If the European Tour player qualifies for the June 18-21 U.S. Open, he would have a big edge in experience at the University Place course.
The last time we saw Peter Uihlein around here, he couldn’t wait to leave.
He has nothing against Washington. In fact, he has great reason to love this state. It’s just that he had some friends waiting for him in Stillwater, Okla., ready to help him celebrate his 21st birthday.
And some birthday it was for the Oklahoma State star. He began that day by playing 34 holes of golf, winning the 2010 U.S. Amateur golf championship at Chambers Bay in University Place in a match-play final against Stanford star David Chung. So there was more than just a milestone birthday to celebrate on that Aug. 29.
“It was really a special week,” said Uihlein, now a member of the European Tour who missed the cut in the PGA Tour event in Puerto Rico last week. “I played some really good golf in tough conditions.”
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Uihlein’s goal is to return to Chambers Bay for the U.S. Open, June 18-21. If he can qualify for the event, he would have a big experience edge at the course.
He played seven rounds in seven days at Chambers Bay in the 2010 U.S. Amateur — with all eyes focused on him. He was the No. 1 amateur in the world and had won twice in Washington in the previous year, taking the 2009 Ping/GolfWeek Invitational at Gold Mountain’s Olympic Course in Bremerton against a star-studded field, and the prestigious Sahalee Players Championship in Sammamish two months before the Amateur.
“I came into the event playing well, and I thought Chambers Bay set up well for me,” Uihlein said.
After being one of 64 (out of 312) to advance to match play, among the players Uihlein had to beat were Cheng-Tsung Pan, now a senior at Washington and the No. 1 college player in the country; Morgan Hoffman, his college teammate who now is on the PGA Tour; and young phenom Patrick Cantlay.
What Uihlein learned and embraced about Chambers Bay is that it’s not a typical American course. He embraced links golf and the different ways a hole can be played, particularly around the green.
“I really liked being able to get creative,” he said. “You had to play the slopes to get close to the hole. You couldn’t hit at the flags to get close.”
Shots kept on the ground from near the green could be just as effective as those hit in the air. Those who embraced the chance to be creative were the ones who succeeded.
“You had to be long off the tee, and then creative around the greens,” he said.
Uihlein turned pro in December 2011, midway through his senior season at Oklahoma State, but unlike most U.S. college players, he elected to start his career in Europe.
“I had always wanted to see the world, and the PGA Tour was always going to be there,” Uihlein said. “I did some traveling as an amateur and always loved the different places I saw. I really saw this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity while I was young to do what you love.”
The European Tour has events in several countries and continents. In 2015, Uihlein has played in Malaysia, Thailand, South Africa, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Dubai and Puerto Rico. He hasn’t kept count of how many countries he has visited, but it’s a lot.
“Name a country, and I have probably been there,” said Uihlein, whose father, Wally, is the CEO of the Acushnet Company, which operates Titleist and FootJoy among other golf lines.
He has enjoyed playing on the European Tour so much that he does not know when he will try to gain PGA Tour status, and said he probably will maintain his European Tour status if he does join the PGA Tour.
Uihlein was on a roll in 2013, getting his first win on the European Tour and finishing second twice. He moved as high as No. 60 in the world rankings and ended the year at No. 63. He was the first American to be named that Tour’s Rookie of the Year.
Last year did not go as well, and he has dropped to 166th in the world rankings. But he has been playing well the past few months, and was tied for fourth in a PGA Tour event in November.
“It’s more of a marathon and not a sprint,” Uihlein said of his career. “It’s how long you are there. For me, that’s what matters. Winning is fun and great, but I would rather have a long, successful and healthy career than a short one with a few wins. I want to be doing this for 25 years. “
One of his big goals this year is to get another chance to win at Chambers Bay in June’s U.S. Open. He plans to try to qualify May 25 in England.
“It would be awesome to go back,” he said. “It would be really special to go back and play a U.S. Open on the same course that I won the Amateur.”
Uihlein said he has never heard of a tournament that will do what’s planned at the U.S. Open: playing the first and last holes as a par-4 one day, then as a par-5 the next, or playing the par-3 as a considerably downhill shot one day, then uphill the next.
“I think it’s going to be really cool, but I am intrigued by what the other players are going to say, particularly the guys who have been doing this for 20 years. But I think it will be a lot of fun, and I definitely would love to get back.”
|Better times ahead|
|Ten participants in the 2010 U.S. Amateur who have gone on to have success:|
|Name||U.S. Amateur finish||Comment|
|Jordan Spieth||T-155th in qualifying||1 PGA tour win, 20 top 10s; ranked 10th in world|
|Patrick Reed||Lost in round of 32||4 wins on PGA tour, No. 16 in world|
|Brooks Koepka||T-118th in qualifying||Wins on European and PGA Tours; No. 18 in world|
|Russell Henley||T-138th in qualifying||2 wins on PGA Tour. No. 56 in world|
|Harris English||Lost in round of 16||2 PGA Tour wins, No. 60 in world|
|Derek Ernst||T-118th in qualifying||1 win on PGA Tour|
|Nick Taylor||Lost in round of 64||Former UW star has 1 PGA Tour win|
|Cheng-Tsung Pan||Lost in round of 64||Now a UW senior, is top-ranked college player|
|Morgan Hoffman||Lost in quarterfinals||Eight top-25s on PGA Tour last year|
|Justin Thomas||Lost in round of 32||Just 21, 3 top 10s on PGA Tour in 2015|