SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – It’s been a big month for Austin Eckroat.
Not only is the Oklahoma State senior and recent Walker Cupper competing for another NCAA Championship this week at Grayhawk Golf Club while also locking up a Korn Ferry Tour card via PGA Tour University on Monday evening, he is also officially off the market.
The 22-year-old Eckroat got engaged to girlfriend Sally Merrill last week at Oklahoma State’s home club, Karsten Creek. Eckroat and Merrill have known each other since they were 18 months old. They shared babysitters and stayed friends even when Merrill’s family moved from Edmond, Oklahoma, down to Oklahoma City. Merrill, who attends Oklahoma, and the Cowboys star started dating about two years ago.
“Luckily, we found our ways back to each other and now we’re engaged,” Eckroat said. “It’s crazy how that happens, isn’t it?”
Merrill and her family are part of a large contingent supporting Eckroat in the Arizona desert, a group that also includes Eckroat’s parents, Steve and Natalie, his sister, Taylor, and nearly a half-dozen aunts and uncles. They all wanted to be present for Eckroat’s final college tournament.
Eckroat announced earlier this month that he would be turning pro following nationals, capping a decorated career in Stillwater that’s included two victories, 15 top-10s and what will likely be four All-America honors. He also was a part of the Cowboys’ 2018 NCAA title-winning team.
“Oklahoma State has shaped and molded me into a man that I believe, and hopefully others believe, would make my parents proud,” Eckroat wrote in his farewell post.
Steve Eckroat is certainly that. His family has had Oklahoma State football season tickets since he was 3 years old. Like his son, Steve was a skilled junior player with dreams of playing golf for the Cowboys, but unlike his son, Steve wasn’t good enough. He spent one year at Oklahoma State as a student before transferring to Oklahoma City to play golf.
Later on, Steve served as executive director of the Oklahoma Golf Association, where he spent time with Alan Bratton, then Oklahoma State’s associate coach and now men’s head coach. Bratton and Steve Eckroat traveled to St. Louis for the 2009 U.S. State Team Championship.
“I remember him telling me about his 10-year-old son and showing me golf swings,” Bratton said. “From that point, I’ve been watching Austin progress. He’s been on a wonderful and just steady progression ever since.”
Austin, who grew up wearing Swinging Pete logos to every tournament, won a high school state championship at Karsten Creek as a freshman, and shortly after he committed to the Cowboys. Not shockingly, the kid with Oklahoma State football jerseys and posters on his bedroom walls didn’t seriously consider any other programs.
“He always wanted to go to Oklahoma State because that was the only school he knew,” Steve Eckroat said. “As he got older, he realized that you have to be really good to play there, so it just worked out that he kept getting better and better.”
Added Bratton: “We want the best from Oklahoma every year, and Austin was that guy. … You want a kid to want to be there, and he always wanted to be at Oklahoma State.”
His love for the school was a big reason why Austin didn’t turn pro last summer. Another incentive to staying in school was PGA Tour University, which began this season and grants status on the Korn Ferry Tour and the Tour’s other developmental tours to the top seniors at the end of the NCAA Championship. Eckroat debuted at third in the PGA Tour U rankings and never dropped out of the top five all season.
He is joined by Florida State’s John Pak, Georgia’s Davis Thompson, Arizona State’s Kevin Yu and Oklahoma’s Garett Reband as the top five players who will be exempt for at least eight events on the Korn Ferry Tour this summer and also receive a ticket into final stage of KFT Q-School later this year.
Eckroat will make his pro debut next week at the BMW Charity Pro-Am in Greer, South Carolina. Three others from the top five, except for Pak, will join Eckroat there. Pak is instead playing the PGA Tour's Palmetto Championship at Congaree.
While Eckroat called it “one of the most stressful years” of his career, his father said it was great practice for when his son turns pro and has several different points standings to navigate. And now that he’s successfully graduated from PGA Tour U, Austin Eckroat doesn’t have to worry about Monday qualifiers, and he’s also freed up more when he receives what will likely be a few PGA Tour exemptions. Getting to the KFT Finals is his main goal, but he wouldn’t mind doing what his former teammate Matthew Wolff did two summers ago: win and earn his Tour card that way.
The best part is he’ll have a companion to begin this new journey.
“It’s a lonely life out there, so them going out as a team made sense,” Steve Eckroat said. “He and Sally make a lot of sense.”