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OSU athletic director Mike Holder repeatedly turned failure into opportunity

BY BRANDON CHATMON Staff Writer Published: June 25, 2011

— Failure is a word that immediately brings negative thoughts into the mind. Yet, failure has played a critical role in Oklahoma State's rise on the college football landscape.

Overcoming failures in golf helped to shape the fundraising approach of OSU athletic director Mike Holder, whose fundraising success has resulted in the Cowboy football program boasting facilities that rank among the nation's best.

Learning to deal with — and overcome — failure has been a staple of Holder's life since he was a standout golfer at OSU, earning Big Eight medalist honors in 1970.

“Even the greatest golfer in the game loses more than he wins,” Holder said. “The nature of golf is you hit a lot more bad shots than good shots. Failure is part of the game.”

And a part of fundraising.

Upon being named athletic director at OSU in 2005, Holder's first goal was to remove the obstacles that were keeping the Pokes' football program from consistently competing for championships, namely the lack of state-of-the-art facilities.

Money — and a lot of it — was needed.

Fortunately for OSU, Holder had the assets needed to make an immediate difference.

* * *

During his 32-year run as OSU's head golf coach, Mike Holder learned anything was possible. He took Cowboy golf from an athletic program with very limited assets to one of college golf's healthiest programs featuring Karsten Creek Golf Course, arguably the best collegiate golf course and facility in the nation.

Cowboy golf went from a budget of $27,000 in 1973 to a program with a $31 million surplus in 2005.

In the fall of 1973, Holder started the Cowboy Pro-Am in an effort to raise funds.

“That really fueled the rise of the golf program,” he said. “From where we had been, a good program, to trying to stand toe-to-toe with the nation's best on a yearly basis.”

During that time, the foundation of Holder's future fundraising efforts were laid.

“I learned organizing the program, meeting people, raising money, starting in small amounts then growing to larger amounts and networking,” Holder said.

Good friends Jerry Walsh, Boone Pickens and Sherman Smith attended that initial Cowboy Pro-Am in 1973. It was a day that changed the future of OSU athletics. Said Holder:

“That day in 1973, it didn't seem like it was a special day at all... but it was. A lot of big things happened after that day.”

Holder had made the decision to build Karsten Creek around that time, but there were several times his dreams of building the highly regarded golf course appeared to be in jeopardy.

As he worked to make his dreams come true, Holder got used to hearing the word “No.”

“I'd go to people multiple times and get the same answer,” Holder said.

Sherman Smith's eventual donation to build a hole on the course is the perfect example of Holder's persistence. The Cowboy AD was turned down at least 20 times by Smith but never stopped asking.

“I just would periodically go back in and ask the same question,” Holder said. “It was, ‘No you don't need the golf course, no I'm not going to give you the money, no it's not possible to do what you're talking about.' Or just no.”

That's where Holder's background as a golfer comes in.

“Maybe my background as a golfer helped me deal with the disappointment that goes along with raising money,” Holder said.

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Editor's Note: Our look at Mike Holder's impact on Oklahoma State football is the second in a four-part series on the four key men behind OSU's football program renaissance. Coming up the next two Sundays: alum and booster Boone Pickens; and former player and current head coach Mike Gundy. If you missed the first part, which focuses on former coach Les Miles, visit OSU football program's rise started with Les Miles


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