Andy Ogletree (Chris Keane/USGA)
PINEHURST, N.C. – Andy Ogletree’s blood pressure doesn’t fluctuate much. It’s a running joke among his Georgia Tech teammates in Atlanta.
Ogletree showed that over and over again at Pinehurst No. 2 throughout the course of a long U.S. Amateur week. His ability to remain calmly committed, and do it without thinking about results, ultimately put the Havemeyer Trophy in his hands. It put a lot of other things in his future, too. Not the least of which is a Walker Cup start next month.
And in another eight months? Well, Ogletree, as the reigning U.S. Amateur champion, will have a tee time for the first two rounds of the Masters with the defending champion Tiger Woods.
“His life changed today,” Andy’s father Jim said Sunday afternoon on the 17th green, where Andy’s match against John Augenstein ended.
Augenstein, as a top-40 player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking and a well-known match-play buzzsaw, looked good on paper when surveying the day’s championship match-up. By comparison, Ogletree was only ranked 120th in the world and the highest line on his resume was a win at the Monroe Invitational in June.
Ogletree was 4 down after five holes, a run during which Augenstein made three consecutive birdies from Nos. 3-5. Ogletree kept playing his game, relying on pure iron play to keep himself in it. The mood changed when he made a 30-footer for birdie from off the 18th green in the morning match, then birdied his opening hole in the afternoon. Suddenly, he was only 1 down.
An analyst made the comment during Saturday’s semifinals that Augenstein was the only player with credentials in the final match. Ogletree’s phone was blowing up after winning his semifinal match against Cohen Trolio, but it didn’t filter that out.
“That’s kind of motivated me and got me ready to go tomorrow,” he said on Saturday night.
true that Augenstein was the only man in the final match with a passport. And now, that will be an issue for Ogletree to sort out in the wake of his Walker Cup pick. The matches are in Hoylake, England in another three weeks. (Cue a USGA expedite here.)
As a student-athlete at Georgia Tech, Ogletree has resided in Atlanta for the past three years. That’s a stark contrast from his hometown of Little Rock, Miss., where there aren’t enough people for the town to even be incorporated and the post office is in a trailer. Andy talks about Little Rock’s landmark gas station, Chesney’s, that serves a seafood buffet. Get the fried catfish.
Technically, Jim Ogletree says, the family does business in nearby Union, which has a population of just more than 2,000 That’s where Andy went to high school and where Jim owns and operates a Piggly Wiggly grocery store.
Andy bagged groceries there as a kid – for a paycheck, not for punishment.
“He goes and digs a little harder when he does that,” Jim said. “I don’t think he wants to do the grocery business, and he sure ain’t going to have to now, probably.”
The perks that come with small-town living are many, however. Jim put in some homemade practice facilities on the Ogletree property – a practice green and bunker complete with a streetlight overhead – and it helped shape Andy's game.
“As he got older and older and older, we had to keep backing up to have a shot at it,” Jim said. Full shots maxed out at 150 yards.
The family went through two greens mowers maintaining that green, even though it doesn’t look like much these days. Afterall, Andy doesn’t live at home anymore.
As a kid, Andy knew better than to throw a temper tantrum on the golf course. He knew his dad would pull him right off. Perhaps that contributed to his low-key demeanor as an adult. He still remembers the time he broke an iron out of anger. He’d never seen his dad so mad.
“He made me work to buy a new shaft and I had to play a tournament without a 56-degree and all that kind of stuff,” he said.
When Heppler first spotted Andy Ogletree, it was in 2013 at one of the first AJGA events of the summer. He arrived at the event in Ringgold, Ga., – where every kid teed off on the first tee – and set up camp.
“This little old red head comes up, he’s got the whole horn-rimmed glasses and he looks like he’s smart and a nerd,” Heppler said. “I’m going, there’s my guy. He pipes it down the middle, he won the tournament and I’ve been all-in ever since.”
Andy was a sophomore in high school then. Since arriving on campus, and picking up with 5:45 a.m. daily strength workouts, he’s gained more than 30 pounds.
“So I look like a different human,” he said.
He plays like one too, and that’s also a Heppler story. Earlier this year, the two shared a pizza and Heppler expressed his thought that Ogletree had Tour potential. He just really needed to work on his short game.
Ogletree committed to a gate drill to work on his alignment plus eye-line and speed drills, and now his game has depth. That part shone on Sunday, particularly on the closing holes. It ultimately won him the championship.
There was a time when Heppler wondered if Ogletree's upbringing would hinder his growth.
"I think it hurt him at the start because he couldn’t see himself being great," Heppler said. But that's all in the past now.
As for Augenstein, the No. 1 goal for the week was to earn himself a Walker Cup pick. He did that, even if he didn’t walk away with the Havemeyer trophy. He also put a future U.S. teammate through the ringer.
“He holed out really, really well,” Augenstein said of Ogletree. “He made a lot of those 50-50 putts, the seven- to 10 footers, and that's something that I didn't do very well on the second 18. That's kind of the deciding factor in our match coming down the stretch was he made a lot of those nice seven , eight footers, and I didn't.”
Those kinds of pressure situations – and how he handled himself during them – was Ogletree’s major takeaway.
“I felt like the more nervous I got, the better I hit it. For some people that takes a lot to learn, and it just kind of came with it today.”