In 1992, two significant things occurred at the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship. For starters, the event at Edinburgh USA in Brooklyn Park, Minn., was televised for the first time (ESPN) and then 20-year-old Warren Schutte, of South Africa, became the first foreign-born champion with his 3-and-2 triumph over Richard Mayo Jr. Schutte, a senior-to-be at Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV), had also become the first international NCAA champion a year earlier, and two other South Africans, Tim Clark and Trevor Immelman, won the APL in 1997 and 1998, respectively. That summer, Schutte qualified for the U.S. Open (missed cut) and reached the Round of 16 at the U.S. Amateur. He turned pro in 1993 and despite not owning a PGA Tour card, has competed in 13 events. Schutte also has played in 29 Nationwide Tour events. For the past seven years, Schutte, 42, has been a teaching pro in Phoenix, most notably at Moon Valley Country Club where he works almost exclusively with junior golfers. Last summer, chutte’ss 11-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son qualified for the Junior Worlds in San Diego, an event he claimed in 1986.
How important was it to be the first international APL champion?
It was really important. South Africa is a tight-knit country. It was really neat because most players of my age [in South Africa], 18, 19, 20, who were pretty good, turned pro. That was the trend. I came over to the U.S. because I just wanted to come to the U.S. That was the only summer I played amateur golf [in the U.S.]. My two previous years [at UNLV], I went home, and the year after that I turned pro. To be able to open the door for the people who came behind me was great. Being able to say to people, turning pro [out of high school] is not the only option was nice.
Had you heard much about the APL in South Africa?
We really had only heard about the U.S. Amateur. But having played amateur golf for a couple of years here in college, I saw people playing the APL with a chance to go to the Masters, which was obviously the huge driving force. But to have the opportunity to play in any USGA event was something I wanted. It was the pinnacle of amateur golf. It was the best.
How did you feel about your game entering that week?
I almost didn’t qualify [for match play]. I was actually struggling a little with my long game and I had a new set of irons. I wasn’t hitting the ball particularly well and I remember not even using my driver. The course was pretty narrow and had super-fast greens. Back then we had 1-irons and I was hitting a 1-iron off the tee just to make sure I was in play. My forte is I have a good short game, and when you have a good short game, you can compete in match play. And that’s what I did. My short game probably got under the skin of some of my competitors. I know it did.
Was there a moment where your short game saved you?
There was one hole in particular. I believe it was No. 12 or 13. It was a par 5 and I had laid up off the tee. My [second-round] opponent [Richard Umani] hit driver. I hit my second shot into a bush and he hit his five yards short of the green. About 4 minutes, 50 seconds into searching for the ball (you get five minutes), we find it. I chip out sideways and hit the Rules official’s cart and it stays in the fairway. I then proceed to hook my fourth shot left of the green and he hits his chip to like 15 feet. Well, I hole my chip for 5 and he three-putts for 6 and I win the hole. The whole match changed right there.
You then got matched against future UNLV teammate Chris Riley. What was that like?
He turned out to be a pretty good player himself (APL runner-up in 1994), but he wasn’t going to beat me that day. I had to use my intimidation tactics there. You’re going to be a freshman. You can’t come in and beat the older guy.
In the final, you faced University of Texas-El Paso golfer Richard Mayo Jr. What was your mindset?
I knew Rich very well. But I was on a mission that week. I woke up full of confidence. I just really believed that I was going to win and wanted to get out there and make it happen, and I did. I know Rich [later] caddied on tour for many years for [fellow Miner] Paul Stankowski.
With the event being televised, were your parents able to watch from South Africa?
They didn’t see it live. But one of my good friends (Wayne Bester) had come over that summer to caddie for me in all the different amateur events. Obviously, I kept my parents updated. It’s always good to have a friend on your bag when you are playing tournaments like that. I still have copies [of the ESPN broadcast]. That was pretty neat. I remember Judy Rankin was one of the commentators and she had some nice things to say.
What was your week at the Masters like?
Phenomenal. On Monday, I played with Gary Player. On the back nine, Fuzzy Zoeller joined us. We had the international dinner that night and I sat next to some of my heroes. Obviously Player, who opened the door for all of us South Africans. But as a young man, I was a huge Seve Ballesteros fan. And also Greg Norman, who had a lot of flair. I also wanted to meet Nick Faldo and I did.
Then on Tuesday, you play a practice round with two more icons. How about being in the same group as Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer?
I had arranged to play with Mr. Nicklaus and he comes to the [practice] putting green and says, “There is someone who is going to join us on the first tee.” I show up and it’s Arnold Palmer. “OK, just somebody huh?” was my reaction. It was amazing. It turned out to be such a blessing because I was then paired with Arnold Palmer in the first round of the tournament. Had I not met him on Tuesday, I probably would have been just as nervous on Thursday as I was on Tuesday.
That’s a pretty good week for an APL champion.
The APL has been unbelievable. When I teach juniors … the first thing is to teach them to love the game. It is a wonderful game and it can open up so many wonderful doors and it can change a person’s life. I grew up in a little town in South Africa and here I am living in Phoenix many years later all because of golf.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.