A few weeks ago, I wrote about leadership lessons from Steph Curry, including his passion for golf, and in response, received an email from Sue Behl with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Properties Group whose husband was a caddie for PGA professional golfer and longtime commentator Gary Koch. Koch also happens to be the 2023 recipient of the PGA TOUR’s Payne Stewart Award, which will be presented Tuesday, Aug. 22 during the Payne Stewart Award Ceremony.
“Koch is an awesome man who truly has earned it,” Sue wrote in her email, and because I couldn’t agree more, I wanted to showcase leadership lessons from Koch for today’s post. (Thank you, Sue, for your email. It’s always fun when readers respond to a Thoughts on Leadership post with ideas and inspiration!)
In response to Koch’s upcoming award, PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan said: “For someone who spent more than three decades telling the PGA TOUR’s story to the masses, at the heart of character is the desire to usher the game forward through his charitable work. That’s what would make Payne smile: A passion and love for sharing the game with the world while looking after the next generation.”
Koch’s amateur golf career began in 1969 when he won the Florida Open at 16 years old. The next year, he won the U.S. Junior Amateur before heading to Gainesville, Florida to play golf at the University of Florida. According to the PGA, Koch is a four-time All American with 10 collegiate titles. He also helped the University of Florida Gators claim the 1973 NCAA Championship.
Koch officially joined the PGA TOUR in 1976 and played 15 seasons, collecting six PGA TOUR victories, including a famous win at the 1984 Arnold Palmer Invitational. After playing golf, he spent the next 33 years commentating on the game for ESPN and NBC Sports. Who could forget his “better than most” call to describe Tiger Woods’ epic putt during the 2001 PLAYERS Championship on the “island green” No. 17 hole at TPC Sawgrass? Many believe that to be one of the most famous putts in golf history and Koch’s description to be one of the most famous calls of a putt ever.
But despite a notable golf and sportscasting career, Koch is also just as well known for shaping the next generation of golfers and giving back to communities in need. The Gary and Donna Koch Family Foundation, launched in 2014, provides scholarships and student aid to local youth. For the past 17 years, Koch has served as honorary chairman for Gift of Adoption’s Florida Chapter. The organization provides adoption assistance grants to complete the adoptions of children in vulnerable circumstances, giving them a chance to thrive.
Koch and his wife, Donna, have also been longtime supporters of the First Tee–Tampa Bay Chapter, a program branch of the Tampa YMCA, which introduces the game of golf and its character-building values to local youth. In fact, Koch currently serves as board chair of the First Tee–Tampa Bay Chapter.
In 2011, when the chapter was at risk of closing due to lack of funding, Koch rallied supporters (called “Friends of First Tee Tampa”) and together, they saved the chapter. In fact, the chapter has grown ever since, named eight years later as the largest chapter in the nation, and reaches more than 90,000 youth golfers in the area each year.
In 2022, Koch came up with the idea to build a par 3 course at the First Tee `facility and asked famed golf course architect (and former college teammate) Steve Smyers to design the course. (Smyers not only agreed, but also did so at no cost.) Annually, Koch hosts the Gary Koch Invitational Pro-Am to support First Tee–Tampa Bay as well as ART International Training & Research, dedicated to providing research, education and training for individuals diagnosed with traumatic psychological disorders.
So, what’s the message? When the PGA surprised Koch with the news he would be the recipient of the 2023 Payne Stewart Award, he didn’t talk about his career wins or his broadcasting highlights. Instead, he spoke about how giving back to others is the legacy he wants to solidify most. “When you’re recognized by your peers for some of the things you’ve accomplished, how you treat people and your charitable work, it means a tremendous amount,” he said, calling the award and the $300,000 gift he can now bestow to his local Tampa community “the highlight of my career.”
This article is adapted from Blefari’s weekly, company-wide “Thoughts on Leadership” column from HomeServices of America.