Uihlein leaves Oklahoma State, turns pro

Peter Uihlein during the first round of the 111th U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club.

Peter Uihlein during the first round of the 111th U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club.

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Already rich in world-class players, the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship has secured yet another intriguing storyline with the news that 2010 U.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein will make his pro debut next month in the United Arab Emirates.

Uihlein, 22, has made official his decision to leave Oklahoma State University early and to sign with Chubby Chandler’s ISM group. Uihlein will play on a sponsor exemption Jan. 26-29 at Abu Dhabi, a European Tour event that already has commitments from the top four players in the world – Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy and Martin Kaymer, respectively – plus Tiger Woods.

Though pro golf for years has been his goal, Uihlein conceded it was a decision made difficult by his love of Oklahoma State.

“It’s a little bittersweet, because I have a pretty good family at Oklahoma State," Uihlein said from his family home in Orlando, Fla. "They were so good to me, and I tried my best to contribute to the program there."

OSU coach Mike McGraw said Uihlein told him of his decision 10 days ago. “Initially you’re not completely expecting that," McGraw said. "I know it’s always been Peter’s dream to play (pro) golf.”

McGraw said he understood and supported Uihlein’s decision.

“Peter’s done so many positive things. He’s done a lot for my recruiting, a lot for my program, and then he backed it up. I think he’ll be a great ambassador for our program for the next 30 years.”

Why now? Uihlein indicated that having a full calendar year to pursue his passion played a pivotal part in his decision.

“I felt like I had the time to play now, to take on new opportunities and a new challenge.”

As for signing with ISM, Uihlein decided to jump into pro golf via the European Tour. Chandler not only has an incredible base of talent at ISM – Westwood, Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen, Darren Clarke and Simon Dyson among them – but he has massive connections to tournaments from Europe to South Africa to Asia.

“It makes total sense,” said one agent. “Chubby is the master of consolidating, and he pitches this big family thing – and rightfully so.”

Said Uihlein: “It’s an unbelievable tour, one that goes worldwide. The economy is great, and I just feel like it’s a great opportunity. My goal is to be successful on the PGA European Tour, and I just feel the ISM team is well positioned to help me achieve my goals.”

Taking advantage of rules that allow amateurs to attend qualifying tournaments without losing their status, Uihlein attended Q-Schools in the United States and Europe this fall. He failed to make it through second stage at McKinney, Texas, or Jerez, Spain, though he was in contention at his European bid until a final-round 75.

Still, Uihlein has had enough positives in his brief PGA Tour runs to fuel his drive. He played in three major championships in 2011 as the reigning U.S. Amateur champion, missing the cut at the Masters (72-77) and U.S. Open (72-78), but tying for 48th at the Open Championship. He also made the cut at the Transitions Championship (T-57) and AT&T National (T-70).

In his title defense at the U.S. Amateur, Uihlein was ousted in the quarterfinals by Jordan Russell.

As always whenever the topic is Uihlein, there will be suggestions that his father, Acushnet CEO Wally Uihlein, is closely involved. And why not, said Peter, “because he’s been around a little longer than I have, he has a good voice, and I’d be crazy not to ask him what he thinks. Adam (Scott) and Rory asked him. They took my dad’s advice.”

• • •

Peter Uihlein will have no trouble getting the seven invites he needs to try to get his European Tour card next year, Uihlein’s agent Andrew “Chubby” Chandler told Golfweek. Full story here.

• • •

Historically, Wally Uihlein has been a strong advocate of young players broadening their horizons and testing their games on the worldwide stage, especially through the European Tour. It’s no secret that that tour was a huge steppingstone for Scott and McIlroy, both of whom signed with Titleist during the Wally Uihlein regime.

Surely, the paths they blazed are well known to Peter Uihlein. Scott in 2000 got 11 starts in Europe, earned his card that way, then won his first tournament in 2001. McIlroy got four starts in 2007, earned enough to get his card, then had a strong 2008 campaign. Throw in Graeme McDowell, who turned pro in 2002 and won in just his fourth start, and there’s enough history to support the way in which Peter Uihlein is approaching this career move.

Abu Dhabi figures to be the first of seven sponsor exemptions Uihlein can receive in Europe.

Peter Uihlein said staying in that part of the world for ensuing stops in Qatar and Dubai, and maybe the tournament in India, are logical moves and he looked forward to taking on the new challenge in mid-January when he heads that way.

“Chubby has told me that all the boys would be over in that area practicing and working on their games, so I’ll have a great opportunity to practice with them and to learn from them,” Uihlein said. “That’s what I’m looking forward to.”

He also would be eligible for up to seven starts on the American PGA Tour, too, and by winning the 2011 Hogan Award, he’s eligible for a spot in the field at Colonial.

“But we’re taking it just weeks and months at a time,” he said.

In addition to his U.S. Amateur title, Uihlein was a two-time AJGA Rolex Player of the Year. Within the AJGA, he had six victories and 26 top 10s from 2004 to '07. He won nine amateur and collegiate tournaments within an 18-month span and was named the R&A Amateur of the Year in 2010 and the Ben Hogan Award winner in 2011.

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