The future is here.
In this age of fearless, long-bombing, birdie-producing 20-somethings, who very well could dominate the next era of the PGA Tour, one youngster has commanded the attention of his peers for almost a decade.
Meet Peter Uihlein.
The 20-year-old Oklahoma State junior hardly needs an introduction, mind you.
He commandeered the consciousness of junior golf long before arriving this week as the favorite for the 110th U.S. Amateur starting today at Chambers Bay Golf Links and The Home Course.
No amateur tournament can escape mention of his name or the specter of his presence.
He’s won big tournaments. He’s starred on a Walker Cup team. And last spring, he almost won the 2010 NCAA Division I men’s title, losing to Illinois’ Scott Langley.
“He’s the easy name to pick,” said Tacoma’s Andrew Yun, now a Stanford golfer. “His whole life, he’s been on top.”
The name – Uihlein – has been on top of the sport for years. Wally Uihlein, Peter’s father, is the chairman of the Acushnet Company, which oversees manufacturing giants FootJoy and Titleist.
The senior Uihlein is widely considered the most influential man in golf, at least from the business side.
“Whether it’s a positive or negative, it is what it is – and something I deal with,” Peter Uihlein said. “I’ve never viewed my father as the most powerful man in golf, even if he really is. But he has been the biggest influence, the hardest worker and the smartest guy I’ve met. He just happens to be who he is.”
If that privileged background leads folks to assume this next-generation Uihlein is the sport’s biggest spoiled brat, he knows it comes with the territory.
But to know him, to watch him rehearse myriad dynamic shots he can hit on a driving range, makes it easy to see the results that come from hard work.
In 2002, at the age of 13, Uihlein made a drastic decision – moving from his home near Boston to attend the IMG Academy’s Pendleton School to study year-round with renowned golf instructor David Leadbetter.
He quickly became the star pupil, earning American Junior Golf Association player of the year honors in 2005 and 2007.
But his creative shot-making style contrasts greatly from other mechanically cloned IMG Academy alums.
“He’s not just a guy who came from the academy with a honed swing,” said Ryan Herrington, a senior writer at Golf World magazine whose area of expertise is amateur golf. “I’ve seen him play enough.
“He’s played well at different kinds of courses. He has the bomber game, but depending on the situation, he can work his way around and shape shots.”
Uihlein echoed that sentiment: “The team joke at Oklahoma State is, if we’re playing a straight hole, I’m in trouble.”
That is why observers think his game is so well-suited this week for the links-style layout at Chambers Bay.
Early in the summer, Uihlein received an invitation to come out and play the Sahalee Players Championship – one of the West Coast’s premier amateur tournaments.
Never hearing back, Sahalee organizers contacted Uihlein in person, reminding him that this year’s championship would be held on the assisting U.S. Amateur venue at The Home Course.
A day later, the top-ranked American star sent confirmation he would play in it – which he ended up winning at 17-under-par 271, seven strokes better than runner-up Andrew Putnam of University Place.
He arrived in Tacoma a few days early to play two practice rounds at Chambers Bay over Fourth of July weekend.
“Chris (Ming), one of their caddies, gave me advice how to play it,” Uihlein said. “I wrote it all down.”
Two keys have stuck with the Cowboys’ star – embrace creativity and control your ball.
“It’s an immaculate golf course,” said Uihlein, a 2009 U.S. Amateur quarterfinalist. “There are different ways to play each hole, so it’s pretty hard. I had friends ask me (in July) what I thought about it, and I couldn’t find a good word to describe it. It’s tough. It’s hard.
“It’s nothing we’ve ever seen when it comes to American courses.”