The PGA Tour has Tiger Woods and the S&P 500 has Curt Culver. The head of Wisconsin-based MGIC Investment Corp. was recently ranked by Golf Digest as the CEO with the lowest handicap. The fifty-three-year-old says he maintains his 2.4 index without practicing. Here, Culver talks about how golf helped him get to the top and why, unless you're the King, you'd better pay up if you lose to him on the course.
How does it feel to be the top CEO golfer?
Okay, I guess. It means everyone knows my handicap.
Do you get any razzing about your game?
Are you kidding?I've heard from customers all over.
How good are you?
I'm consistent. I never practice. I just walk to the first tee and swing away. I've never had a lesson, and I'm not really long—250 or 260 off the tee. But when I put it all together, it works.
When did you pick up the game?
I was about five years old. My parents enjoyed playing. Rather than getting a baby-sitter, they'd take me with them. I won my first junior club championship when I was twelve.
Have you won other club championships since?
I think I've won twenty-three or twenty-four championships at eight different clubs.
You sound like a natural competitor.
I am. I play better when there's competition. I grew up an athlete in Wisconsin. I played football, basketball and baseball. I still compete with a lot of the same guys I've known my whole life. We play most of our golf at a public course here [in Milwaukee] where we like to gamble and have a beer.
Your main job is running MGIC Investment, the nation's largest private mortgage insurance company. Did golf play a role in getting to the top?
I can't tell you how important golf has been to my career. I've only worked at two companies—MGIC and, before that, a competitor. The chairman of the first company where I worked was an avid player. He'd seen me in some local tournaments when I was still in school. He loved to compete, so he liked to go out and play with me. I got to know him real well, and that led to a job. Golf has also helped me get to know customers and senior management.
Did golf help you get to MGIC?
In a way. I was in Milwaukee playing in the state open. MGIC was interested in me because I worked for a competitor. I decided to go over and interview in my golf clothes. I wanted to do it on my terms. It was a three-day tournament, and by the end they had offered me a job.
What is it about golf that you think teaches you about people?
Golf requires discipline in all areas. You can't just drive the ball well. You have to do everything well. More than that, golf requires integrity and honor. Golf teaches you how to live your life, because you are out there on your own and you can do whatever you like and choose to have integrity or to go the wrong way. I've played with some people and learned that I wouldn't want to work with them because of the liberties they took with the rules or the way they didn't pay their bets when they lost.I hear sometimes you like it when people don't pay up.You must be talking about the time that I beat Arnold Palmer. I had won a qualifying tournament to play the front nine of a course Palmer had designed outside of Milwaukee. He suggested a Nassau to loosen us up. I shot two-under. He shot one-under and lost ten bucks. He didn't have a dime on him. I'm happy he still owes it to me. Since the rankings came out, Jerry Jurgensen, CEO of Nationwide [see Executive File, March/April 2005], has lowered his handicap to 1.9. Would you care to go head-to-head?His company is based in Columbus [Ohio], where I do a lot of business. I hope we hook up.
Scorecard: Curt Culver
Best Score 65 (5 under) at Lake Wisconsin CC, WI
Memberships Bay Colony GC, FL; Blue Mound G&CC, WI; Chenequa CC, WI; Morningstar GC, WI; Riverbend GC, WI; Sand Hills GC, NE
Favorite courses Ballybunion, Pebble Beach
equipment TaylorMade R580 driver; Miura CB irons (custom forged)