U.S. Amateur preview: Cowboy up
Sunday, August 23, 2009
The five Oklahoma State players in this year’s U.S. Amateur have a relatively easy commute to compete for a national championship.
From Stillwater, Morgan Hoffmann, Kevin Tway, Peter Uihlein, Trent Whitekiller and incoming freshman Kevin Dougherty only have to head about 60 miles east on the Cimarron Turnpike to reach Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa. They’ll be among 312 players competing Aug. 24-30 for the Havemeyer Trophy.
“It’ll be a good week,” Uihlein said. “I think if you get some Cowboys in the quarters, semis and finals, it’ll get really busy.”
The OSU contingent numbers seven with Rickie Fowler and Talor Gooch. Fowler is playing in his final individual amateur tournament. He will turn pro the week after the Walker Cup, even if he advances to the finals at Southern Hills and earns an invitation to next year’s Masters.
Gooch is a high-school senior who has verbally committed to the Cowboys for 2010.
An Oklahoma State player, Scott Verplank, was victorious the last time the U.S. Amateur was held in Oklahoma. He won medalist honors in 1984, then beat Sam Randolph, 4 and 3, in the final at Oak Tree Golf Club in Edmond.
Stanford also has five players in this year’s field – Joseph Bramlett, David Chung, Jordan Cox, Andrew Yun and Steve Ziegler, as well as Dodge Kemmer, who completed his eligibility this past season.
Uihlein is one of several players hoping to make a deep run in match play to earn one of the final two spots on the U.S. Walker Cup team. Mark Anderson, Wesley Bryan, Bronson Burgoon, Cameron Tringale, Mike Van Sickle and Dan Woltman are other contenders for those spots. The U.S. Amateur champ, if American, is virtually guaranteed to be selected for the team.
“I was playing so bad six months ago, ... that just to be considered (for the Walker Cup team) is like a victory for me. I’m just trying to enjoy playing well,” Uihlein said. He made birdie on his final hole of qualifying to earn a spot at Southern Hills.
Uihlein was one of five Oklahoma State players to make the 64-man match-play bracket at last year’s Amateur. He beat teammate Trent Leon in the first round, then lost to Derek Fathauer. Hoffmann advanced to the quarterfinals, while Tway and Fowler made it to the Round of 16.
Tway, the 2005 U.S. Junior champ, is in pursuit of history each time he tees it up at the Amateur. If he were to win, he’d join Tiger Woods as the only players to win both the U.S. Junior Amateur and U.S. Amateur. Tway’s father, Bob, will caddie for him this week.
Kevin Tway may not be the only Cowboy with a Tour player on his bag, as Tom Pernice may caddie for Dougherty. The two are members at Bear Creek Golf Club in Murrieta, Calif., which is also Fowler’s home course. Pernice also serves as Dougherty’s instructor.
Dougherty was relatively unknown when he signed with the Cowboys during April’s late signing period. Then he won both the Southern California and state prep titles, and medaled at his U.S. Amateur qualifier by five shots. Fowler also won the state high school title in his senior year.
Dougherty moved last week into Fowler’s old apartment in Stillwater.
“After I committed, ... I just went off the wall and started playing really well,” Dougherty said. “I’m pretty much living my dream.”
The Cowboy golfers won’t have to compete for attention with the state’s first love – football – while competing at Southern Hills. The Oklahoma State football team, a preseason top-10 selection, opens its season the following weekend against Georgia.
Oklahoma State started classes Aug. 17, so some students could make their way to Southern Hills to support the Cowboys, who also have strong alumni support.
Verplank had a vocal following during the last major at Southern Hills, the 2007 PGA Championship. He played alongside Tiger Woods in the third round’s final group, and eventually tied for ninth.
“(I) heard a lot of ‘Go Cowboys’ and ‘Go Pokes,’ ” Verplank said. “... It’s always nice to know that people are pulling for you.”
Tulsa’s Cedar Ridge Country Club will be the other course used for stroke play during the Amateur. Former Cowboy Bo Van Pelt, recent winner of the PGA Tour’s U.S. Bank Championship, is a member. Another former OSU player, Tracy Phillips, is the director of instruction.