CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Shortly after Peter Uihlein walked off the 18th green at Quail Hollow Club having shot a startling 9-under 62 in Saturday’s second round, he was greeted with a touch of awe by fellow players.
When the dust of the day settled, Uihlein had gone from tied for 69th at 2-over at the start of his round to 7-under and three shots off Jason Day’s lead at 10-under.
Uihlein’s round was highlighted by what he did on holes 5-10: birdie, birdie, birdie, birdie, birdie, eagle. For those of you scoring at home, that’s 7-under through that six-hole stretch. It looked like video game golf.
“Wow,’’ was all Paul Casey could muster to Uihlein as he passed him on the practice green.
Phil Mickelson, just having finished a 7-under 64 to vault into contention, made it a point to stop Uihlein and tell him, “That was some great golf out there.’’
Adding to the color of Uihlein’s career round was the fact he was chosen for a random pee-in-a-cup drug test afterward.
“Totally ironic,’’ Uihlein said. “First low round of the year, I feel like, and I have to go piss in a cup.’’
Though he’s American, played his college golf at Oklahoma State and was a big part of the winning 2009 U.S. Walker Cup side, Uihlein is not the household name in American golf like his former OSU teammate Rickie Fowler, or Jordan Spieth or Justin Thomas.
That’s largely because he opted to take a different — bolder — path to the PGA Tour.
Uihlein’s path back to the U.S. — and days like Saturday at Quail Hollow, where he put himself in position for his first PGA Tour tournament win — consisted of a few trips around the world as a member of the European Tour.
The fact Uihlein is on the cusp of finding success here is evidence that the more conventional path Fowler, Spieth, Thomas and others took is not necessarily the only path to PGA Tour success.
Brooks Koepka, the reigning U.S. Open champion, who cut his teeth on the European Tour at the same time Uihlein did, represents Exhibit A to that point.
“Just because I’m American doesn’t mean you have to start over here,’’ Uihlein said. “I felt like it was a good opportunity. When you’re 21 and you can travel and see the world and see different cultures and different experiences … it was definitely a great choice and I’m glad I did it.
“I think from a maturity standpoint it helped me. My first event was a Challenge Tour event in India and my parents basically just plopped me on a plane.’’
Ken Hayes, Uihlein’s caddie from Australia, said that European Tour experience “forces’’ a young player to grow because “you go to some weird places — like India and Johannesburg — and that can be a bit of an eye-opener.
“I think once you get here and see how the guys get treated [on the PGA Tour] and what they’re playing for you appreciate how good it is over here. It probably took him a little longer than what he thought to get out here. But I don’t think anyone’s surprised he’s here now.’’
Certainly not after Saturday’s 62 on a course that had been confounding the world’s best players the previous two days.
“He did it his own way,’’ Rory McIlroy said. “It’s probably made him a more well-rounded person, just [seeing] different cultures and traveling. You learn a bit about yourself when you’re in faraway countries and no one speaks English and you’re sort of on your own. So I respect him for that.’’
Tiger Woods praised Uihlein’s route because of how much more difficult it has become for young players to reach the PGA Tour since the Qualifying School system was abolished.
“It’s different now that you can’t go to Q-School and get out here,’’ Woods said. “So there’s different ways of doing it. I think what Peter and Brooksy did is certainly different than most of the kids do who are American born, but it’s certainly a good way to do it.’’
Keopka agreed, calling the European Tour route “the smart thing to do.’’
“If you’re not going to have starts over here on the [PGA] Tour … good luck trying to Monday qualify [for events] having to shoot 64 every time,’’ Koepka said. “You give yourself a better chance playing over there. The toughest part is getting out here [on the PGA Tour]. Once you get out here, it’s kind of easy to stay out here.’’
More of what Uihlein produced on Saturday and he’ll have no problem staying on the PGA Tour.
Because he did it his way.
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