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Originally published Wednesday, March 14, 2012 at 10:02 PM

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Ex-Husky James Lepp steps into new line of hip golf shoes

Former NCAA golf champion from Washington turns a hobby into Kikkor, a booming shoe business.

Seattle Times staff

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The thought crossed James Lepp's mind long before he won the 2005 NCAA championship as a Washington Husky.

"I always wondered, why are we playing in dress shoes?" Lepp said.

A few years ago, with his pro golfing career stuck in neutral and his passion for playing waning, he was caddying for a friend on the Nationwide Tour. He found himself wishing he could wear his street shoes.

"Why don't golf shoes look like that and feel like that?" he thought to himself. "There needs to be a shoe like that."

Armed with his idea and a business degree, Lepp built a business making hip golf shoes.

Kikkor Golf is not your father's golf shoe company.

"It started as a hobby, messing with some designs on my computer," he said. "Eventually, I had so much time and investment in it, I decided to just do it."

Matt Thurmond, the UW men's golf coach, said his players wear Kikkor shoes.

"Not just on the golf course, but they wear them to class too," Thurmond said. "They look that good, and they're comfortable too."

Lepp's company is about four years old. He does about half of his business online, and he says he's as passionate about generating sales as he was about his golf game.

"I run my own ship, and that is the same as golf as well," Lepp says.

Kikkor Golf was the name sponsor of the Husky Invitational golf tournament last fall. Thurmond sounds like a proud father when talking about that event.

"To see it come full circle with him, using the business degree he got at Washington and then having him sponsor our tournament was really something special," Thurmond said.

Lepp, a two-time winner on the Canadian Tour, doesn't have much time to play anymore, but says he's playing well.

He has been competing in the local Canadian Tour event the past couple of years, and enjoyed it. It wasn't like that in 2008, when he quit playing full-time on that tour. His hard work wasn't translating into lower scores.

"The more I practiced, the worse I got," he said. "I didn't enjoy golf that much."

Lepp doesn't rule out returning. "I know I have the wherewithal to do it, it's just where my mind is at," Lepp said. "It's a matter of recharging my passion batteries. I just felt so defeated. I didn't feel the need or the want to continue. But I could see myself getting that passion back."

Thurmond is counting on it.

"James Lepp is going to win a major championship in golf," Thurmond said. "I honestly believe that. He is a golfing genius, but he's a genius in a lot of things."

Scott Hanson: 206-464-2943 or shanson@seattletimes.com

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