Charlie Reiter, 18, shows off launching ability in Tour debut

LA QUINTA, CA - JANUARY 20: Amateur Charlie Reiter reacts to his shot from the sixth tee during the third round of the CareerBuilder Challenge at the TPC Stadium Course at PGA West on January 20, 2018 in La Quinta, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images) Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Charlie Reiter, 18, shows off launching ability in Tour debut

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Charlie Reiter, 18, shows off launching ability in Tour debut

LA QUINTA, Calif. – On July 20, 1969, astronaut Neil Armstrong made one giant leap for mankind by taking the first steps on the moon. Thirty years later to the day, Charlie Reiter was born in Palm Desert, Calif.

Fitting, because Reiter, now 18, can launch a golf ball seemingly into orbit.

Reiter’s TrackMan numbers with the driver are out of this world for a teenager: A swing speed around 130 mph, ball speeds up to 192 mph, nearly 330 yards of carry.

“That’s about as fast as it gets,” said Chris Zambri, head coach at USC, where Reiter will play beginning this fall.

Golf fans were treated to Reiter’s prodigious length at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Reiter became the first amateur in the tournament’s 29-year history to receive a sponsor exemption. He missed the cut with rounds of 68-70-77 to finish at 1 under, but left with everyone talking about the crazy-long kid from nearby Palm Desert High.

Reiter averaged 348.5 yards off the tee in the second round on PGA West’s Nicklaus Tournament Course, where he pounded two of the three longest drives recorded during the event’s first 54 holes. In the third round he averaged 332.5 yards on a windy day around PGA West’s Stadium Course. (Scott Strohmeyer, the PGA Tour’s leader in driving distance heading into the week, was averaging 332.6 yards off the tee.)

“He hits it far and when I mean far, I mean really far, like he can easily get it past me,” said World No. 3 Jon Rahm, who recently played with Reiter at Bighorn Golf Club in Palm Desert, where both are members. “… He reminds me of Brandon Hagy (a Cal product and another TrackMan marvel); they’re both similar build, not the biggest guys, but they’re just fit and have a lot of power.”

Driving long at age 14

Reiter started consistently hitting the ball more than 300 yards during his freshman year of high school – he was just 14 years old. The summer prior, Zambri watched Reiter play for the first time, at the Junior World Championships at Torrey Pines.

“He kept hitting the ninth green (on the South Course) in two,” Zambri said. “That hole’s like 600 yards. … You know, you hear all these stories, and nothing ever lives up to the story. But then you watch him, and it’s pretty unique.”

Reiter’s golf story begins at infancy. His father, Mike, a skilled golfer who played on the mini-tours, used to put plastic clubs in Charlie’s crib. By age 4, Reiter won his first tournament.

Trophies began to pile up. When Reiter was 10 he competed in the Golf Channel Amateur Tour National Championship at PGA West. Entering the par-5 16th hole on the Nicklaus Tournament Course – the same course he played Friday – Reiter trailed by two shots. As the television crew arrived on the hole’s island green, Reiter treated the cameras to a birdie. He closed with two pars and won by three shots.

“He got to 16 and the cameras showed up,” said Reiter’s mom, Susan Conti. “… That’s when I knew he could win.”

Said Reiter back then: “I liked that because I’m good under pressure.”

Reiter has continued to welcome pressure. Before his opening round of the CareerBuilder, Reiter was hitting balls on the range at La Quinta Resort’s Mountains Course – the range at La Quinta Country Club was too short for Reiter to hit drivers – when he started to feel his nerves.

“I hit a couple of drives and my legs were like wobbly and I was like getting light headed,” Reiter said.

He then told his caddie, Dave Stockton Jr. (son of two-time major winner Dave Stockton and Reiter’s putting coach of eight years), and mental coach Howard Falco that he felt like he was going to throw up.

“I looked at him,” Falco said, “and I said, ‘Perfect. Let’s go.’”

Said Reiter: “If you’re nervous for something, I believe that you just have to accept it and you’ll overcome that.”

Hometown crowd had plenty to cheer

Five holes into his opening round, Reiter made an eagle. He gave the hometown crowd – one that included family, friends, teammates and teachers – plenty more to cheer about. He made four birdies on a flawless opening nine in Round 2. And needing a birdie on his 54thhole, the par-4 18th at the Stadium, to shoot under par for the tournament, Reiter wedged it from 150 yards to 8 feet and made the putt. Cheers all around.

The loudest roar, though, might have come away from the course.

Mike Reiter lives for his son. He has supported Charlie’s golf career since Day 1, traveling with his son to golf tournaments around the world. He is Charlie’s biggest fan – easily.

“He’s been there my whole life,” Charlie said. “He’s a huge influence for me.”

Said Zambri: “They’re a really good team.”

Mike was on the bag for Charlie’s first pro start last November at the Emirates Austalian Open, where Charlie made the cut and tied for 65th. Mike was supposed to caddie again for his son at the CareerBuilder, a tournament the two would annually attend together as spectators. But he was hospitalized early in the week and never made it out to watch his son play.

The family didn’t go into detail about Mike’s health, describing it as a “little complication,” but Mike was expected to be released from the hospital Saturday.

“I’m sure his dad was champing at the bit trying to get out here,” Zambri said.

Lots of work ahead

Charlie desperately wanted to give his dad one more chance to make it out to PGA West this weekend, but three straight double bogeys in the third round cost him too much ground. He didn’t hit enough fairways this week, nor did he excel enough from 100 yards and in.

“I have a lot to work on just to compete out here,” Reiter said. “… I’m 50 yards ahead of them, but they’re still beating me.”

Yet, it is important to keep perspective: Reiter is 18 years old and he already has quite the strength to build on.

Falco likes to compare Reiter’s driving ability to the movie, “The Color of Money,” which stars Paul Newman and Tom Cruise as pool players. In the movie, Newman’s character first meets Cruise’s character after hearing him break in a pool hall.

“He hears the break and turns and says, ‘Who is that?’” Falco said. “… When Charlie’s on the range and he hits that driver, there’s a different sound.”

Like a rocket launching into space. Gwk

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