RUMFORD, R.I. – If there was one player in the field at this year’s 50th Northeast Amateur Invitational who didn’t need to impress U.S. Walker Cup captain Jim Holtgrieve or anyone on the American selection committee it would be Peter Uihlein.
That’s because the rising senior at Oklahoma State was already considered a lock to make this year’s 10-man U.S. Walker Cup squad after his performances since going 4-0-0 and leading the Americans to victory in the 2009 match and winning the 2010 U.S. Amateur title.
But impress Uihlein did, and in a way that was never seen before in this, one of the world’s top-rated amateur championships.
After building a three-stroke lead with a third-round 62 on the par-69, Wannamoisett Country Club course, Uihlein came right back and fired a closing 4-under 65 Saturday for a tournament-record shattering 15-under 261 total. The previous tournament low total was 11-under, shot by Dan Woltman in 2009.
Uihlein, winner of this year’s Ben Hogan Award as the top college/amateur player in the country, finished three strokes better than James White, a rising senior at Georgia Tech, who closed with a 64.
“I came in with a good game plan and stuck to it all week and kept a level head all the way,” said Uihlein, who grew up in the area and played Wannamoisett often from the sixth grade until moving to Bradenton, Fla., in high school. “I knew the golf course well and knew hitting your wedges well were a key out here. And I definitely hit my wedges well this week, especially the last two days.”
How impressive was Uihlein’s victory?
Consider that Emiliano Grillo and Bank Vongvanij finished at 8-under 268, a score that would have won 45 of the previous 49 events outright and tied for first in another. This time around it was good only for a T-5 and a distant seven strokes behind.
When White completed his round of 64, he held the tournament record at 12-under. Too bad it only lasted five minutes.
“Hey, I’ll take it even for five minutes,” White said with a big smile. “I didn’t catch fire with my putter the first two days (70-67) so it made it tough to get caught up. But overall it was a great week. This is my first time here and it was a lot of fun. Peter definitely played great and deserves to be the champion.”
Blayne Barber, who also closed with a 64, placed third at 11-under 265, while Patrick Rodgers was another shot back at 266.
Uihlein not only impressed those within Walker Cup circles, his fellow competitors, the fans and officials at the tournament, but a very important person in his life – his father Wally, chairman and CEO of the Acushnet Company.
“I was impressed with the way he was thinking well,” said the elder Uihlein. “He putted well and his ball striking was there. It was just a good thinking week as well as a good execution week. It’s very special because of the history Peter has with this course and because it’s the 50th anniversary of the tournament.”
The 2007 Terre Cotta Amateur in Florida is among Uihlein’s numerous career tournament wins. That event is also under the guidance of Northeast Amateur tournament director Denny Glass.
“The people here (at Wannamoisett) and Denny Glass in particular have been very good to Peter over the years so that helps make this special,” said dad. “So I guess now you can say he has the Denny Glass Slam.”
With the golf course and greens softened by rain from the start of the tournament, par took a beating from beginning to end. When all was said and done, a tournament-record 21 players finished 72 holes under par with another half-dozen coming in at even. And how about this, the average score over four rounds for the field was 69.97, or less than a stoke over par.
Uihlein started the final round at 11-under and three shots in front of Rodgers, who will be a freshman at Stanford this fall. He quickly gave a shot back with a bogey at the first, but made up for it when he chipped in for birdie from 30 yards at No. 2.
Rodgers made a strong run with birdies at Nos. 5, 6 and 7 to close within one, but Uihlein answered with birdies at 8 and 9 to get to 14 under and again lead by three.
A birdie at the 11th put Uihlein at 15 under and up by four over Rodgers and by five over White and Barber.
It was all but over for Rodgers when he bogeyed 13 and 14 and Uihlein birdied 14. White birdied 17 – the only par-5 on the course – to get to 12 under and a few minutes later Uihlein made bogey on the hole to produce the final margin of victory.
“This tournament has had a lot of great players and a lot of great winners so it’s pretty special to have the record and my name on the championship trophy,” Uihlein said. “I had a solid week, especially the final two rounds.”
Uihlein (66-68-62-65) was one of only three players to post four sub-par rounds, along with Rodgers (68-67-64-67) and Vongvanij (68-66-67-67). For the week, Uihlein recorded 19 birdies, one eagle and only six bogeys.
Coming off his Northeast Amateur victory, Uihlein will play in this coming week’s PGA Tour AT&T tournament and then will head overseas to play in the Scottish Open and British Open while also playing some of the other famed courses, including Royal Aberdeen in Scotland, site of the Walker Cup in September. He’ll also plans to play the Western Am and defend his U.S. Am title at Erin Hills Golf Club just outside of Milwaukee at the end of August.