'Amateur' Standing Attorney etches Hall of Fame career . . . on the golf course

By Paul Janczewski

Legal News

No matter what John Lindholm did for a living, his accomplishments on the golf course would be impressive. But because he is an attorney, Lindholm certainly can be considered as the most successful amateur golfer in Michigan with a law practice.

"There are other golfing attorneys, but I don't think they've had the successes I have, so I guess I'm unique in that regard," said Lindholm, 64, a Grand Blanc tax attorney.

And he has the credentials to back it up. Lindholm won the Michigan Amateur Championship in 1997 at age 51, when most duffers are content to knock it around with buddies on the local municipal course. Name a Flint-area tournament, and Lindholm probably has its trophy in his showcase. And he's won back-to-back Michigan Senior Amateurs, in 2004-05.

Lindholm has been elected to not only the Greater Flint Sports Hall of Fame, but also the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame in 2007. He's been featured in "Golf Week Magazine," played in a number of national tournaments, played in the British Senior Amateur, and was once called to action to caddy for Fred Funk in the now-defunct Buick Open.

With all those golf highlights, it's a wonder how Lindholm found the time to become a partner in a successful law firm.

Lindholm was born in Flint but grew up in Grand Blanc, graduating from high school in 1963. He played baseball and basketball, but got hooked on golf at age 10 when his father joined Atlas Valley Golf Club. Lindholm took his first lesson, and golf "kind of resonated with me," he said. Goodbye baseball, hello golf.

He continued playing through high school and enjoyed the solitude the game offered.

"It's just you, whether you win, lose, hit a good shot or bad, it's just yourself," he said. "You're outdoors, and I like watching the white ball go up in the blue sky."

Lindholm began working summers at the course, but early on, learned a valuable lesson about losing your temper on the course. He caught hell from his father after throwing a club in anger.

"My Dad said if I ever did that again I would get kicked off the golf course," he said.

During high school, Lindholm met his future wife, Diane. She had always wanted to become an attorney, but Lindholm was leaning toward a career in finance and economics. He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1967, and was accepted at a finance school, but put that off and received a commission in the Navy. For the next three years, Lindholm was a line officer on a ship, serving several stints in Vietnam. Once his ship was decommissioned, he had no real job, so Lindholm continued his golfing by playing for the naval station team.

He and Diane were married in 1970, and Lindholm decided to become an attorney "when my wife told me I wanted to become one." The couple entered Wayne State University Law School together later that year.

"She convinced me that we should try to do it together," he said.

Lindholm was drawn to tax law, and while stationed in San Diego, he had worked part-time doing income tax preparation on nights and weekends.

"And in law school, I had some tax classes, and I really enjoyed those, so that just opened the door," he said.

After graduating from law school in 1973, Lindholm attended New York University, receiving his tax law degree the following year. While at NYU, Lindholm said he "learned everything, top to bottom, front to back" about tax law, the Internal Revenue Code, procedure, income tax, estate tax, "you name it."

He returned to Flint and joined a law firm in 1974, becoming a partner a few years later. He and his wife raised two children; Stephen, 35, an orthopedic surgeon in New Jersey, and Sarah, 32, who lives in Colorado, She was a competitive golfer for U-M, practiced law briefly, and now is starting her own company.

Lindholm played in a few local golf tournaments when time allowed.

"When you're starting out as an associate in a law firm, you don't have a lot of time," he said.

Plus, he had children to raise. By the mid 1980s, Lindholm's golf had improved to the point where he was competing quite well against golfers who were playing in state tournaments. He won the Genesee All-Star Golf Classic six times over a period of eight or nine years, and soon began competing in state tournaments.

In 1997, Lindholm won the Michigan Amateur Championship, and called it one of greatest accomplishments as a golfer. To win, a player must first qualify by making the cut following two days of playing 18 holes. After that, it goes to match play, where a golfer could play as many as 36 holes three days in a row.

"It's as much a physical grind as it is a mental grind to be able to keep your head together," he said.

By then, Lindholm was 51, and remains the second-oldest player to win the tournament.

"My last two matches were against kids 18 and 19 years old, and they hit it a lot farther than I did," he said.

Lindholm said driving distance is important. But so is experience.

"There are certain things you learn over the years of how to play," he said. "Some of the younger players know how to hit it, but they don't always know how to play."

The 99th Michigan Amateur Championship was held recently at Oakhurst Golf & Country Club in Clarkston, and Lindholm was in the field - again - as the oldest player.

"I'd rather be on the other end of it, as the youngest player in the field," he said.

When asked what his chances were of winning, Lindholm was brutally honest.

"Not good," he said. "It was one thing to accomplish it at age 51, but to do it at almost age 65, it's a real grind. And as we get older, I don't have the drive that I had at even 51 or 60. I've had so much success in golf that, if I don't win another tournament, it isn't gonna matter. I go there, I have fun. I want to win but after a couple days of intense golf, it's really enjoyable to get back in the office and do my lawyer stuff."

Unfortunately, Lindholm's prediction was spot-on. He failed to qualify for medal play after completing two rounds, despite expert caddying by his daughter, Sarah. Before the first round, she said it's fun to spend time with her Dad on the course "and give him a few pointers."

She said caddying for the oldest golfer in the field is flattering for both of them because he "can still play so well."

Lindholm said he has no regrets about remaining an amateur, saying there is a big difference playing the game for a paycheck.

"Traveling around, site to site, living in hotel rooms, that's just not my cup of tea," he said. "I really enjoy my law practice."

To remain competitive at his age, Lindholm said he exercises religiously in the winter, and practices different parts of the game a few weeks before tournaments.

"But you get very philosophical with the game after a while, and try to do the best you can with it," he said.

Besides winning the state amateur tournament in 1997, Lindholm counts competing in the U.S. Senior Open that same year another career highlight. Lindholm was one of the first amateurs from the Flint area to make the cut there, finishing second among the non-professionals. Before the tournament, held at Olympia Fields near Chicago, he played a practice round with Gary Player and two other pros on tour.

"There was a big crowd around the first tee, and I get there and see that the foursome will include three very famous players - and myself," he said.

But Lindholm said the majority of pros are just regular people.

"At first, you're intimidated, but then you find out they're just like anybody else and that's how they make their living," he said. "They have the same questions about the golf swing that everybody has, why it's there one day and gone the next."

While Lindholm finished in the top 50, he found the week physically draining.

"I was so tired," he said. "It was hot, and a very hilly course, and I was just coming off the Michigan Amateur, so I lost a lot of weight. At the end, my clothes were just hanging off me, and I thought this is a hard way to make a living and I'd really just like to go back to my office."

Lindholm was elected to the Flint Area Sports Hall of Fame. Not too many golfers make that cut. But a larger recognition came in 2007 when he was selected for the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame.

"That is a recognition by the other golf people in the state that what I've done over the years, in a variety of things, was worthy of recognition," he said. "It's nice to be recognized for what you've accomplished. A lot of people would say, 'You're a great golfer,' but when you've been inducted into the Hall of Fame, it's a validation of that."

Lindholm said the ability to focus and concentrate helps in golf, and in law.

"It's an advantage in both those endeavors," he said. "And I'll keep doing both of those for as long as I can."

And he credited his wife for being supportive over the years, which has led to golf-centric vacations over the years to some incredibly beautiful places. "It's been a part of our family life for a long time," he said.

Photos by Paul Janczewski

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In his law office, John Lindholm is flanked by trophies from Genesee County All Star Classics.

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Lindholm practices his putting at the Oakhurst Golf & Country Club before the recent Michigan Amateur Championship.

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Lindholm's daughter, Sarah, served as his caddy during the Michigan Amateur Championship.

Published: Tue, Jul 6, 2010

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