A youth spent on the links ultimately paid off for Abbotsford’s James Lepp.
Lepp’s stellar amateur and professional golf career saw him win two Canadian junior championships, become the first Canadian to ever win the NCAA individual title, represent Canada on the international stage and compete on the PGA Canadian Tour.
But it was those early moments learning the ins and outs of the game at Ledgeview Golf and Country Club that Lepp said helped shape him as a golfer and a person.
“Ledgeview is just a great course to develop your game as a junior,” he recalled. “It doesn’t really have a great driving range or practice facility so you just have to get out there and golf. I remember going out on the course and hitting a bunch of different shots, usually by myself. It was a matter of being a kid and just going out there and experimenting.”
Lepp first hit the links at the tender age of four, playing with family on several local par three courses, including what is now Fraserglen.
He moved on playing regularly at Ledgeview by the age of eight, and began excelling as a junior at the local and provincial level. He eventually attracted interest from several post-secondary golf programs from all over North America, eventually settling on the University of Illinois in the fall of 2001.
Lepp suited up for the Fighting Illini for two seasons, before transferring to his dream school – the University of Washington in 2003.
“That was always where I wanted to go,” Lepp said. “But when I was coming out of high school there were no seniors leaving. They just didn’t have any scholarships available at that time.”
He reached the pinnacle of NCAA golf in 2005, capturing the men’s individual title – the first Canadian player to ever do so.
“I remember the year in general wasn’t that good,” he said, noting he had to take a year off NCAA golf following the transfer. “But I started playing better as the season went on and just happened to get hot at the right time.”
Lepp shot -4 (276) at Caves Valley Golf Club in Maryland to secure the win in a playoff.
In 2005 he also helped Canada win the Copa de las Americas title, a feat he also accomplished in 2003.
He turned pro in the summer of 2006, earning a win at the Greater Vancouver Classic in 2007, but stepped away from pro golf in 2008. Lepp said he simply lost his passion for the sport.
“Even in my last year of college I just wasn’t enjoying golf as much as I had hoped,” he said. “I felt like I was getting worse when I was a pro and just didn’t really enjoy being out there.”
“With golf shoes I thought there was a better way to do it,” he said. “Golf shoes were just dress shoes with spikes and it didn’t make a lot of sense for a sport.”
He said he’s proud of the impact that Kikkor has made on the golf world.
“In some regards I feel like we were ahead of our time,” he said. “You saw a lot more athletic or fashionable golf shoes the next year, and, while I wouldn’t credit us for starting it, I think we influenced that movement.”
The lure of golf then drew Lepp back in with the Big Break Greenbrier, a reality show that aired on The Golf Channel in 2012. The show saw 12 golfers compete in a variety of golf-related challenges each episode, with the eventual winner receiving entry into the PGA Greenbrier Classic event and $50,000. Lepp advanced to the final of that show, but dramatically lost to Mark Silvers in the finale.
“We partner with local artists and, using their original artwork, we print their work on 604 pairs of shoes,” he said.
Lepp, the founder of the brand, has been working on the business concept for about a year and a half. He opened a gallery displaying and selling the shoes in the Gastown area of downtown Vancouver just before Christmas.
He said it’s an honour to enter the hall, and it’s a great opportunity to reflect on what golf and sports have meant to him.
“Being named to the hall of fame has triggered a lot of memories,” he said. “Most of my life has been around golf, and where I am now is because of golf. It really made me think about all the days at Ledgeview and all my memories in Abbotsford.”
Lepp said his advice for youngsters in the sport is to gain as much experience as possible.
“You just need to go out there and play,” he said. “You really learn by making mistakes or by accident when you’re out there.”
Lepp will be inducted at the Legacy Sports Centre during a banquet on April 29.
Tickets for the event are available at Hub Motor Service in Abbotsford.
Rugby star Bryn Keys is the other inductee. Look for a story on him next week in the Abbotsford News.