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Global Lessons Pay, For Peteís Sake

by Ron Green Jr. - September 11, 2017

To fully appreciate what Peter Uihlein accomplished when he recently earned his PGA Tour card, it is essential to understand how the 28-year-old got there.

Let’s start with the shark cage. After missing the cut in a Sunshine Tour event in South Africa a few years back, Uihlein – no stranger to boats and being on the water – joined a couple of buddies for some Sunday afternoon fun.

At least the other guys thought it was fun.

“They asked if I wanted to cage dive with the great white and I said, ‘Not really,’ ” Uihlein recalls.

Uihlein has always had a healthy respect for sharks, appreciating their beauty, but he preferred to keep his distance. But life is about experiences, right?

“I had a legitimate panic attack just seeing those creatures,” he said. “You are so close to the edge. I could see people on the beach and there were eight to 10 great white sharks in 15 feet of water. It was terrifying.

“I threw up the whole time. I was so overwhelmed. I can’t get on a boat any more, the nausea comes back. But at least I can say I got in the water with great white sharks.”

What does that have to do with Uihlein’s golf career, which may finally be ready to fully blossom?

It’s about the path Uihlein chose, a winding, uncertain journey of approximately 400,000 miles with tee times in more than 30 countries that shaped him as a player but more profoundly molded him into a better version of himself.

It would have been easy as a two-time American Junior Golf Association player of the year, a Walker Cup player at Oklahoma State and the 2010 U.S. Amateur champion for Uihlein to have taken the more comfortable route, playing his way up the professional ladder through Monday qualifiers, Web.com Tour events and the occasional sponsor exemption into PGA Tour events.

Instead, Uihlein turned pro, kissed his parents goodbye and flew to India to begin building his professional life.

It was poet Robert Frost who wrote of taking the road less traveled and writing, “That made all the difference.”

Uihlein is living proof.

“I was naïve to the world,” Uihlein says. “I had lived in a bubble for 21 years. My parents put me on a plane to India and I go from knowing nothing but Subway restaurants and Chili’s to being in India.

“I didn’t know what curry was. I was told that was all I should eat. I didn’t know.”

Uihlein loves curry now, by the way.

Check out Uihlein’s passport and it has stamps from Morocco, Kenya, Kazakhstan, Russia, the Czech Republic and Denmark, not the typical golf destinations but places where he went – sometimes with his traveling buddy Brooks Koepka – to season himself. He played the European Challenge Tour (similar to the Web.com Tour), the Sunshine Tour and occasional spots in between.

Par is universal but life is different where Uihlein went.

“You realize how fortunate we are here,” he says. “You play a Tour event here and you have a courtesy car, all the golf balls you need and whatever else. Playing the Challenge Tour, I was in Nairobi, Kenya, and I needed to find a ride from the airport to the hotel and hope nothing bad happens.”

When Uihlein won the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship two weeks ago, the first event in the Web.com Tour Finals, he finally locked up his PGA Tour card, nearly six years after getting on the plane to India.

He endured a bad back and battled back from wrist surgery 16 months ago that put his career on hold. Uihlein went back to work with instructor Justin Parsons, who is based at Butch Harmon’s golf school in Dubai, and together they developed a powerful, reliable soft fade that has given Uihlein the mental freedom to attack courses, trusting the left side of each hole is out of play for him.

Entering last weekend, Uihlein ranked 12th on the European Tour’s 2017 Race to Dubai with three top-five finishes. He intends to play both the PGA Tour and the European Tour next year, having long ago made peace with the travel part of the game. Some of Uihlein’s friends beat him to the PGA Tour but each person makes his own path.

“If I had gotten my Tour card immediately, there’s no way I would have kept it. No way,” Uihlein says. “I wasn’t ready. You go from playing golf in a bubble – you play maybe 17 or 18 tournaments a year in college to 32 as a pro – and as a college kid you don’t grasp that. Bud Cauley got his Tour card in seven starts. I wasn’t mature enough to do things on the road by myself. I wouldn’t have taken it seriously enough.

“At least in Europe, you get exposed. You’re not taking care of yourself and doing the right things. You’re not sleeping right or training like you should. I fell down the money list but I was fortunate to keep my card every year.

“It helped me grow up and understand this is a job. I need to take it more seriously.”

A wise man once said, people should not be judged by the peak of their excellence but by the distance they have traveled from where they started.

Peter Uihlein has traveled the world to get back home.


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