Peter mixing it up with the big guns
The name Peter Uihlein certainly isn’t one bandied about on a regular basis in South African households.
However, a six-under-par opening round of 65 at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club’s West course followed by a three-under 69 at the East course on Friday has fired the American right into the reckoning at this week’s Joburg Open, and he begins the third round inside the top 10.
“I am really happy with how things have gone so far. It’s always good to play the first round well and get off to a good start on the West Course in particular, because I was told the low scores come out on that course,” a delighted Uihlein said on Friday.
“But the East (course) is awesome - it’s a really great track. It’s long and there are a lot of good holes, and I really enjoyed playing it,” he added.
Uihlein was a graduate of the David Leadbetter Academy in Florida, and elected to attend Oklahoma State University in 2008.
In 2009, he was selected for the US Walker Cup team, and posted a 4-0 record in a winning campaign. His amateur career continued to go from strength to strength, as he clinched the US Amateur title on his 21st birthday in 2010.
Later that year he won the Mark McCormack Medal for being the top-ranked amateur in the world, and, after graduating from college in 2011, the gifted Uihlein called time on a glittering amateur career and turned pro.
But he soon got his first taste of frustration as a professional, as he failed to secure a European or PGA Tour card through qualifying school.
He thus played the European Challenge Tour in 2012. A 26th-place finish on the Tour Rankings there meant he narrowly missed out on a card for the European Tour, and more disappointment ensued as he again fell out in the final round of qualifying school in November.
However, Uihlein refuses to be disheartened by the setbacks, and is simply making the most of his experiences thus far.
“I had a good year on the Challenge Tour last year, although I just didn’t really play enough,” the former US Amateur champion noted.
“I took a lot of weeks off, which I probably shouldn’t have. It’s a lot of professional golf, week in and week out. I didn’t really play as much as I did as an amateur or collegiate.
“I understand that you have to be very patient in this game and not try to force it or get discouraged if you don’t make it right away. I’m 23 – I’m still pretty young and I’m enjoying it so far.”
Uihlein quickly got back on the horse to make the cut at last year’s Alfred Dunhill Championship, but it is the prospect of a good finish this week that is so tantalising.
However, the former All-American is not getting carried away, and is ready to do what it takes to realise his ambition of getting a Tour card.
“I’m going to Kenya next week for the Challenge Tour events, and I’m hoping to get into Di-Data (Pro-Am) and Tshwane (Open). I’m also hoping to get a PGA start the week after in Puerto Rico.
“It just depends on how I do in these events. But I’m still mainly playing the Challenge Tour and trying to earn my card that way,” he explained.
A top-five finish this week would go a long way to ensuring an invitation to such events, and although the 23 year-old finds some big-name players ahead of him on the leaderboard, his form this week has proven that anything is possible.
But whether it happens this week, this year or in seasons to come, it seems a safe assumption that the name Peter Uihlein will become well known one in the not-too-distant future.