Four years ago, James Lepp took stock of his waning passion for golf and surprised observers of the sport by transitioning into the business world.
These days, his rekindled love for the game is being broadcast for all to see.
The 28-year-old Abbotsford native is one of the stars of Big Break Greenbrier, a reality show airing Tuesday nights on the Golf Channel.
Lepp was one of 12 golfers cast for the show, which was taped in June and sees players compete in a variety of elimination challenges each episode. Up for grabs is a prize package which includes an exemption into the PGA Tour’s 2013 Greenbrier Classic, and $50,000 cash.
Through five episodes of the 11-show season, Lepp is still in the running.
“It’s been pretty fun,” Lepp said following last Tuesday’s episode. “I like watching the show a lot, because I love how they produce it. You’re never sure what other guys have said . . . or exactly what they’ll put in there that I’ve done or said.”
Twitter users can support Lepp by tweeting #JamesBB, which counts as a vote in the Big Break fan favourite contest.
Lepp’s phenomenal amateur career included a pair of national junior championships (2001-02), four consecutive B.C. Amateur victories (2002-05), and three straight RCGA order of merit titles (2003-05). His signature victory came in 2005, when he became the first Canadian to win the NCAA Division 1 golf championship – a title previously held by the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.
After turning pro in the summer of 2006, Lepp had some solid results on the Canadian Tour, but when consistency proved elusive, he shifted his focus to launching Kikkor Golf, a shoe and apparel company.
“It was probably just the break that did it,” Lepp said, reflecting on the decision to rev up his playing career again. “I didn’t play much from 2009 up until basically the Big Break.
“I think deep down, I love golf a lot. I love it so much that when I wasn’t getting better at it, it made me not want to play.
“It’s like a relationship gone bad. You keep putting time into it and you don’t get anything back, and eventually you’re like, ‘This is just frustrating,’ and you walk away.”
Beyond Big Break Greenbrier, Lepp’s decision to take a crack at the first stage of PGA Tour Q-School at San Juan Oaks Club in Hollister, Calif. last week signals his renewed spark for the game. It’s the last year golfers can earn a PGA Tour card directly via Q-School without playing on the second-tier Web.com Tour first, so he figured it was worth a shot.
Though Lepp fell short of advancing, he now has plenty of time to sort out what he wants to do next in terms of his playing career.
“I have a lot of faith that things just work out for me, for some reason,” he said. “I’m upset I didn’t get through (Q-School), but I realize there’s probably some reason for it, whether that’s focusing on the business right now or just a break that I need. But I do have quite a few months to figure out what I want to do golf-wise.”
Playing more golf doesn’t detract any of Lepp’s passion for Kikkor, but it does divide his focus to an extent.
“The business definitely gets put on the back burner, and you see the results of that happening,” he noted. “Even though it’s gaining more popularity with the show, you have to tie up all those loose ends to reap the rewards.
“It (Kikkor) grows every year. There’s always something new to discover and learn and get better at. We’re still a very young company.”
SAUCER PASS SENSATION
Lepp’s participation in Big Break Greenbrier has drawn attention to his unique chipping technique, which he’s dubbed the saucer pass.
On shots from just off the green, Lepp grips his club with his hands spread apart, like a hockey player holds a stick. Then, without lifting the club head off the grass on the backswing, he sweeps it through the ball.
Lepp first started tinkering with the hockey-inspired shot back in 2008, when his passion for golf was at a low ebb.
“I was trying to qualify for a Nationwide Tour event, and I didn’t play well,” he recalled. “We were chipping on the putting green, and we were trying to see how far we could hit it with no backswing, kind of like a hockey snapshot. That transitioned into the saucer pass, a more delicate shot, until finally it became clear that using that type of form on a chip shot was actually very effective.
“It started off as a joke, and then I started playing around with it. I was good at it right away, because I play hockey right-handed and I’m a pretty good passer of the puck. It’s just passing it to the hole.
“You don’t have to get the club in the air – you just slide it through, and it eliminates any chance for error, chunking or topping a shot.”
Lepp showcased the saucer pass in a 2011 Kikkor promotional video called “A Day at the Office,” in which he makes a variety of trick shots using the technique. It’s posted below.
“A lot of my friends and other golf colleagues knew about the saucer pass, but now (because of Big Break) I guess the whole golf community knows about it now,” he said with a chuckle.