Uihlein's remarkable journey on European Tour

By Doug FergusonMay 21, 2013, 10:20 pm

The quotation from the proud father was a version of Ralph Waldo Emerson's famous words, ''Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.''

The path of Peter Uihlein took him inside a cage below the surface of the Indian Ocean, where a Great White Shark with jaws wide open approached while closing in on a tuna. The jagged, triangular teeth gnashed at the tuna's head against the cage, and the former U.S. Amateur champion could see black eyes roll over to white.

''That was the coolest,'' Uihlein said. ''When I knew I was going to South Africa, that's the thing I've always wanted to do. We were in Mossel Bay. I was told it was a good cage dive, so we did it. We were out there for five hours. They chum up the water, and there were six or seven of them. It was incredible.''

Uihlein spoke on his way from Gatwick to Wentworth, a familiar path for the best on the European Tour.

The 23-year-old out of Oklahoma State earned a spot in the BMW PGA Championship with his two-shot victory Sunday in the Madeira Islands Open in Portugal, his first win since he turned pro in December 2011 and set off on a course where few Americans venture.

It started with the Gujarat Kensville Challenge in India.

In the last 18 months, he has been to Korea and Kazakhstan, Finland and France, the Czech Republic and Copenhagen.

Uihlein tried Q-School on the PGA Tour as an amateur and didn't get out of the second stage, leaving him no status on any tour. Most young Americans, especially with his pedigree as a U.S. Amateur champion and two-time Walker Cup player, would try to make the most out of sponsor exemptions on the PGA Tour, or even try to work their way up through the Web.com Tour.

Looking at golf through a wide lens, and with the advice of those who see golf on a global landscape, Uihlein headed to Europe and beyond.

His father is Wally Uihlein, chief executive of Acushnet, which makes Titleist golf equipment. His agent is Chubby Chandler of International Sports Management, whose stable began with Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke and now includes a couple of South African stars in Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel. He began working with Butch Harmon and his son, Claude Harmon III.

There were times when travel, failures and solitude could have made him question what he was doing so far from home.

''Based on the guys I have around me – Butch, Chubs, my dad – they've been doing this a long, long time,'' Uihlein said. ''If they say it's the right thing to do, who am I to question what they say? I had no doubts.''

Frustrations?

''Name me one golfer that doesn't get frustrated,'' he said with a laugh.

He says he is not the least bit envious of Jordan Spieth, the 19-year-old from Texas who started out trying to make it through sponsor exemptions. Spieth was closing in on Web.com Tour status when he tied for second in the Puerto Rico Open and tied for seventh in the Tampa Bay Championship, which earned him unlimited exemptions on the PGA Tour. He now has locked up his card for 2014.

Two years ago, Bud Cauley left Alabama and earned his card without ever going to Q-school.

''Those guys played well with the opportunity, and that's what it's about,'' Uihlein said. ''To do what Spieth did, you have to be a great player, and you have to be ready to come out and play well in a few events. They both played great. But for every one or two of those guys, there are 20 who don't pull that off.''

Before there was a Hogan Tour – now called the Web.com Tour – it made more sense for players without a PGA Tour card to travel the world in search of a game. That's what Payne Stewart did. Corey Pavin spent his first year out of UCLA on the European Tour and won the German Open by beating Seve Ballesteros.

These days, the options range from the Web.com Tour, the eGolf Tour in North Carolina, the Hooters Tour in the South. Uihlein chose to travel to obscure outposts in golf, and even in some down times, there have been few regrets.

''It helps you grow up as a player and a person,'' he said. ''There are so many different variables every week. It's all about becoming a more well-rounded player, and not a one-dimensional player. You might hear someone say, 'Hilton Head sets up well for them.' I don't want that stereotype.''

Uihlein started slowly. He made only one cut in the five European Tour events he played – a tie for 57th in the Avantha Masters in India – but at least secured status on the Challenge Tour, which is Europe's version of the minor leagues.

It sounds exotic traveling the world, yet there were times when his confidence took a beating, just like any golfer. He withdrew from the Hassan Trophy after opening with an 83 and didn't play for nine weeks. Part of that time was spent with Harmon in Las Vegas.

Harmon said the problems were his driving and confidence, and one was easier to fix than the other.

''He's worked his butt off,'' Harmon said. ''The kid always has been able to play, he just lost his way a little bit. I've talked to Wally. We thought the European Tour was the way to go. Young kids get spoiled over here. You get over there, you play in bad conditions on different courses, and you appreciate it more. He's doing the right thing, and I'm real happy for him.''

With his win in Portugal, Uihlein now has a full European Tour card, which can only help get him to where he eventually wants to be, back home in America.

Even now, Uihlein is in no hurry. He is seeing the world. He is learning. He takes nothing for granted.

''If you're OK with being a little lonely out there, it's definitely the route,'' Uihlein said. ''It's a different route for an American, but I think you'll see it more and more.''

Uihlein started this year by playing seven straight weeks that took him from India to South Africa to Kenya and back to South Africa for two weeks, and then to Puerto Rico and Florida before taking a five-week break. He shares a home in South Florida with Brooks Koepka, who plays the Challenge Tour in Europe, and Matt Broome, a childhood friend who is playing the PGA Tour Latinoamerica.

''We have a house rule that whoever wins a tournament has to buy a jet ski,'' Uihlein said. ''Brooks won a Challenge Tour event a few weeks ago. So now we're going to have two jet skis at the house when I get home.''

And then he'll be back on the road again, leaving a trail.

Getty Images

Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.



Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.



Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.



What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

@kharms27 on Instagram

Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

Getty Images

McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.  

@radiosarks on Twitter

Height of irony: Phil putts in front of 'rules' sign

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 1:36 pm

A picture is worth 1,000 words and potentially two strokes for playing a moving ball under Rule 14-5 but not Rule 1-2.

Phil Mickelson has been having some fun during his Open prep at Carnoustie hitting flop shots over human beings, but the irony of this photo below is too obvious to go over anyone's head.

Mickelson also tried tapping down fescue two weeks ago at The Greenbrier, incurring another two-shot penalty.

And so we're left to wonder about what Phil asked himself back at Shinnecock Hills: "The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’”