Vilips Gaining Maturity to Match His Celebrity
August 16, 2019 | Pinehurst, N.C.
By Stuart Hall
Karl Vilips’ scorecard to start the 119th U.S. Amateur Championship on Monday was a string of bogeys. Five to be exact. And the next five holes were not much better — a double bogey and a sixth bogey that combined to put him at 8 over par and on a fast track out of the Sandhills.
On a day when the field scoring average on Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 2 was 77.05, Vilips seemed to be doing his best to push that average higher.
But Vilips kept the round from coming completely unhinged and clawed his way back to finish at 5-over 77.
“I feel like I've changed a lot as far as mentality,” said Vilips, of Australia, who missed the cut in his two previous U.S. Amateur appearances in 2016 and 2017. “If I was 8-over through 10 two years ago, I probably would have just thrown in the towel.”
Vilips bounced back in the second round to shoot a 5-under 65 on Course No. 4 and finish stroke play at 2-over 142 to earn the No. 22 seed. The 65 was one of only two by the 312-player field, the other by medalist Brandon Wu.
In match play, Vilips – who is celebrating his 18th birthday on Friday – has closed out all three opponents on Course No. 2’s 17th hole to reach the quarterfinals. In the process, he has led 50 of the 51 holes played. On Friday, he squares off against No. 46 seed William Holcomb V, of Crockett, Texas.
“You just have to play good golf, execute the shots you need, and not give them any breathing room,” said Vilips, who has a 1-2 match play record in two U.S. Junior Amateurs. “Because they're such good players, and if they see that you're down in the dumps feeling bad about a couple shots that you've hit, they can take advantage of that. So I just have to stay positive and not let my emotions get to me, not show them that I'm a little bit stressed out or something.”
In 2017, at age 15, Vilips joined Bob Jones as the youngest winner of the Southern Amateur, played that year just down the road at the Country Club of North Carolina. In 2018, at the Summer Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Vilips won the gold medal in golf.
While Vilips, a senior at Saddlebrook Prep in Wesley Chapel, Fla., has enjoyed consistent success at the junior level, he is coming of age this summer. He finished sixth at the Northeast Amateur, reached the Round of 16 at the Western Amateur and finished 10th at the Pacific Coast Amateur. He is currently No. 79 in the World Amateur Golf RankingTM.
“Kind of shows me that I can play against anyone,” Vilips said. “That definitely helped me a lot playing Steven [Fisk in the Round of 32] and Brad [Dalke in the Round of 16]. Just being able to place top 10 in those elite fields gave me confidence that my game is good enough to compete with these guys.”
If the name Vilips sounds at all familiar, then you might recognize him from his low-key celebrity social media presence. His Instagram account (@koalakarl2001) has more than 36,000 followers.
This week’s march through the bracket may bolster his numbers.
“Hopefully, I just get a few more followers,” joked Vilips, who made his first post at age 12. “I just enjoy kind of spreading the news what I'm doing.
“It’s still growing, there were some [follower] milestones I want to reach and it’s always exciting when that happens. I requested three times to get verified [by Instagram] and it never happened. Then one day I woke up and saw the blue check. That was a goal of mine.”
Vilips was actually a YouTube presence much earlier in life. Starting in 2008, his father Paul would record Karl’s swing and post on the channel, which has more than 33,000 followers and 11 million views. The video clips became popular as instructional aids, but also created a revenue stream that aided Karl’s efforts to come to the United States to study and play. Vilips arrived in America with his father at age 11. Three years later, as Karl began attending Saddlebrook Prep, Paul Vilips returned to Australia.
“I have definitely matured by being on my own,” he said. “I can do small things like cooking and doing my clothes, but also being independent and learning to practice properly on my own.”
That maturity is also starting to show on the course, as Vilips’ match-play opponents can attest.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA digital channels.