Dermot Gilleece: Peter Uihlein threw his lot in with the European tour - and may be about to beat the best
IT'S an odd notion, throwing in your lot with the European Tour as a rookie American and hoping they turn you into a player good enough to beat their best. That’s what is happening to Peter Uihlein who claimed a share of the halfway lead in the Irish Open at Carton House.
Normally, European aspirants head west to the more fertile terrain of the New World. In fact Uihlein’s alma mater, Oklahoma State University, is where Philip Walton honed his skills for two years as an amateur, before turning professional in 1983. It is equally fascinating that when Walton secured his European Tour playing rights in the Irish Open that year, the field included a particularly interesting American challenger.
After appearing at Cypress Point, California, as one of Walton’s American rivals in the 1981 Walker Cup, Corey Pavin turned professional. And he turned to the European Tour as a learning route, having failed on his own patch.
In the event, Pavin found himself competing at Royal Dublin where leading countrymen included Raymond Floyd and Curtis Strange. They, naturally, had received appearance fees to be there but as a humble foot-soldier, Pavin didn’t disgrace himself. In fact an aggregate of 287 earned him a share of 42nd place though a decidedly modest reward of £650. Less than 12 years later, he would be US Open champion.
Walton’s involvement on that occasion, brought him a share of 26th place with such notables as Christy O’Connor and Wayne Grady. More importantly, his reward of £1,060 was enough to secure him a European Tour card for 1984, paving the way for a winning breakthrough in the 1990 French Open.
Uihleim has also been taking relatively modest steps, especially given his status as the 2010 US Amateur champion. Having as his father, Wally Uihlein, the chief executive of Acushnet which is the umbrella company of Titleist, clearly didn’t hurt when he embarked on word-study trips to such faraway places as India, Kenya and Kazakhstan.
Apparently the recently-crowned US Masters champion, Adam Scott, trod the same path on the advice of the same people who guided Uihlein. Nor will it come as a shock that Butch Harmon, who has been coaching Uihlein, is also responsible for the breathtaking technique of Scott, who became a Titleist player on turning professional, in 2000.
Meanwhile, the 23-year-old American is attached to Chubby Chandler’s International Sports Management (ISM) and made his prefessional breakthrough in the Madeira Island Open in May, securing himself a one-year exemption on the European Tour. All of which would suggest that he is comfortably on his way, irrespective of how things work out this weekend.
Chandler, who is at Carton to see him in action, highlighted the determination of a potentially lucrative client. “Peter’s been brave enough to do things differently when he could have had a lot of starts in the States, but he stuck to his plan,” he said. “The idea was to learn the game before tackling the PGA Tour and he’s making a fine job of it so far."
Nor do his diplomatic skills leave anything to be desired. Acknowledging this as his first trip to Ireland, he said: ”It’s fantastic. The Irish fans live up to the reputation of being very knowledgeable and supportive.” Well said m’man.