BMW Championship Rekindles Some Special Memories For James Lepp
Abbotsford Native James Lepp Is Now Busy As A Parent And An Entrepreneur But Certainly Had His Moments As An Elite Golfer - Image Courtesy Golf Canada
By Brad Ziemer, British Columbia Golf
Golf is no longer top of mind for James Lepp, but some special memories came flooding back this week when he learned that the PGA TOUR’s BMW Championship was being contested on the course where he won the NCAA Championship back in 2005.
That win at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills, Md., was the biggest in a brilliant, but short golf career for the Abbotsford native. It came against a field stacked with many future PGA TOUR stars, including the likes of Dustin Johnson, Webb Simpson, Kevin Kisner and Alex Noren.
Lepp beat them all after closing that tournament with a seven-under 63 and beating Michael Putnam in a playoff.
“That tournament is my fondest golf memory, for sure,” Lepp said in an interview. “So from time to time I will find myself thinking about it. But I only realized yesterday they were playing that tournament there when I was checking the score app and it said it was at Caves Valley. I was like, 'no way.'”
Lepp took to Twitter where he compared his four-under total at the NCAA Championships to the five players competing at the BMW Championship, the second of three FedEx Cup playoff events. Kisner finished that NCAA tourney at five-over but his Georgia Bulldogs won the team title, finishing two spots ahead of Lepp’s Washington Huskies. Chris Kirk was also five-over and Noren was 11-over. Johnson and Simpson both missed the 54-hole cut.
Lepp, who ended his competitive golf career after a brief foray as a professional, said he doesn’t dwell on what might have been. “There were 100 college players who were better than Dustin Johnson that year,” Lepp said. “There were tons of guys who were incredible college players who are now probably doing similar things to me. That is just how life and golf can work out.
“So I don’t think about what could have been too much. It’s not like I gave up after that tournament. I definitely gave it a shot and it’s just how the cards fell. So I watch as more of a golf fan now and I marvel how good these guys are and how far they hit it.”
Lepp remembers Caves Valley as a long and challenging course. It played as a par 70 back then, but is being contested as a par 72 at the BMW Championship. It poured rain in the third round of the NCAA Championships and everyone struggled, including Lepp who fired a 76. He began the final round six shots behind Putnam in seventh place.
He recalls his college coach Matt Thurmond telling him he still had a chance to win as the team van pulled up to the course for the final round. “I had already done the math and thought about it and before he finished his sentence, I was like, 'I know,'” Lepp said. “I went to the range and had a great warm-up and I just played well all day. “
He won the playoff with a two-putt par on the third extra hole. “I wouldn’t say it was my best golf,” Lepp said. “But as far as the actual importance of the tournament, it was my biggest win. As far as my best golf, it was probably the summer after my sophomore year in college.”
That would be the summer of 2003, when Lepp won his second of four straight B.C. Amateur Championships, the Pacific Coast Amateur Championship at Capilano Golf & Country Club in West Vancouver and a Canadian Tour event at Swaneset Bay in Pitt Meadows. “That was the peak,” Lepp said. “After that it dipped and it became a lot more sporadic and volatile.”
Lepp fought the yips, particularly with his driver, and eventually stepped away from the game. He still plays once a week at Ledgeview, the course he grew up on and now lives very close to with his wife and two children. He and a bunch of pals get together Monday afternoons at Ledgeview during the spring and summer. “We call it the Leppathon. There’s usually four or five groups of us.”
Lepp said his game is not good, although he occasionally sees flashes of his old brilliance. “It’s still there somewhere, it’s fleeting and very difficult to find for me. This is why generally I don’t like golfing all that much.” Lepp struggles feeling comfortable over the ball, the same feeling that led to him abandoning his pro career.
“Maybe only a few years ago when I played infrequently my game actually felt better,” he said. “I’d go out there with no expectations but my game would feel fresh, I would feel the club, I would be comfortable over the ball. In the last couple of years that has just vanished. I am just permanently uncomfortable over the ball.
“For some of these Leppathons I switched to left-handed just to try and make it more fun for myself. I have done that in the past. I have putted left-handed and I have putted left-handed really well at times. I putted left-handed in professional tournaments and shot 67 in one round, 69 in another and that is when I have been striking it terribly. But the lefty was bad this last experiment, so I have kiboshed that and I am back to right-handed.”
Since leaving the world of competitive golf behind, Lepp has put his business degree to work. He founded two shoe brands, Kikkor and Six Hundred Four. For a time, he had a Six Hundred Four retail store in Gastown but COVID and the resulting crash in visits from tourists forced him to close that.
He does some part-time marketing work for Ledgeview and is currently in the midst of launching a hand sanitizer brand called Velnue as well as a dispenser. (visit Velnue.ca for more details). The 37-year-old Lepp, whose wife Francis is a Langley lawyer, is kept more than busy helping parent their two young children, two-and-half-year-old daughter Sola and five-month-old son Arko.
“There’s just non-stop stuff that happens with kids that age,” he said.