Think about it. A 57-year-old man, largely unknown in senior golf circles, came out of nowhere to win six big amateur tournaments in 2019, two years after he became eligible to complete in senior competitions. Six wins, like a lightning bolt.
Say hello to Ken Kinkopf, now 58. Those unfamiliar with Kinkopf will know him soon enough, as he has a knack for doggedly maneuvering his way around golf courses and coming out on top.
Oh, yes, he will be back for more in 2020. Just for fun, let’s draw several comparisons between Kinkopf and two of the greatest – Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. OK, it’s a stretch, but stick with me. Much like Nicklaus and Woods, Kinkopf is a hound for victory and plays his best in the biggest events. His six titles in 2019 came in six different states – the Golfweek Player of the Year Classic (Florida), the Society of Seniors Senior Masters (California), the Society of Seniors Jack Hesler Tournament (Kentucky), the North & South Senior Amateur (North Carolina), the Ohio Senior Amateur and the Society of Seniors-Golfweek Challenge (Utah).
Kinkopf almost made it seven titles at November’s Society of Seniors Founders Cup in Las Vegas, posting a 144 total to finish third behind the Fink-and-Funk combination of Steven Fink (142) and Robert Funk (143).
Three of Kinkopf’s six victories in 2019 came in tournaments sponsored or co-sponsored by the Society of Seniors, the leading senior amateur golf organization in the United States. What’s more, in three of the six triumphs, the indefatigable Kinkopf drained 20- to 30-foot birdie putts on the final hole, the kind of drama that would bring a thousand-watt smile to Tiger Woods’ face. Those putts were to win or to catapult Kinkopf into a playoff for first place. His playoff record for the year was a perfect 2-for-2, again, reminiscent of Jack and Tiger, who had a knack for knockout blows in overtime.
Sure, nobody at Time magazine is hounding Kinkopf for a cover shoot but he’s made quite a name for himself in the intimate circle of senior golf. But even most of his admirers don’t know that Kinkopf has endured three back surgeries (Woods has four). Kinkopf even had a spinal-fusion procedure similar to one performed on Woods. And there have been plenty of disappointments, too. One of the pre-tournament favorites in the 2019 U.S. Senior Amateur, Kinkopf withdrew from the national championship with spinal inflammation that caused severe pain through the impact zone of his golf swing.
“I really wanted (the Senior Masters),” Kinkopf admitted. “There is something about the name Masters.”
Kinkopf, like Woods, is one tough guy. He has a dynamic, can-do personality, which was on display in July 2019 when Kinkopf overcame back pain to win the weather-shortened Jack Hesler Tournament in Bowling Green, Ky., by eight shots over 36 holes. “I just had it all going that week,” Kinkopf said. “It seemed like an easy victory, but we all know golf is never easy.”
Other than his absence from the U.S. Senior Amateur, it was a Ken Kinkopf kind of year. Just look at his triumph in the Senior Masters. The significance of the tournament name is not lost on anyone, particularly Kinkopf. In the same week the Masters was being contested in Augusta, Ga., the Senior Masters was being played at the Indian Wells (Calif.) Golf Resort.
“I really wanted that one,” Kinkopf admitted. “There is something about the name Masters.”
On the 54th and last hole of regulation play, Kinkopf sank a 30-foot putt from the fringe to tie Larry Nunez of Austin, Texas. Kinkopf quickly vanquished his rival with a two-putt par on the first extra hole.
“Tough as nails,” Nunez said of Kinkopf. “He had to make that long putt to tie, and he did it. That’s exactly what golf is all about.”
The North & South Senior Amateur at Pinehurst was another event with a famous resort name attached to it. “Pinehurst is special,” Kinkopf said. “It’s a tournament that everybody wants to win. It means a lot to me, especially since my name is etched on the walls of Pinehurst forever. This is golf history we’re talking about here.”
Kinkopf, paying homage to the Ohio-bred Nicklaus, also expressed a deep affection for the Ohio Senior Amateur. He even lives on the 15th hole at Muirfield Village, the Nicklaus-designed course in Dublin, Ohio.
Splitting his practice and playing time between Kinsale Golf and Fitness Club in Powell, Ohio, and Bear Lakes Country Club in West Palm Beach, Fla., Kinkopf clearly loves golf. He usually plays five days a week. Ken and his wife, Carole, have three sons – Mike, Matt and Jon. Kinkopf admits it is Carole who holds this golf tribe together. Mike, who has played as a professional, often helps his father with his golf swing.
Kinkopf is on the fast track to becoming one of the best senior amateurs in the world, and senior amateur golf is in good hands as it heads into 2020. He plays many a round with his 83-year-old father-in-law, Charles Cliff (who regularly shoots his age). His mother-in-law, Starr Cliff, plays as well.
“So many of the senior amateurs I meet are incredible golfers,” Kinkopf reflected. “It’s an honor just to play with them.”
In December 2017, he was paired with Brady Exber of Las Vegas in the Dixie Senior Amateur. “Brady is one of the best senior amateurs in the world and I was lucky to be paired with him,” Kinkopf said. “His golf accomplishments, his swing, the way he played the game and his demeanor on and off the course were all so impressive. He inspired me to work to take my game to a new level. If it wasn’t for that pairing two years ago I don’t think I would have accomplished the things I did (in 2019).”
He also was motivated by Rick Woulfe, the Florida State Golf Association’s eight-time senior player of the year. “Rick has a wonderful combination of power and finesse,” Kinkopf observed.
Kinkopf, currently sixth among seniors in the World Amateur Golf Ranking and second in the 2019 Amateurgolf.com senior player of the year points standings behind Doug Hanzel, always tries to learn from other senior amateurs. “Hanzel and senior amateurs like Gene Elliott, Bob Royak, Keith Decker, Chip Lutz, Jack Hall and Paul Simson are players I am trying to emulate,” Kinkopf said. “They are always in contention. Their consistency really stands out to me. I wouldn’t consider myself in that class of player just yet, but my results (in 2019) tell me that if I keep working on my game I’m not far off.”
Kinkopf has taken humility to a new level, and he is truly a gentleman golfer.
“My father, Eugene, introduced me to the game at age 12 and I could never thank him enough for that,” Kinkopf said. “But it was my mother, Lorraine, who had the wisdom to tell me that I was going to Ohio State University to get a degree and build a career and not to play golf. Most important I met my wife, Carole, at Ohio State and earned undergraduate degrees in finance and accounting, followed up with an MBA.”
Kinkopf is founder and president of the Laserflex Corp., a precision metal fabrication business. He sold Laserflex about three years ago and is now semi-retired. Thus he is able to spend six months a year in Ohio and six months in Florida.
An avid runner, Kinkopf has completed eight marathons, his favorite being the New York City Marathon. “To me, running is a form of therapy, just like golf,” he said. “It’s good for your mental health and good for your physical health.”
He’s 58 going on 38, a grand endorsement for golf, the game of a lifetime. Kinkopf doesn’t mind being a poster boy for senior amateurs. In fact, he relishes it. His eyesight is focused on 2020. There’s a U.S. Senior Amateur title out there. And a British Senior Amateur. Kinkopf will be ready for both.
Ken Kinkopf at Pinehurst after winning the North & South Senior Amateur. Photo: Courtesy of Ken Kinkopf
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