Uihlein Finds Redemption at the Walker Cup
By David Shefter, USGA
ARDMORE, PA (September 13, 2009)--If Morgan Hoffmann ever wants to try out at linebacker on Oklahoma State’s football team, he won’t get a second look from teammate Peter Uihlein.
As Hoffmann exited Merion Golf Club’s 17th green of his singles match late Sunday afternoon, he learned the news that Uihlein, his good friend and fellow Cowboy, had notched the deciding point for the USA with a 3-and-1 win over England’s Stiggy Hodgson at the 42nd Walker Cup Match.
That’s when an exuberant and excited 20-year-old Hoffmann practically tackled the giddy Uihlein, also a 20-year-old sophomore at OSU.
Not that the Orlando, Fla., resident minded the gesture. Posting a perfect 4-0 record and registering the decisive point in the USA’s third consecutive victory (16½-9½) over Great Britain and Ireland in the biennial competition put the final exclamation point on a dream weekend.
“It’s awesome,” said Uihlein. “It’s so cool.”
It was easy to see the youthful and unabashed exuberance on Uihlein’s face. The wide smile said it all.
"It's definitely the biggest moment of my golf career," he added.
A few weeks ago, some raised eyebrows when the USGA’s International Team Selection Committee, along with input from captain George "Buddy" Marucci, named him to the USA team along with Cameron Tringale. Some felt other golfers had performed better over the summer and deserved to be one of the final two picks for the 10-man squad.
Consider that Uihlein had fallen so deep into the golfer abyss that OSU head coach Mike McGraw sent him to an National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) tournament in Oklahoma City in April to get his confidence restored. Uihlein intimated at this year’s U.S. Amateur that it shocked him, but he didn’t disagree with McGraw.
Rather than sulk at the demotion, Uihlein used it as motivational fuel. He won the tournament, earning a spot in the team’s next tournament at Texas A&M, where he finished eighth.
The good results didn’t end there. Uihlein followed it up with a ninth-place showing at the Big 12 Conference Championship and then he was the runner-up to teammate Kevin Tway at the NCAA South Central Regional, which earned him a trip to the NCAA Championship at Inverness in Toledo, Ohio, where OSU was bounced by Georgia in the first round of team match play after winning the stroke-play portion of the event.
From there, Uihlein enjoyed a solid summer, which culminated with a quarterfinal run at last month’s U.S. Amateur at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla.
“He’s a fighter,” said Rickie Fowler, who played two years at OSU and was a fellow USA Walker Cup member, also going 4-0 this weekend to conclude his amateur career. “He played our first tournament last year and he struggled through the fall and the winter and the first part of the spring. He was pretty far behind the eight-ball to the point where some guys might quit.
“[But] he’s not going to give up. He won the New Year’s Invitational over Christmas break, which showed there was something there. He hits the ball a mile. He putts and chips the ball awesome. He can hit a 3-iron to the moon and he’s a great person on top of that. I was stoked he got the pick. I knew he was going to play well. Maybe not 4-0 well. He came out and made a statement and it’s awesome to see him play well.”
In some ways, Uihlein’s journey and Walker Cup experience mirrors that of another so-called controversial pick in 2007: Jonathan Moore. Like Uihlein, Moore struggled mightily as a freshman at Oklahoma State before fighting through the trials and tribulations to win the 2006 NCAA Division I individual title. A year later, he was named to the Walker Cup team for the Match at Royal County Down despite struggling that summer leading up to the competition.
Not only did Moore go 2-0-1, he delivered the shot of the competition, a 4-iron from 252 yards at the par-5 closing hole to 3 feet for a winning eagle to secure the Cup for the Americans.
Two years later, Uihlein found himself in the same position, only this time the celebration took place just off the par-3 17th green with Fowler, Hoffmann, Marucci, family and friends.
Even several minutes after knocking a lob-wedge recovery shot to 4 feet to close out Hodgson, Uihlein couldn’t wipe the joy from his face.
“Golf is a humbling game,” said Uihlein. “You go through ups and downs just like life. If that’s the most adversity I’ll ever face, I’ll be all right.”
Right from the opening flag ceremony, everything fell into place for Uihlein, starting with Saturday morning foursomes (alternate shot) with 31-year-old Nathan Smith. It seemed his only blemish, if it can be called a blemish, occurred on his first holes when he shook from nerves. At the 18th hole, Uihlein drained an 18-foot par putt for a 1-up win over Gavin Dear and Matt Haines. He called that putt one of his best memories from the weekend.
It continued that afternoon with a 2-and-1 triumph over Tommy Fleetwood.
Marucci loved the Smith-Uihlein pairing so much that he kept them together for Sunday foursomes, where they rolled to a 5-and-4 victory over Chris Paisley and Dale Whitnell. The confidence and the sizzling game, especially the hot putter, carried into afternoon singles against Hodgson, GB&I’s top player.
“Once I got my speed down, I figured them out,” said Uihlein of Merion’s challenging green complexes.
When the weekend was over, the OSU triumvirate of Uihlein, Fowler and Hoffman had accounted for more points (10½) than GB&I’s entire team total (9½).
So as he left the hallowed grounds of Merion where Ben Hogan completed his own comeback from an automobile accident to win the 1950 U.S. Open and Bob Jones finished off his “Grand Slam” in 1930, Uihlein was ready to take on his second year of collegiate golf with an abundance of confidence and good memories.
“We’ve got a tournament that we leave Wednesday for,” said Uihlein, “so I have to get right back into it. It will probably take awhile for [the Walker Cup experience] to actually sit in. It’s been a good week. I’ve had a lot of special moments that I will remember.”