Mike Kemper as an assistant coach at Indiana University.
Mike Kemper as an assistant coach at Indiana University.
By MARK CAMPBELL

Courier Sports Editor

mcampbell@madisoncourier.com

With 24 sectional titles and two individual state champions, boys golf is one of the true success stories of Madison Consolidated High School sports and now one of the most storied Cubs is being inducted into the Indiana High School Golf Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Michael Kemper, a three-time sectional champion, two-time regional champ, 1990 state runner-up and 1991 state champion, will enter the hall at a ceremony Friday night in Indianapolis.

With credentials like Kemper’s — he also went on to play on scholarship at Indiana University — the real puzzle is why the honor didn’t come sooner.

“I think that my high school resume stacks up pretty well, but you don’t take those things for granted. Any time you get the call to go to the hall of the fame you’re extremely honored. I feel very fortunate.” Kemper said.

Kemper has long thought that his credentials as a high school player warranted induction, but the call never came and one of his best friends — former IU teammate Jody Roudenbush, a previous HOF inductee — offered plenty of good natured ribbing on the subject.

“He liked to give me grief that he was in and I was not, but that will all change Friday,” Kemper laughed but then turned more serious. “I look at some of the names that I’m going in with and I’m incredibly humbled. It’s names that I idolized as a kid and to be mentioned in the same breath as some of them is incredibly humbling.”

Kemper was the top player on the last four of Madison’s first five sectional championship teams — consecutive wins under former Madison coach Barry Cooper. It established a Madison culture of sectional and individual domination that elevated the Cubs to sectional favorite status since the late 1980s.

His state runner-up finish in 1990 came when the winner, Andy Johnson of Columbus North, drained a 30-foot putt on the final hole to edge Kemper by one stroke.

“I barely qualified my junior year to get out of regional. I had to win a playoff hole to get in. I was struggling,” Kemper recalled. “I wasn’t putting well for sectional or regional — the playoff was the most nerve-racking golf that I’ve ever played because I did not think I was going to be able to qualify — but then the week between my regional and the state, I figured something out and I started playing great.”

That turnaround and the disappointment of falling on a 30-footer fueled Kemper’s competitive fires to come back in 1991 and win it all by four strokes.

Kemper parlayed his brilliant high school career into a golf scholarship at Indiana University where he played for Hall of Fame coach Sam Carmichael. And although his college career was less distinguished than high school, he was still a contributor on a couple of strong Big Ten teams, a team captain for two years and an Academic All American as a senior.

“I’m very happy. I wish my college career could have paralleled my high school career because I was very lucky to have a really good high school career,” Kemper said. “I had a great college career but not near my high school career for sure.

“I can’t thank Sam Carmichael enough,” Kemper said. “Sam could have given up on me numerous times when I was a freshman and sophomore but he never did. He gave me shot after shot after shot and kept working with me and working with me and finally the summer between my sophomore and junior year it finally began to click and I did have a really good junior and senior year. I was fortunate enough to do some really cool things … I will forever be grateful that he didn’t give up on me.”

Kemper’s Hall of Fame nomination came from former Madison athletic director Jim Lee, a long-time supporter and former official at the IHSAA Sectional. Kemper said knowing he had Lee’s endorsement makes it even more humbling.

“Mr. Lee sent me a really long and very heartfelt email telling me that he just didn’t feel like he could make the trip up for the induction. But what he sent me was really heartfelt and a very, very thoughtful note. It brought tears to my eyes, both to myself and my parents,” Kemper said. “He’s been a huge part of my success and somebody that I obviously plan to mention on Friday night in my speech. He’s someone who has meant a lot to myself and my family as I grew up in Madison. We’ve always had a good bond whether it was high school basketball or golf or even baseball as I was growing up. He’s just been very influential and a great person.”

Kemper said he couldn’t have gotten where he’s at without mentors like Lee and Carmichael but that the real stars are his parents, Gary and Susie, for the way they supported and encouraged him on this journey.

“I have to give a lot of credit to my dad. I think I got a lot of his and my mothers’ athletic abilities and he instilled in me at an early age a competitive streak,” Mike Kemper said. “He was a bit hard on me growing up as a kid. But he was 100 percent behind me because he wanted me to be the best and be the best athlete that I could.

“At the time it was a little bit hard to take, but it wasn’t overbearing. He was just pretty strict. He was regimented. He got me to spend a lot of time on my craft and that kind of stuck with me,” Kemper added. “I was just fortunate enough to have a father — and mother — two people who cared so much about seeing me be successful. That was for sure the number one thing that they provided. They gave me every opportunity to be successful and for that I will be forever indebted to them. There was not any tournament or anything that I wanted or needed to be better, that they would not do. They gave me every opportunity to be successful and I feel like when I was a kid I took advantage of that and that got me to where I could get the scholarship to IU and got me noticed when I was in high school. Everything that I have and everything that I was able to become in golf, I owe to my mom and dad.”

Kemper said golf is a costly sport with the equipment, fees and travel and he was lucky to have parents willing and able to fund him but even more fortunate to have parents who could and would invest the time and effort needed for him to play competitive golf.

“It’s an expensive sport but we were fortunate that my dad had the means to provide the financial backing for me but the time that both of my parents had to put in to get me to these places for tournaments all around the country to get noticed by college coaches was a huge deal.”

Kemper majored in criminal justice in college thinking he might follow his father’s footsteps into law but after graduation he went into the golf industry for several years as both a teaching pro at the Martinsville and Otter Creek golf clubs and as an assistant coach at Indiana University. He eventually took a job in dental equipment sales where he discovered golf provided a foundation for lucrative sales as he used his golf skills to make friends and close deals both on and off the course.

Kemper said it was an acquaintance at IU who introduced him to sales right at a time when he was getting a little burned out with teaching and coaching after six years as a golf professional. He took the job and has never looked back.

“He offered me a job and I took the job and 20 years later the rest is history ... I’ve done so much on the golf course as far as closing deals and taking my doctors out and trying to get business from them. It’s been a vehicle for me to make money,” Kemper said.

Kemper continues to play competitive tournament golf as a amateur and since golf is a lifelong sport, he doesn’t see that changing any time soon.

“I play quite a bit. I’m fortunate I have a sales job in medical supplies and I do a lot of my business on the golf course and I play a bunch of national tournaments,” he said.

Kemper still has good relationships with a couple of his college teammates and they travel and play tournaments together and have a couple of wins to their credit.

While everything was pretty much stroke play and match play in college, Kemper now leans toward four-ball play. It’s a game that feeds his competitive fires, while also leaning heavily on teamwork and camaraderie.

“I’m now playing against 20 and 25 year olds and the older I get the nicer it is to have a partner to play with for his sake and my sake both,” said Kemper, now 46 and a father of two girls. “Every shot counts when I play by myself but it’s nice to play where if you have a bad hole you just pick it up and let your partner finish out. It’s a totally different mindset. My partner makes a lot of birdies and bogeys and doubles and I make a lot of pars so we complement each other well.”

Kemper’s best non-competitive round ever is still a blistering 11-under 61 at Sunrise Golf Course in his early 20s but his best competitive round was as recent as 2008 when he carded a third round 68 in the State Amateur at Wolf Run Golf Club in Zionsville.

And while Kemper hopes to keep playing golf for many more years, he knows it’s also the time to start giving back like his parents did before him. His oldest daughter, 9-year-old Madison, is taking her first lessons this summer.

“My 9-year-old is just taking lessons this summer so she’s showing a smattering of interest. Golf’s such a lifelong sport that I sure hope they play golf. Even if they don’t play at a high level I hope they play,” Kemper said of his children.“The things you can do — like going out and playing with your buddies on Saturdays or getting together with my friends from college and going on golfing trips — what else can you do like that at age 46? You’re not likely to go out and play pickup basketball. It’s a sport you can enjoy for life and it’s really helped me in my business. I’m really fortunate that my parents chose and pushed me toward a sport that I could play for life.”

This year’s Hall of Fame banquet will be at the Golf Club of Indiana in Indianapolis. Kemper will be inducted along with Jamie Broce, a state champion as a freshman in 1992 and state runner-up as a senior in 1995 from Ben Davis who went on to play for Ball State. Broce is the current head coach at IUPUI and one of the top amateurs in the nation.