Shipping Can Wait: Interview with Micah Burke

 In International Shipping

Micah BurkeFor those of you who don’t know, Universal Cargo’s CEO Devin Burke and President Shirley Burke have a son who is a pro golfer. Micah Burke, who put off joining the family shipping business to pursue golfing, has his own business called Perfect ProAms that runs pro am tournaments, which pair professional and amateur golfers for competition play.

Micah Burke Happy FaceWhile today’s blog is a bit of a break from our usual international shipping material, it does provide insight into the family of the freight forwarders you’ve trusted your cargo with for over 30 years.

The following is an interview I conducted with Micah Burke about the tournaments he runs, but it also contains the down-low on Devin Burke’s photography skills, whether or not our CEO can swing a golf club, what it’s like to be a professional golfer, and more.

ME: Tell me about the ProAm event. This is the 2nd annual one you just had, right?

MICAH: Not really the exact event I ran last year. Last year was my first event that I ever ran. Definitely a lot of kinks I needed to work out. Last year was good. It just wasn’t good enough where I could get a repeat event. So I made some changes just to get people excited about the event again. I changed the format of it. I changed the structure of it too. But still kept the integrity of it where I wanted to have one professional, one amateur pair up as a team and play together.

Perfect ProAmThere are not a lot of events like that out there. I wanted to brand my event as that event where you get that one-on-one experience. So what it does for me, it makes my event uniquely competitive in a sense where most programs are for three amateurs, one pro, and it just kind of takes that competitive edge out of it because everybody in the group is on the same team. But when you have teams of two playing against each other…

So my event, this one, I try to make really competitive by making it match play, where, say, me and you are a team… We play against a bunch of other teams that are one pro and one am. And every nine holes you switch to a different team that you play. So over the span of three days, you play five nine-hole matches and you’re playing against five different teams. So as opposed to playing a tournament with the same people every time every round, you’re playing different people, and you’re trying to beat them. So it’s different in that sense, and also I try to bring in a lot of young, talented professionals to play in my events on the girl and guy’s side just to try to give it that more youthful energy. And make it fun and competitive at the same time. That’s the balance I try to have in my events. That combination tries to get people to come back.

ME: What’s the overall goal of your events?

MICAH: It’s kind of two part. The main part, I started this company to create events that help pros that were in my same situation. I played professional for seven years. I found it very difficult to play in events that helped me raise money. I thought it’d be really cool if I create an event where you could invite someone that maybe has always been supportive or maybe that was interested in supporting my career.

pro am teamInstead of me asking them for money, it’s asking them to play in a tournament with me. So that’s what this event is. That one-on-one experience also doubles as an opportunity for you as a professional to invite someone that could potentially help you out with a career.

And then what I do in the actual event to double down on that cause is to take all the money from the amateurs—the pros play for free—so I take all of the money from the amateurs and I create an event that has money and prizes and stuff that’s all free for the professional. So for a change, you get to play an event that is not expensive—it’s no cost to them—and they can win stuff to help them with their career because playing out there on the road, it’s up to a thousand bucks per tournament. And you put in your lodging, you put in your car rental, you put in your food. You know, it’s fifteen hundred dollars a tournament. It’s really hard to afford that week in, week out. So I’m trying to set up tournaments that, you know, are cheaper.

pro am teamI’ve had a couple instances where a couple pros have played with someone and through that experience, that relationship growing through my event, they were able to get a bigger check down the road. One guy last year, he got like a $20,000 check to play the summer. And I try to put this event right before the summer because I know that’s where there’s all the bulk of tournaments for pros. So one kid got a big chunk of money to be able to play the rest of the summer. Another one happened here this year.

I also incorporate the First Tee of Pheonix, which is a junior golf program. It’s the local chapter here in Phoenix. I try to raise money for them in a variety of different ways throughout the tournament. So I was able to raise a couple grand for them.

ME: How was Universal Cargo Involved?

MICAH: The way UC was a part of it, they sponsored my awards party. So they provided the dinner buffet, a couple drinks here and there, the setup of it, and then I donated five hundred of their contribution to the First Tee.

Range BallsI titled them as the awards party sponsor. Just, like, I put signage up. But their contribution helps out not only getting money to the First Tee, providing the dinner, but also providing money into the purse that all the pros play for. It’s just they feel the overall cause of the event too.

Every sponsorship I get, I take half of that, a portion of that, and put it toward the First Tee too. This is such a new thing for me that I haven’t really tapped into the sponsorship world yet. Still working with my parents’ company and then one other company right now but hoping to grow and keep going and raise more money for local charity and do more positive things for pros in the area.

ME: Sounds like it’s a win-win kind of event. It’s good for the pros and good for anyone who wants to get in and play with the pros.

MICAH: Exactly. It’s definitely a mix kind of thing. I’m looking for amateurs who want that competitiveness. A lot of amateurs that don’t know how to play golf are a little insecure about their game or are maybe a little intimidated by playing with the pro and competing. But there’s a ton of golfers out there that have invested all this time—I’m talking about amateurs—that are going into retired life, and there’s a lot of them that want a taste of that.

Follow throughThe way it works is, you know, there’s a lot of pros in Arizona. A ton of pros. It’s kind of one of the hubs. That and Florida is one of the golf hubs in the US because of the winter its so incredible there. I know that there’s a lot of amateurs out there who know pros. My tournament only really works if there’s that relationship already there where the amateur knows a pro and they know they’re chasing their dream as a professional. You get a lot of support verbally, just not a lot of action behind that. So that’s what this tournament is. That’s what I’m trying to create. It’s going to take a little bit of time for me to work out the kinks of making it actually  really clean, clean event. But the essence of it is just that. That relationship and growing that relationship through my tournament. The pro showing them how good they are, how they compete. And the am getting to see that first hand. And, you know, hopefully they can learn something from them.

I think it’s a pretty rare thing that you get to see someone in their element competing. And that’s how we all work, especially in golf, is you just learn by being kind of in it, in the mix of it. It’s really hard to be on the driving range and learn how to play golf. But if you actually see someone doing it, I think it’s actually a pretty unique learning experience too.

Q: How did you get into golf to begin with?

MICAH: I went with my dad a couple times on the driving range. It was right before high school. Like right when my dad started going. This was right around when Tiger Woods was going off and doing his thing. Perfect Pro AmSo everybody was kind of going on the driving range. So my dad and my brother went together—My brother was actually pretty good. Picked it up pretty easily. But naturally, me being the younger brother, I just wanted to beat him. So I started playing too and tagging along.

And then I went to high school. So I had a little bit of history hitting balls, and then they started a golf team right as I went to high school. And then they said you get out of school at 1:30 if you play on the golf team, so I signed up for that. And then the rest is kind of history. I just picked it up really quick in high school.

ME: So I think I picked up in there you saying that Devin, your dad, is not very good at golf.

MICAH: <Laughing.> Oh, he’s awful. He’s awful! He doesn’t get better. He just stays really bad. I try to help him but I think his grandpa taught him back when he was a kid. He engraved some, like, I don’t know, some bad stuff going on there. It just doesn’t seem like he can make the changes. He’s just a high 2o, 30 handicapper.

ME: So he should stick to international shipping is what you’re saying.

MICAH: Yes. He should stay away from golf. I don’t think his body can hold up either. His knees are bad. It’s pretty funny watching him. He has a good time, but… He actually played in my tournament last year. He didn’t play in this one. He actually took another role. He was a photographer for the event.

ME: Yeah, I saw that. He took some pictures. Looks like he did a pretty good job with that.

Perfect Pro AmMICAH: Oh my God, he did great. It was tough last year because I hired a professional, but it was just awful. Like the guy was just kind of a dork and he just didn’t really understand golf. But my dad’s had some experience photographing me in tournaments, and he really likes that. You know, the action shots—which are really hard to take—and he took a lot of really good ones. That was cool.

ME: So I guess the call of international shipping never made it to you, huh?

MICAH: You know, I never… I’m not going to rule it out, you know. There seems to be still… Both my mom and dad are working pretty good as a team doing that. My brother’s in there. It’s just I had to try this.

Perfect Pro AmI knew if I were to transition my life to international shipping that that’s something I’d have to commit to long-term. So before I did that… Golf, it was just such a powerful force in my life from high school and going into college and going into it professionally. I feel like it just gave me so much.

So I had this idea to pursue it. I still want to see it through to see if it works. I really feel like there’s a need for it. Golf doesn’t have to be that much of an elitist sport. If you create events like this, and you create a tradition like this, and you create a culture with these tournaments, you give golfers a chance that may have never had a chance. And who knows?

Who knows what kind of golfers can come out of that if I’m able just to start it and get some people around me that believe in the same thing as me. You know, it’s fun. It’s been a lot of work, but it’s been fun starting this. You know, and someday I may circle back and be a part of my parents’ business, but I love golf too much to leave it cold turkey.

ME: So who won the tournament this year?

MICAH: It was these two guys. One guy plays professionals on the mini tours in Arizona and I think in the Midwest during the summer. Really good player. I’ve actually known him for a while. That was the pro.

The amateur is an ex-pro who recently went to amateur after he started his own business. He has this golf product. He invented this really cool golf invention. So that’s his business. He doesn’t play anymore. But it’s actually kind of cool how they won.

So the way the whole tournament worked out is I ran a three day tournament and at the end, six teams came out as advancing to the shoot-out. And the shoot-out is a sudden death playoff. So I made this tournament so I could have this climax of a moment where all these six teams are all playing together and at the end of these three holes only one team remains.

Perfect Pro Am Golf Tournament WinnersAnd when these six teams played, everybody else that didn’t make it stayed and watched. Now I have a crowd of 30 people, 40 people watching these six teams as they battle it out for three holes and one remains. So it was really cool and I’m still going through the videos that my dad took of the shoot-out, but that’s going to be really cool. And it was really fun. Everybody was just watching and it was really intense but really fun. That was really cool. So that was the team that won. They won in the end. Kind of a little nail-biter. I gave them these big wrestling belts as trophies. So they were cool. I started to put all that stuff on my website.

ME: What was the purse?

MICAH: The winner got three grand. Winning team got three grand. On top of that, the pro in that group gets paid Q School. This is something I put in all my events because key school is the biggest event of the year for a professional. It happens usually in the fall of every year. It’s about forty-five hundred bucks. So it’s really expensive, God knows why, I have no idea. It’s forty-five hundred bucks and a lot of times pros don’t have the money to pay that because they didn’t do as well as they thought in the summer and they ran out of money.

Mel at Perfect Pro AmThat’s the prize I always want to give out because it goes with the purpose of my event. And that’s to empower these young up-and-coming tour professionals. So the guy won it, so now he can play in the summer knowing no matter how he plays, he’s got that Q School lined up for the end of the year. And he’s just preparing for that.

Q School is the way to get to the next level the fastest. It’s kind of like the NBA Draft, but you’re not getting drafted, you have to play your way through. So it’s like your big moment to get to the next level. Yeah, nobody picking, you gotta earn it.

ME: So the way it basically works for a pro golfer is you pay your way into tournaments, trying to make it into the paying ranks at the end of it, right?

MICAH: Each single tournament, yeah, there’s, like, I’ll give you an example. I played in the Canadian Tour. 156 players, and of those 156 players, 55 make the cut. So 100 people are not making any money. Of that 55, first place would get about twenty grand; the last place would get about three hundred bucks. So you gotta make it in there, and then for you to make your money back on the week, you gotta take probably, like, 15th.

Perfect Pro AmSo that’s kind of how the money breakdown is for a tournament. And that’s how it goes. According to my friend, who likes to use the no deposit bonus – it’s like gambling. You put your money in, you hopefully, your game stacks up and you’re able to make a profit.

And then the Q School’s different. The Q School is Qualifying School. So let’s say 10,ooo people are entering this Q School, only 50 guys at the very end through a series of tournaments, Qualifying Tournaments, only about 60 people actually get to the next level. So you gotta really play well all the way through. It’s different stages that you play. There’s 1st stage, 2nd stage, 3rd stage, final stage, and you gotta play all the way through to the very end.

ME: Before we end, we should do a little bit about growing up with Devin as your dad. How many puns do you know?

MICAH: <Through laughter> He knows them all for me. He’s got so many, it’s great. I don’t know how he fits them all in there. I told him for Halloween, he should be the Pun-isher, and all he does is speak in puns.

Thank you to Micah for sharing your time.

To learn more about Micah’s Perfect ProAm events, check out his website:


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