U.S. Amateur: Uihlein primed to defend title

By Christina Lance, USGA

ERIN, Wisc. (Aug. 18, 2011) -- Peter Uihlein claimed the 2010 U.S. Amateur Championship title on the day he turned 21. What happened over the next 300-plus days for the Oklahoma State University All-American has been a blur.

“I’ve never really been somebody that thinks too much about what I’ve done,” said Uihlein at U.S. Amateur Media Day conducted at Erin Hills on July 25, “but … I’ve done a lot in the last 12 months, and it’s all been because of the U.S. Amateur and winning the title.”

Going into the 2010 Amateur, Uihlein was already in the USGA record books after his perfect 4-0 performance at the 2009 Walker Cup Match at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., and helping the USA to a team victory at the 2010 Copa de las Americas in Argentina. He then took his first individual USGA title when he added his name to the coveted Havemeyer Trophy with a 4-and-2 victory over David Chung at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash.

That battle between two of the world’s best players set into motion a year to remember for the eastern Massachusetts native.

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By winning the U.S. Amateur, Uihlein received exemptions into the 2011 U.S. Open Championship and British Open as well as an invitation to the Masters Tournament. In July at the British Open, Uihlein survived brutal weather conditions at Royal St. George’s in Sandwich, England to make his first cut in three major-championship appearances. He also made the cut at the Transitions Championship and the AT&T National on the PGA Tour, and recently tied for ninth at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational in Columbus, Ohio, where fellow amateur Harris English won the title.

He also represented the USA at the 2010 World Amateur Team Championship, where he teamed with Chung and Scott Langley to finish third, five shots behind France in the weather-shortened competition.

While in Argentina for the World Amateur Team Championship, Uihlein received the 2010 Mark H. McCormack Medal, which is awarded to the leading amateur in the World Amateur Golf Ranking at the end of the amateur season. Earlier this year, Uihlein received the Ben Hogan Award as the nation’s best collegian.

Add victories at the 2010 Dixie Amateur, 2010 Fighting Illini Invitational, 2011 Aggie Invitational and 2011 Northeast Amateur, as well as a tie for third at the 2011 NCAA Division I National Championship, and you almost could not have scripted a better title defense.

“It’s just been a great experience being the champion this year,” said Uihlein, who is entering his senior year at Oklahoma State. “To be able to play in the U.S. Open, the Open Championship, the Masters, those experiences have made me … become a better player this year than I was last year. It’s all thanks to the opportunities being the Amateur champion has given me.

“I’ve been trying to be the best representative for my school, my family and the USGA as I possibly could. It was truly an honor to be the champion this year and hopefully I can do it again.”

Uihlein undoubtedly heads into the upcoming U.S. Amateur at Erin Hills as one of the names to watch. But he is only one of 312 competitors that will descend upon the scenic links-style course situated in farmland 30 miles northwest of Milwaukee.

Opened in 2006, Erin Hills already boasts a strong relationship with the USGA, having hosted the 2008 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship that saw Tiffany Joh defeat Jennifer Song for her second WAPL title. Last June, the USGA announced the course will be the host site for the 2017 U.S. Open Championship, marking the first time that championship will be conducted in the state of Wisconsin.

“That decision (to award the U.S. Open to Erin Hills) gives you a sense of our comfort level with the Erin Hills group,” said Thomas O’Toole Jr., the chairman of the USGA’s Competitions Committee and member of the USGA’s Executive Committee.

At 7,760 yards, the 2011 U.S. Amateur will be the longest course in USGA history, surpassing last year’s 7,742 yards at Chambers Bay. However, according to Dr. Michael Hurdzan, who teamed with Dana Fry and Ron Whitten in the golf-course architecture, the course’s length will not necessarily turn it into the long hitter’s dream.

“This golf course is just one of those places were you just can’t constantly attack,” said Hurdzan. “There’s times where you can attack it and there’s times where you just have to back off and find a smart way to play it.”

In sharp contrast to the youth and unique layout of Erin Hills, Blue Mound Golf & Country Club, which will serve as the companion course for stroke play, is a traditional, parkland-style golf course. Designed by legendary architect Seth Raynor and opened in 1926, Blue Mound’s 6,622 yards will force the Amateur competitors to prove their championship mettle through a variety of shot-making challenges.

Jim Reinhart, the championship’s general chairman and a former member of the USGA’s Executive Committee, saw the 2011 U.S. Amateur as a prime opportunity to reintroduce Erin Hills to the national scene following its’ 2009 purchase by Andrew Ziegler, whose first order of business was to make course improvements.

By teaming with three local businesses – Baird, M&I Bank and Artisan Partners – the Amateur will have free admission for the first time since 1997 at Cog Hill.

“We wanted to have as many people in this golf-crazy state and from northern Illinois to be able to come up, park for free and watch the best amateur players in the world and have as many people as we can possibly have on the golf course,” said Reinhart.

Added Uihlein: “I hope a ton of people come out and watch. I think that’d be exciting. It seems like a great community, and hopefully a lot of people who are here will come out and enjoy a little golf.”

Christina Lance is a coordinator of championship communications for the USGA. Email questions or comments to clance@usga.org.

ABOUT THE U.S. Amateur

The U.S. Amateur, the oldest USGA championship, was first played in 1895 at Newport Golf Club in Rhode Island. The event, which has no age restriction, is open to those with a Handicap Index of 2.4 or lower. It is one of 14 national championships conducted annually by the USGA, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs. It is the pre-eminent amateur competition in the world. Applications are typically placed online in the spring at www.usga.org.

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