Golf

Uihlein going pro, to debut at Abu Dhabi

GolfWeek Jim McCabe
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Already rich in world-class players, the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship has secured yet another intriguing storyline with the news that 2010 US Amateur champion Peter Uihlein will make his pro debut next month in the United Arab Emirates.

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Uihlein, 22, has made official his decision to leave Oklahoma State University early and to sign with Chubby Chandler’s ISM group. Uihlein will play on a sponsor exemption Jan. 26-29 at Abu Dhabi, a European Tour event that already has commitments from the top four players in the world — Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy and Martin Kaymer — plus Tiger Woods.

Of his decision to leave school early, Uihlein said via a news release: “I had a great 3-1/2 years at Oklahoma State. The school and the program were great for me, and I believe I contributed to the program’s tradition. (But) I wanted to have the full calendar year to start the next chapter in my life and not start midseason. The coaches at Oklahoma State understood my decision.”

As for signing with ISM, Uihlein decided to jump into pro golf via the European Tour. Chandler not only has an incredible base of talent at ISM — Westwood, Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen, Darren Clarke and Simon Dyson among them — but he has massive connections to tournaments from Europe to South Africa to Asia.

“It makes total sense,” said one agent. “Chubby is the master of consolidating, and he pitches this big family thing — and rightfully so.”

Uihlein explained his perspective: “The (European) Tour is aligned with the global economy. Those players who have played on the PGA European Tour and who are still members of the PGA European Tour make for a pretty impressive list.

“My goal is to be successful on the PGA European Tour, and I just feel the ISM team is well positioned to help me achieve my goals.”

Taking advantage of rules that allow amateurs to attend qualifying tournaments without losing their status, Uihlein attended Q-Schools in the United States and Europe this fall. He failed to make it through second stage at McKinney, Texas, or Jerez, Spain, though he was in contention at his European bid until a final-round 75.

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Still, Uihlein has had enough positives in his brief PGA Tour runs to fuel his drive. He played in three major championships in 2011 as the reigning US Amateur champion, missing the cut at the Masters (72-77) and US Open (72-78), but tying for 48th at the British Open. He also made the cut at the Transitions Championship (tie for 57th) and AT&T National (tie for 70th).

In his title defense at the US Amateur, Uihlein was ousted in the quarterfinals by Jordan Russell.

As always, whenever the topic is Uihlein, there will be suggestions that his father, Acushnet CEO Wally Uihlein, is closely involved.

Said Peter: “The decisions that I make are always my decisions. My dad is one of my sounding boards. For years, players have been asking my dad for advice, so, logically, I am going to take advantage of that same opportunity.”

Historically, Wally Uihlein has been a strong advocate of young players broadening their horizons and testing their games on the worldwide stage, especially through the European Tour. It’s no secret that that tour was a huge steppingstone for Adam Scott and McIlroy, both of whom signed with Titleist during the Wally Uihlein regime.

Surely, the paths they blazed are well known to Peter Uihlein. Scott in 2000 got 11 starts in Europe, earned his card that way, then won his first tournament in 2001. McIlroy got four starts in 2007, earned enough to get his card, and then had a strong 2008 campaign. Throw in Graeme McDowell, who turned pro in 2002 and won in his fourth start, and there’s enough history to support the way in which Peter Uihlein is approaching this career move.

Abu Dhabi figures to be the first of seven sponsor exemptions Uihlein can receive in Europe. He also would be eligible for as many as seven on the American PGA Tour, too.

“As a path to achieve my goals, I am focusing on achieving exempt status on the PGA European Tour and am looking ahead to that challenge,” Uihlein said. “If you focus on the process of getting better, goals and objectives have a way of being achieved.”

In addition to his US Amateur title, Uihlein was a two-time AJGA Rolex Player of the Year. Within the AJGA, he had six victories and 26 top 10s from 2004-07. He won nine amateur and collegiate tournaments within an 18-month span and was named the R&A Amateur of the Year in 2010 and the Ben Hogan Award winner in 2011.

Tagged: Peter Uihlein, Rory McIlroy

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