WINTER GARDEN, Fla. – As far as years go, 2016 ranks up there for Charlie Saxon.
The 23-year-old former Oklahoma University golfer decided to go west and played a full schedule on PGA Tour China. He played well, too, winning twice and finishing second on the money list to earn some Web.com Tour status for 2017.
“It was a great experience for me, I learned what it means to be a professional, how to travel, how to manage your time,” Saxon said. “My game really got better. … Got to see some cool places: Thailand, Taiwan, Vietnam. It was just a really unique experience seeing part of the world while I’m chasing my dream playing golf.”
As for the food … let’s just say some of the menu items caught Saxon off guard. None more so than “fried mixed bacteria.”
“I think it was like mushrooms or something,” Saxon said. “Just a poor translation. I didn’t try it.”
While Saxon experienced some culture shock in Asia, he is feeling right at home this week at Web.com Tour Q-School. That’s because Saxon is joined by four former teammates from the Sooners’ 2012-13 team at Orange County National – Abraham Ancer, Michael Gellerman, Michael Schoolcraft and Will Kropp. A sixth teammate from that squad, Luke Kwon, is Saxon’s caddie.
That group combined for 12 top 10s during that season while leading the Sooners to a T-11 finish at the NCAA Championship.
“I’ve been in China all year so it’s great to come back and play a tournament in the states and have all my buddies here,” Saxon said.
Said Gellerman: “It’s kind of like college all over again.”
Saxon and Gellerman, roommates in Edmond, Okla., are staying with Ancer and Kwon this week at a home they rented on Airbnb. Kropp is here with his family and Schoolcraft is rooming with his friend and former Arkansas standout Taylor Moore.
“We all get along very well, we’re all great friends and we’re enjoying this week together,” Ancer said.
Just don’t ask Ancer who had to share a bedroom.
“Gellerman and I are,” Ancer said. “I don’t know how Kwon, the caddie, got a room by himself…”
Ah, first come, first serve – just like college.
“Kwon is the most rowdy,” Gellerman said, “so it’s probably good he has his own room.”
Joking aside, the OU boys are enjoying their family reunion here in Central Florida. It’s been a nice stress-relief during this pressure-packed week as they battle to finish inside the top 45 and ties to earn guaranteed starts for the first portion of the 2017 Web.com Tour season.
Many of them haven’t seen each other in more than a year. Even the roommates, Saxon and Gellerman, have seen each other for about a week in the last four months. Some of them played a practice round together this week and after Thursday’s opening round, they were all deciding who was in on an off-site lunch.
The only thing missing this week is Oklahoma head coach Ryan Hybl. Hybl did, however, text his former players Wednesday evening to wish them all good luck.
Kropp earned the bragging rights for the opening 18 holes, shooting 1-under 71 Thursday on the Crooked Cat course. He is T-67 after the first of four rounds. Ancer played the Panther Lake course and shot even-par 71. Gellerman and Saxon were 2 over, and Schoolcraft 3 over.
Saxon might have some status, but he needs to finish inside the top 25 and ties to earn those early guaranteed starts, even if he might not be able to use them. He might have to have hip surgery soon, and could be out until April at the earliest.
“It would be nice to finish in the top 45 and ties, and be able to take a medical,” Saxon said.
Ancer, who played on the PGA Tour last season, has some status, too, as does Gellerman, but both are trying to improve their priority ranking this week.
“I made it to the (Web.com Tour) Finals last year, so I played good,” Gellerman said. “But I’m back here, so I didn’t play good enough.”
Gellerman said the toughest part of turning pro was all the added responsibilities off the golf course.
“In college they take care of your travel and everything,” Gellerman said. “I had to get used to taking care of my travel. Finding a caddie is a hard thing to do, too, especially when you get into a tournament late. And just getting used to your practice regimen when your at tournaments and things like that.
“It’s just different, because in college you just do whatever you’re told.”
It’s not college anymore, but this week it sure feels like it.