Kohler has been a great podsie
By Gary D'Amato
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Check out the shirts and hats of the professional golfers at the Brown
Deer Park Golf Course this week and you'll find logos for most of the
major equipment manufacturers, plus a lot of resorts, financial
companies and businesses related to golf.
Ted Purdy stands out in the crowd. His shirts bear the logo of the Kohler
So what's a PGA Tour member doing selling toilets?
It's one of the great "right place at the right time" stories you'll ever hear, a
disaster that turned into a huge stroke of luck for Purdy.
In 2003, he was a struggling Nationwide Tour player with a
six-months-pregnant wife and a zero balance in his checking account
when he earned one of the final spots in the AT&T Pebble Beach National
Pro-Am in open qualifying.
Herbert V. Kohler Jr., the president and CEO of the Kohler Co., was a
regular at the AT&T but had had some health problems and only at the
last minute decided to enter.
With the big-name pros already paired with amateurs, the AT&T stuck
Kohler with Purdy, whose best finish on the Nationwide Tour the year
before was a tie for 15th in something called the Hibernia Southern Open.
Kohler didn't know Ted Purdy from Ted Nugent.
Sure enough, though, Purdy played great. So great, in fact, that he was on
his way to the biggest paycheck of his life. So great, Kohler was going to
make the cut in the pro-am for the first time in his life.
"Herb has never made the cut in 15 years and he's finally going to make
the cut in the AT&T," Purdy recalled at the British Open on Sunday. "I'm
under par for the week and in the top 10. I had made $30,000 on the
Nationwide Tour the year before, so we're just scraping by, with a kid on
Then, just like that, the dream week turned into a nightmare. Purdy forgot
to sign the score card that included his pro-am team score. He left the
course and didn't discover his error until it was too late. He was
So, too, was Kohler.
"Oh, he was upset," Purdy said. "He was, like, 'Call Tim Finchem. No,
better yet, call George W. Bush.' He was really upset."
Not even the PGA Tour commissioner or the president of the United
States could undo the damage. Rules are rules, and Purdy had broken
Rule No. 1: Always sign your score card.
"I felt terrible," he said. "I'm going, 'This is the low point. I made $30,000
last year and I've got a kid on the way. This is the low point of my career.
What am I going to do?' "
A couple days later, Purdy got a phone call. It was Kohler, offering to
sponsor him on tour.
"I think Herb felt so bad about what happened he wanted to help me,"
The Kohler Co. sponsorship paid Purdy's expenses and took the
pressure off so he could play golf without stressing over finances. It's
probably no coincidence that his career took off.
He finished 15th on the Nationwide Tour money list with $206,584 that
year and, more importantly, earned exempt status on the PGA Tour.
In 2004, he banked $1,636,876 and had runner-up finishes in the B.C.
Open and MCI Heritage, where he lost in a five-hole playoff to Stewart
Two months ago, the 31-year-old Purdy broke through with his first victory,
firing a final-round 65 to win the EDS Byron Nelson Championship by one
stroke over Sean O'Hair. He already has earned $1,542,555 this year.
"The luck of Kohler," he said with a grin. "It's never-ending."
In his first British Open last week, Purdy finished in a tie for 74th place.
The best part of the week? Being picked up by Kohler's private jet in the
Quad Cities, where Purdy had played in the John Deere Classic, and
flying directly to RAF Leuchars near St. Andrews.
"I lucked out with that ride," Purdy said. "Mr. Kohler is really generous for
letting me come on. He insisted that my wife and son come along. Shoot,
just the ride over trumps about any other sponsorship anybody else has."
Minutes after the final putt dropped Sunday, Purdy was winging his way to
Milwaukee to play in the U.S. Bank Championship. Had he flown
commercial, he said, he probably wouldn't have committed to play at
Brown Deer Park.
Now that Purdy is established on the PGA Tour he really doesn't need
help from the Kohler Co. anymore, but he hopes the, uh, royal flush of
"I really do," he said. "I'm not sure Mr. Kohler is real interested in
sponsoring golfers. But I won this year at the Byron Nelson and the logo
was all over TV for a few hours and in magazines and things.
"But who knows if I sell toilets or not? Next time you see Herb, try to
convince him that I do."
In loo of that, let's just say Purdy is worth his weight in porcelain.
Herb Kohler is plumb fun
By Dean Foust
From designer bathrooms to golf courses, Herbert V. Kohler Jr.'s
imagination knows no limits.
Kohler's grandfather, J.M., built his first rudimentary tubs by fusing
enamel to horse troughs. Kohler turned the American bathroom
into a showcase that can include anything from stock tickers to
wind and rain simulations.
When Kohler set out in the late 1990s to build two more golf
courses for guests at his American Club resort in Kohler, Wis.,
the plumbing scion spared no expense to turn the flat farmland
bordering Lake Michigan into rolling Irish-style links. Kohler and
architect Pete Dye trucked in 8,000 loads of sand, invited Irish
college students to serve as caddies and even cargo-lifted
dozens of black-faced sheep from the Old Country to lend the
So great was the result that one of his two courses at Whistling
Straits will achieve the rare distinction this August of hosting a
major --- the PGA Championship --- a mere six years after it
opened for play.
"I just love the character of this course. The continuity of the
landscape is phenomenal," Kohler says in his Orson Welles
baritone as we head out from the stone clubhouse to the 10th tee
on this crisp morning.
Kohler took me there first because he was leaving on a business
trip that day and had time to play only five holes. As I would see
shortly, it's an easy walk from No. 11 to No. 16.
The Gnarly Ball Gang
Even though he and Dye had already built two respected parkland
courses at nearby Blackwolf Run, Kohler says he became
obsessed during his periodic golf jaunts to Europe with the
challenge of building a links in Wisconsin. "The most exciting
courses in the world for the player are links courses. The epitome
of great golf is Royal County Down, Portrush, Royal Dornoch." But
he bristles when I ask if he tried to replicate any of those courses
at Whistling Straits. "Herb Kohler and Pete Dye never copy
anything, period," he answers gruffly.
"We knew it was going to be a huge undertaking, and it was," he
recalls. "Look out in this direction," he says, pointing out toward
the rugged, wind-swept dunes overlooking Lake Michigan. "That
was a military airport -- flatter 'n a pancake. There were four or five
toxic waste dumps out there, 40 trash dumps. This property was
a focal point for major drug transactions between Milwaukee and
Green Bay. You wouldn't believe the unseemly characters we
As Kohler steps up to the 10th tee of the Straits course, he leans
over and says: "I usually play with guests from the green tees, but
I'll treat you as a member of the Gnarly Ball Gang, and we'll play
from the [shorter] whites." Of course, now I have to ask about the
Gnarly Ball Gang. Kohler laughs and explains that it's a group of
eight local guys, including himself, who wage an annual golf
competition that begins about Labor Day and stretches around
the globe, with the group hopping Kohler's private jet to play as far
away as the Dominican Republic or Europe. The tournament
concludes just before Christmas with the winner taking
possession of the Gnarly Ball trophy, which he describes as a
handcrafted piece of driftwood with two rusted cast-iron balls that
dangle from a heavy steel chain.
The 10th hole is a tricky par 4 that requires an exacting drive to
avoid a steep ravine on the left and a yawning fairway bunker on
the right. Kohler threads the fairway perfectly with his tee shot,
using a compact half swing that is almost a punch shot. My tee
shot, however, sails left and disappears down the steep slope to
the left. "Hit another," Kohler barks. "Like Eisenhower, I give lots
of mulligans." I decline in hopes of finding my ball, but I soon
realize I had been fairly warned. Once in the fairway, after we each
hit our approach shots and I start walking to the green, my caddie
yells: "Duck!" just as Kohler, without warning, punches a second
ball over my head and toward the green. A few steps later, a third
ball comes whizzing by.
As we approach the green, Kohler plays his first ball -- and plays
it well, chipping to within five feet. But just as he settles in over his
par putt, a flock of sheep come trotting by along the edge of the
green, bells clanging. "They're the real owners of the course,"
Kohler mutters as he stands over his ball. He lips out his putt but
taps in for a bogey, and we're on to No. 11. The sheep may have
cost him a stroke, but Kohler says they serve an important
purpose: "They eat enough of this thick fescue grass out of the
rough so you can get a clubhead through it."
At the 11th hole, a 504-yard par 5 that Dye nicknamed "the sand
box" --- and indeed it looks as if at least half of those 8,000
truckloads were dumped on this one hole --- Kohler lands his tee
shot safely in the narrow fairway. With a well-placed second shot,
he is just 100 yards below the steeply elevated green. But his
approach shot lands in the deep bunker that sits 15 feet below
the green. Kohler blasts away with his sand wedge, only to watch
his first attempt roll back down the ledge. His second attempt
sticks on the green, and with two putts, he salvages a double
Coming off the green, Kohler tells me he has played with
everyone from former President George H.W. Bush to actor Kevin
Costner and singer Amy Grant. Kohler has for years been a
regular at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, although he
admits he's still smarting from his team being disqualified last
year, after his partner, tour pro Ted Purdy, failed to sign his
scorecard. "I paid $70,000 for a [hospitality] tent and one slot in
the AT&T, and I'm disqualified," he grumbles.
Golf helped Kohler land a part in one of Costner's more recent
films. The two met years ago at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am and
discovered their career paths mirrored each other's: Kohler
initially studied drama at Yale University, and Costner majored in
business at California State University at Fullerton. They have
since played together many times. Then, three years ago,
Costner telephoned Kohler out of the blue and asked if he
wanted a part in his movie, Open Range. "I told Costner: 'O.K., I'll
do it, but on two conditions: I want to ride a horse, and I want to
kill someone."' There was a long pause before Costner replied:
"Well, I'm not sure about the horse, but I guarantee you can kill
someone." Indeed, Kohler, portraying a character described as
Café Man in the credits, shoots a man in a pivotal scene.
At the 16th, Kohler makes his first par and then plays No. 17 --- a
short par 3 that runs along the lake --- just as flawlessly. With the
flag up close, he hits a 7-iron just off the green but chips up close
for a gimme. On the par-four 18th, Kohler lands his drive safely in
the fairway again, but his approach shot plunks down in one of
the deep bunkers fronting the green. Kohler hacks away and
emerges with his second try. Two putts later, he closes out with a
double bogey. An 18-handicapper, Kohler shoots a respectable
mini-round --- five over after five holes --- for such a treacherous
course. His best-ever scores on the Straits? "An 83, an 86, and a
whole bunch [of rounds] in the 90s," he says.
I have even more respect for his ability after peering inside his
bag. His Cobra irons look as if they're at least five years old, and
some of his wedges, he admits, were purchased as far back as
1990. "I have friends who play with new clubs every year, but I've
never been a big club changer," he says with a shrug. "I know I
should switch to newer clubs, but I just feel comfortable with my
When I speak to him a few months later, he has changed his
tune. He says that as he was walking off the 18th green at the
Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February, "my friend David Feherty
looked in my bag and said: 'Kohler, those are nothing but rat
killers. Let me send you some new clubs.' " A few weeks later a
full set of Cobra irons and woods arrived and Kohler admits he
has been smitten with them. "I may be in trouble because Ted
Purdy, who I help sponsor on the tour, also said he was sending
me a new set of Pings," he says.
It should be no surprise that Kohler had a hard time parting with
his old clubs. Given his affection for throwback courses, you
would expect him to be out there playing with a niblick and
mashie, just as golfers do on the classic courses of Ireland.