Augusta National.

The Englishman shot an even-par 72 and held off his playing partner, Sweden's Alexander Bjork (71), as the pair went to the 72nd hole at a wet and windy Walton Heath with Pepperell just a stroke in front.

Pepperell finished on 9-under 279.

Herbert Lucas (69) and Jordan Smith (73) were tied for third, another two shots behind Bjork.

English pair Sam Horsfield (69) and Tom Lewis (70) along with American Julian Suri (74) tied for fifth, one shot in front of tournament host Justin Rose (70).

The victory takes Pepperell into the world's top 35 and almost certainly secures a first appearance at Augusta in 2019. The top 50 at the end of the year are guaranteed a place in the first major of the year in April.

Ryder Cup star Tommy Fleetwood (72) finished 2 under in a seven-way tie for ninth.

Full-field scores from the British Masters

A top-two finish on Sunday would have seen Rose reach the top of the world rankings for the second time this season, the 38-year-old having spent two weeks as No. 1 in September

Pepperell was ranked outside the top 500 as recently as May last year, but won the Qatar Masters in February and followed a runner-up finish in the Scottish Open with a tie for sixth in the British Open seven days later, carding a closing 67 at Carnoustie despite saying he had a hangover.

His three-shot overnight lead was down to a single stroke on Sunday when Bjork covered the front nine in 34 and Pepperell three-putted the ninth, the same hole where he enjoyed a spectacular hole-in-one on Thursday.

However, the 27-year-old Pepperell promptly holed his second shot to the 10th from 122 yards for an eagle to move three clear and a par save from off the green on the 14th looked to have sealed the win.

There was still time for some late drama, though, as Pepperell dropped shots on Nos. 15 and 16 to see his lead cut to a single shot, but Bjork bogeyed the 18th after driving into the heather and Pepperell saved par from a greenside bunker.

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Disappointed Sharma fades to T-10 at CIMB

By Will GrayOctober 14, 2018, 1:46 pm

For the second time this year, India's Shubankhar Sharma watched an opportunity for a breakthrough win turn into a learning experience.

Sharma burst onto the scene in March, taking a two-shot lead into the final round of the WGC-Mexico Championship only to fade to a tie for ninth. It was a similar story Sunday at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia, where Sharma started the final round in a three-way tie for the lead but struggled to an even-par 72 that dropped him into a tie for 10th.

"Disappointing, not really happy with the way I finished," Sharma told reporters.

Full-field scores from CIMB Classic

CIMB Classic: Articles, photos and videos

The 22-year-old was 1 over for his first six holes, but he battled back with four straight birdies on Nos. 7-10 to get within three shots of eventual winner Marc Leishman. But his tee shot at the par-3 11th found the water, leading to the first of three straight bogeys that ended any hopes of victory.

"That was probably one of the worst swings of the day," Sharma said. "That 11th hole I think killed the momentum for me. A par there would have gone a long way, and I probably could have made more birdies after that."

Sharma remained optimistic this spring following his final-round fade in Mexico, and he retained a positive mindset despite a rough afternoon as he eyes upcoming starts at both the CJ Cup in South Korea and the WGC-HSBC Champions in China.

"Great experience. Very, very good to have two top-10s on the PGA Tour, so that's a good way of looking at it," he said. "Also, it pushes me to keep playing well. I feel like I have it in me to win out there on the PGA Tour, and I've given myself two opportunities. Game is in a decent place now."