Born: June 6, 1918, in Spokane, Washington
Behind Karsten Solheim is Louise Solheim, the woman who convinced him to turn his golf club business into his career and then worked by his side to help turn it into one of the most successful companies in the history of the game. Yet outside of PING so little is known about Louise that she, unlike her husband, can walk around golf tournaments without being recognized. Louise´s obscurity is no coincidence.
A deeply religious woman, Louise vowed the day she was married to put the desires of her husband and her family ahead of her own. Because of that commitment, she set aside her aspiration to earn a college degree or to establish her own career. All of this she has done willingly and joyfully and without the need for recognition. Says Louise, «I want it this way. I most definitely want it this way.»
Born on June 6, 1918, in Spokane, Washington, Louise was the only child of John Louis Crozier and his wife, Nellie. Nellie died of scarlet fever a month after giving birth to her daughter, and Louis never remarried. When Louise was 11 months old, her father found it difficult to care for her on his own and sent her live with his sister in Austwell, Texas, a small town north of Corpus Christi.
It was a good arrangement for Louise and provided her with the happiest of childhoods. The family, which had four daughters, the youngest of whom was two years older the Louise, lived on a farm on the San Antonio Bay. Her cousins taught her how to read at such a young age that she skipped the first grade. From then on, she was a voracious reader and an excellent student. Her best memories of Texas, however, are of fishing, crabbing and walking along the shore.
It was always her father´s intent that she return to Washington, and that day came when she was ten. It was a difficult move for Louise because she was particularly close to her uncle and had grown up thinking of him as her father. Their parting was so difficult that he couldn´t go to the train station to bid her farewell. "I remember getting on the train and holding my head very high because there was a tear rolling down my face, and I didn´t want anyone to see it", says Louise.
When Louise returned to Washington, she was enrolled in the sixth grade. It was a difficult year because the school was bigger, the curriculum was different and she still had her broad Texas accent. But slowly Louise adjusted to her new life in the Pacific Northwest with her father. She devoted much of her time to her studies. Math and science came naturally to Louise and became two of her strongest subjects.
At 16, Louise was graduated from Renton High School in Renton, Washington, a suburb of Seattle, with honors. She entered Wilson´s Business College because her father thought she was too young to attend the University of Washington, even though she had passed the entrance exams. Louise never did attend the university because a year later she met Karsten, a shoemaker, at church.
Two weeks later they were engaged. Six months later on June 20, 1936 they were married. She was 18. He was 24. The Solheims remained in Seattle for five years and had the first three of their four children: Louis, Sandra and Allan. The family then made a series of moves to Fresno, California, to San Diego and back to Fresno. Their son John was born in San Diego. Louise, who was already a mother of three by the time she was 22, devoted the first 15 years of her marriage to raising the children.
It wasn´t until 1950, when the family moved to Fresno a second time and the kids were all in school that Louise began taking classes at Fresno State University. But a year into her course work, Karsten was transferred back to San Diego. This marked the first in another series of moves for the family, a series of jobs for Louise and the end of her pursuit for a college degree.
In San Diego, Louise put her knowledge of math and science to work. At Convair (Now General Dynamics), she worked as an assistant to the engineers who were conducting tests on airplanes in the wind tunnels. There were no computers at the time, so Louise would compute calculations from the test and plot the results on graphs.
|In 1953, Karsten accepted a position with General Electric (GE) in Ithaca, New York. It marked the beginning of what would be a 14 - year relationship with the company. The Solheims lived on the Cornell University campus in Ithaca, which is where Louise found her next job. She worked as an assistant to a professor in the engineering department, computing calculations for research being completed for various companies. A year later, Karsten was transferred to Syracuse.|
In Syracuse, Louise worked as an assistant statistician to economists at the Eastern Milk Producers Dairy Cooperative, her favorite job of all. There she had the opportunity to sit in on government hearings concerning the dairy industry and traveled to such cities as New York and Boston, sometimes alone. That job came to an end in 1956, when Karsten was transferred back to California, this time to Palo Alto.
Happy to be back in California, Louise soon began working for Lockheed in Sunnyvale as a flight test analyst. A year and a half into the job, her father was diagnosed with cancer. She brought her father down to California and left her job so that they could spend his final months together.
After he died, Louise accepted a job with Ampex in Redwood City. As a staff assistant to the manager of manufacturing, Louise had the opportunity to work with budgets and had her first taste of manufacturing. Little did she know that this job would prepare her for her work at PING.
It was now 1961. By this time, Karsten was spending more and more of his free time in the garage making putters. He was beginning to sell some of them, too. So when Karsten was transferred to Phoenix that year, they looked for a house with a big garage. With more room to work, the business began to grow. By night, Karsten made putters.
By day, Louise managed the business. She kept the books, mailed putters, took orders, handled correspondence and took care of any errands that needed to be done. This continued until 1966. Then one day, Karsten came home from work and announced that GE wanted to transfer him to Oklahoma City. They didn´t want to go, so Karsten began looking for another position with GE other than Oklahoma City.
This confused Louise because she knew the putter business was lucrative enough to replace Karsten´s job. Already, the company´s headquarters has been moved out of the family garage and into a 2,200 square-foot building in northwest Phoenix. Many people, including Karsten´s father, didn´t think Karsten should sever his relationship with GE. But with only one child left in college, Louise remained convinced that this was the thing to do.
Shortly thereafter, Karsten left GE and incorporated PING. That same year, Julius Boros won the Phoenix Open using a Ping putter, making him the first player to win a PGA Tour event using Karsten´s invention. Sales began to skyrocket and continued as the company diversified. In 1969, Karsten began making the Karsten I irons. The Karsten II, III and IV models followed soon after. In 1979, he introduced the Ping Eye iron. In 1982, the first model of the Ping Eye 2 was introduced.
There has never been a time when Karsten and Louise were not traveling around the country to many PGA Tour events or around the world to such countries as Australia, Japan, Norway or South Africa to promote their products. Their efforts have, to say the least, paid off. Today, PING employs almost 1,500 employees, is the world´s leading manufacturer of putters and is recognized as one of the nation´s leading exporters.
When Louise is not traveling or working, her time is devoted to her four children, all of whom work for PING, her ten grandchildren and her eleven great-grandchildren. She is also involved in numerous organizations, including Bethany Bible Church in Phoenix, of which she is a member. The Solheims rarely spend their summers at their home at Moon Valley Country Club in Phoenix, but in Europe and at their summer homes in Puget Sound and Flagstaff.
Louise has been and continues to be an integral part of the daily operations of PING. Many decisions need to be made and ideas and concerns addressed. Louise has the ability to recognize those that need Karsten´s attention and those that she can manage for him.
But now that she is 78, Louise admits that she is ready to decrease her involvement in the company. Says Louise, "If someone wants to talk, I want to have the time to listen to them." Louise has made her desires known to Karsten, but he is not yet ready to slow down.
He tells me, "We´ve got to do this while we still can", she says. And Louise agrees with him. But as always, her motivations for continuing on are more for Karsten than for herself. "I am his eyes and ears you might say. I do some of his reading for him, and I try to alert him to things that need his attention,» says Louise, who adds, "I feel like those are ways I can help". Those who know Louise Solheim know she wouldn´t want it any other way.