- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
- 0 Shares
Not much has detoured Oklahoma State's Peter Uihlein on his well-planned route to the top of the college golf world and beyond. However, the Cowboys' home course, while not exactly a road block, did have Uihlein grinding his gears a bit when he was a freshman.
Now a junior, Uihlein has reached much more of a comfort level at Karsten Creek, which this week is the site of the NCAA men's golf championship in Stillwater, Okla.
The Cowboys are royalty in this sport, having won 10 NCAA titles, and are the No. 1 seed in the tournament that begins Tuesday. But Uihlein and his teammates are going in with the memory of how last season's title, won by Augusta State, got away from them.
"It's awesome to be at home for nationals and play a golf course we're comfortable with," said Uihlein, who also tied for runner-up honors individually last season at the NCAA meet in Tennessee. "But Augusta State is the defending champion, and we're the underdogs. We're going to take that mentality, and not take anybody for granted."
Considering the Cowboys won the Colorado Regional by 18 shots on May 21 -- Oklahoma State senior Kevin Tway was the top individual there -- they are definitely not underdogs. Still, after their 3-1-1 loss to Augusta State -- Uihlein fell 4 and 2 in his match -- at the 2010 NCAA tournament, that mentality is understandable.
The last time the NCAA championship was at Karsten Creek was 2003; Clemson won the team championship that year. Back then, Uihlein was a rising junior golfer who decided to relocate to Florida from his home in New Bedford, Mass., to attend high school and compete at golf in a year-round playing climate. Then he came to Oklahoma State intent on winning a team championship.
"That's why you want to play in college," Uihlein said. "To be a part of something like that. We do everything together. I get motivated when I see my teammates do well and when they're out there busting their tails, trying to get better."
If you're a golf follower, you likely recognized Uihlein's name right away for its status in the sport. If not, this will explain it: His father, Wally Uihlein, is the CEO and chairman of Acushnet Company, manufacturer of Titleist and Footjoy golf equipment.
It's inevitable that his dad is mentioned in stories, but Peter's ascension in golf is really all about him.
"Peter may be the most competitive guy I've coached in 25 years of coaching," Oklahoma State's Mike McGraw said. "He'd never really had a struggle until he got here. He didn't play Karsten Creek particularly well. This is where you had to qualify to get on the team, and he wasn't making it.
"The turning point came when I told Peter and some other kids I was sending them to a smaller tournament in Oklahoma City, and whichever one of them won that, I'd take them to Texas A&M as the sixth man. From that moment in time, he realized his destiny really was in his hands, not mine. All he had to do was win that tournament."
Uihlein did win it. And McGraw said from then on -- in April of his freshman year -- Uihlein was on the right track. Uihlein now has six career victories at Oklahoma State, and his stroke average this season is a team-best 70.80.
Last summer in Washington, he also won the U.S. Amateur, making him the fourth Oklahoma State golfer ever to do that. Uihlein clinched that title on his 21st birthday, Aug. 29. That earned him exemptions into (among other pro events) the Masters, where he shot 77-72 in April; the U.S. Open from June 16-19 at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md.; and the British Open from July 14-17 in England.
There's no doubt that next summer, after he's completed his college eligibility, Uihlein will become a pro and continue on the upward path he's long been on. But right now, his focus in on winning an NCAA team title right there in Stillwater.
"Regardless of if it's a tournament, a putting match, a video game -- I just want to do my best," Uihlein said. "That's what we're all going to try to do together."
Mechelle Voepel is a columnist for ESPN.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.