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Ping's John A. Solheim to receive PGA of America's Distinguished Service Award

November 01, 2022
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Mark Peterman

When you are bestowed an award previously given to three U.S. Presidents, along with Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino, you’re in select company. That’s the elite group John A. Solheim, executive chairman of Ping, will join on Nov. 2 when he receives the PGA of America’s Distinguished Service Award. The honor celebrates those “who display leadership and humanitarian qualities, including integrity, sportsmanship and enthusiasm for the game of golf.”

“I’m very appreciative to receive such a prestigious honor from the PGA of America,” said Solheim. “I’ve been blessed to spend my entire career in the golf industry. It’s allowed us to continue building a family business, which is very enjoyable for me to now guide our strong third generation in their leadership positions and still allow me to do what I enjoy most, design and develop future products.”

The son of company founder and PGA of America Hall of Famer Karsten Solheim, John began working for his father as a teenager in 1959. “When we started, I drilled the holes in the putters where the shaft went,” Solheim told Family Business Magazine. “My brother Allan was putting the grips on. It was fun.”

Well, perhaps not all fun. John Solheim is now executive chairman of Ping, was not being paid to work for his dad in their Scottsdale, Ariz., garage (after moving from California's Redwood City). When a grocery store opened not far from their house, John applied for a job as a bag boy. His father got wind of it and John started getting paid—with a caveat: If John wanted help from his friends, it came out of his pay!

Getting such an early—and earnest—start in the golf club business helped allow John to become a superior innovator in his own right, with his name attached to more than 170 U.S. patents covering golf clubs and bags. Fond for keeping modeling clay in his desk in case an idea struck him, his designs and ideas helped propel and maintain Ping as one of the preeminent brands in golf. Perhaps one of his more intriguing contributions was the JAS putter, which was one of the first putters to feature tungsten inserts, commonplace now in flat sticks.

“John Solheim set an industry standard for how a golf company should run, and his love and dedication for creating the highest quality products has elevated the bar for all equipment manufacturers,” said PGA President Jim Richerson. “But what is truly admirable about John, and what speaks to his character, is his commitment to growing golf through youth participation and helping physically challenged adults, children and military veterans discover a love for the game.”

In fact, Ping is heavily involved in the area of fitting equipment to adaptive golfers, no matter their physical challenges and has advanced that area by integrating those efforts into physical rehabilitation for wounded and disabled veterans. In addition, the company has sponsored more than 50 American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) tournaments and created thousands of playing opportunities for juniors. In 2002, Solheim personally created the Ping Junior Solheim Cup for girls ages 12-18, modeled after the Solheim Cup, which was founded by Solheim’s parents in 1990.

In many ways, Ping became a modern golf equipment company under Solheim’s leadership (he took over running the company in 1995), hiring the company’s first advertising agency and making metalwoods every bit as much a focus as the company’s legendary iron business. There’s also a more recent collaboration with two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson to raise funds for Phoenix Children’s Hospital, leading to the development of the Bubba Watson and Ping Golf Motion Analysis Lab. State-of-the-art equipment is used to measure real 3D motion, force and muscular activity to develop personalized care plans for children with orthopedic and neurological conditions, among many other significant initiatives that bear his fingerprints.

“To lead today requires unbelievable research in every category, and I promise we won’t stop,” said Solheim. “Much of our success is directly related to our relationships with the PGA professionals who have represented and helped promote our products for more than 60 years. Early on, my father, Karsten, recognized that the PGA’s role and expertise would have a big influence in custom fitting our clubs to help golfers play better, and enjoy the game more. To be recognized by the PGA is especially meaningful and one of the biggest highlights of my career.”