Russell leaves Amateur with plenty to build on

Jordan Russell during the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur.

Jordan Russell during the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur.

ERIN, Wis. – Jordan Russell won’t be playing Sunday in the title match at this year’s U.S. Amateur Championship at Erin Hills Golf Club after he was defeated Saturday morning by the world No. 1 amateur Patrick Cantlay, 4 and 3, in the semifinals.

Still, Russell will be taking a lot of positives from the week back with him to Texas as he begins his senior season at Texas A&M.

“Overall this has been a great week. I had some close matches and know I can come back after being down,” said Russell, who, in the quarterfinals defeated defending champion and 2011 Ben Hogan Award winner Peter Uihlein, 2 and 1.

“I’ll leave here with nothing but confidence. I think this (week) will help a lot and falls right in line with my last year and a half in college,” Russell said. “This is another stepping stone for me.”

There have certainly been plenty of stepping stones for Russell over the last four years. That’s usually the case when you start your journey from the bottom.

Russell was born and raised in College Station, Texas, and his father David is a chemistry instructor at Texas A&M. When it came time for him to attend college it was Texas A&M and Texas A&M only.

The problem was his golf game wasn’t quite to the level for Aggie coach J.T. Higgins to offer any type of scholarship.

That didn’t deter Russell. In the fall of 2007 he became a walk-on player and redshirted. He worked out and practiced with the team and became more and more determined to earn his way into playing status.

As a freshman in 2008-09, he played in two tournaments as an individual and one as an Aggie team member. That one was in Las Vegas at the brutally difficult Southern Highlands course.

“I don’t remember what he shot, but I do remember it wasn’t pretty,” said Higgins, who arrived in the Milwaukee area and his hotel at 2:30 a.m. Saturday to watch Russell in the semis.

Still not sold on Russell, Higgins didn’t have him in the lineup in any of the teams fall tournaments in the 2009-10 season. When the Aggies opened the spring, Higgins gave him another chance at the Arizona Intercollegiate in Tucson.

“He finished fourth and he hasn’t been out of the lineup since,” Higgins said.

Russell recalls what helped turn things around for him.

“One day coach pulled me aside and told me to quit being so nice on the golf course. I guess for awhile I was just happy to be out there. He told me I needed to put some fight in myself,” Russell said. “Then I got to where I really wanted to play (in tournaments in the lineup) and I kicked myself in gear.”

When the ‘10 spring season ended he was named to the All-Big-12 Tournament team and as an honorable mention All-American.

In both 2009 and ‘10, he was selected by his teammates as Texas A&M’s most improved players.

Before the start of his junior year last season, Russell walked into Higgins’ office.

“He told me he wanted to win (most improved) for a third time,” said the Aggie coach. “He didn’t do that. Instead he was voted the team’s most valuable player.”

Last season he won the Topy Cup in Japan and got his revenge on Southern Highlands where he finished second. He also finished second at A&M’s Aggie Invitational, which he won the previous season.

“I would say I was pretty lucky that coach Higgins gave me a chance and believed in me and I was able to make the most of it,” said Russell, who was a second-team All-America last season. “I don’t have a lot of wins, but I feel I’m pretty consistent. I have a lot of top fives and top 10s.”

Higgins agrees.

“Jordan has been our most consistent player over the last year and a half,” Higgins said. “He’s a great leader and leads by example. He’s the first one to the course and the last one to leave everyday. All the guys on the team look up to him and respect him.”

That respect carries over to his fellow competitors as well.

After his loss to Russell in the quarterfinals, Uihlein said, “Jordan is the most underrated player in college golf. He doesn’t get enough notoriety even though he deserves it. I saw him shoot one of the best round I’ve ever seen. He shot 64 in Las Vegas (at Southern Highlands) in absolutely brutal conditions.”

That’s quite some praise coming from one of the world’s leading and most recognized amateurs. But don’t expect it to go to his head.

“I’ll just go back to College Station and hang out and practice with the team and get ready for our first tournament and my senior season,” Russell said. There’s still a lot I want to accomplish in college and hopefully I will be able to get some of it done this year.”

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