Palm Harbor, Fla. – The measure of a good golfer sometimes can be ascertained by his level of satisfaction after what appears to be a decent round.
Reigning U.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein opened with a 1-under-par 70 Thursday in the PGA Tour’s Transitions Championship, and shrugged his shoulders and crinkled his nose when asked to assess his day.
“It was fine, but I wasn’t very happy with the way I hit my irons,” said Uihlein, who is playing at the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort this week on a sponsor’s exemption. “I’m going to the range right now to work on it. Just not quite that sharp today.”
Uihlein, who teed off on the 10th hole with Tommy Gainey and Chris Kirk, hit 7 of 13 fairways and 14 greens in regulation in his round that included three birdies and two bogeys. He twice got as low as 2-under on the Copperhead Course, with bogeys at Nos. 4 and 8 (on his second nine) knocking him back. He was the low scorer in his group.
“You always learn something playing at this level,” said Uihlein, who played in the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational on the Nationwide Tour last year and made his debut in a professional event at the 2006 Buick Championship. “On a golf course this difficult and with this level of competition, it was definitely a good experience.”
He missed the cut in his previous starts in pro events, so his round on Thursday was encouraging. “It was still fun. I just want to play better [Friday],” he said.
Uihlein, 21, a junior at Oklahoma State University, is using his school’s spring break to compete at a golf course he played plenty of times growing up, having attended the IMG David Leadbetter Academy in nearby Bradenton. He also won a junior event at the Copperhead Course.
While Uihlein is focused on this event, he also is preparing to play in his first Masters Tournament, thanks to an invitation he received after defeating David Chung, 4 and 2, last August at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash., for the 110th U.S. Amateur title. Uihlein had never seen Augusta National Golf Club in person until he visited in October. He has been back twice since, in January and March.
He’s been consistent there with scores between 70 and 73.
“I feel like I got off the tee … I'm getting used to it a little bit more,” he said. “The greens, from what I keep getting told, are never really Augusta speed until the week of. So, you know, that kind of limits how much practicing you can do around the greens. But visually off the tee, it's been good. I've been able to work on some things and trying to get some shots there.
“(It’s) a lot hillier than the TV gives justice,” he added. “It's a hilly course. It's amazing. The scenes are pretty awesome. It’s unbelievable.”
He said he is excited to be playing with Phil Mickelson in the traditional pairing of the Amateur champion and the defending Masters champion. “That will be fun. Obviously he's a pretty good player,” Uihlein said with a bit of a wry smile. “He knows what he's doing around there. I'm looking forward to it. I'm looking forward to seeing all of the crowds and how they react to him because he's obviously one of the fan favorites, so I think that will be pretty sweet.”
Uihlein said he is planning to remain an amateur and stay at Oklahoma State through his senior year of 2011-12. His immediate goal is to help the Cowboys win the 2011 NCAA Division I national championship. His U.S. Amateur title defense at Erin Hills in Erin, Wis., northwest of Milwaukee in August is also a high priority. In between, he’ll play in the 111th U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., and the British Open at Royal St. George’s, in England, both of which he is eligible for courtesy of his U.S. Amateur triumph.
And, on top of all that, he has an eye on the upcoming Walker Cup in September at Royal Aberdeen, in Scotland. Uihlein was a member of the winning U.S. team two years ago at Merion Golf Club, near Philadelphia, and he said that the experience was a steppingstone in his growth as a golfer.
“It’s been hectic already, but it’s very special to play in a lot of events as the U.S. Amateur champion,” Uihlein said. “It’s going to be a great experience, playing in front of big crowds, playing great courses. I’m looking forward to these opportunities and see how my game stacks up, see what I can learn and try to get better. We’ll see how it goes.”