When UCLA hired Andrew Larkin to be the assistant coach for the men’s golf team in August 2015, Devon Bling was already committed to the Bruins.
By the time Bling finally got to campus two years later, the two quickly formed a bond through their similar personalities and shared work ethic. While Larkin and Bling may sound like a local law firm or bad buddy-cop movie, in reality it’s a successful on-course relationship.
“(Coach Larkin) pushes me to practice harder and work on different things,” explained Bling, now a sophomore. “When I’m in trouble mentally or with a swing, he’s always there to keep me going and push me in the right direction.”
Bling and Larkin are confident in their relationship and their ability to work together on the course, but the greatest test in golf awaits to test just how good they really are.
At Pebble Beach with Larkin as his caddie, Bling finished runner-up in the 2018 U.S. Amateur to earn invitations to this year’s Masters and U.S. Open, which will also be held at Pebble Beach.
“Watching him mature and grow with his game has been special,” Larkin said of his experience at the U.S. Amateur. “It was fun for me as a coach to see him live out his dream and see his potential come to fruition.”
At the U.S. Amateur, Bling was tied for 36th after stroke play and then caught fire in match play. He earned a 5-and-4 victory in the first round and won 2 up in the second round before grinding out a third-round win in 20 holes. A pair of 1 up wins in the quarters and semifinals put Bling in the 36-hole final vs. Golfweek’s No. 2 ranked Viktor Hovland, which he ultimately lost to the Oklahoma State Cowboy 6-and-5.
“For a California guy to play Spyglass and Pebble for the U.S. Amateur, there’s no two better places in California to play, let alone the country, to play,” Larkin said.
Well, except maybe Augusta National.
Bling said his performance at Pebble Beach gave him a lot of confidence going forward in his career. That confidence, when paired with his work ethic, makes the young Bruin a dangerous player.
“I like the reward, being able to go to a difficult course and display my skill set under tough conditions and pressure. I look forward to the challenge,” said Bling.
For Larkin, it’s Bling’s raw ability and “potential for elite distance” that stand out the most.
“(Devon’s) raw ability is as good as anyone in the country. He’s a phenomenal iron player, can hit any shot and create a lot, and that’s something that’s pretty God-given,” said Larkin, who before UCLA was the head men’s and women’s golf coach at his alma mater, Occidental College. “He’s got some really good natural gifts.”
When it comes to a challenge like the Masters or U.S. Open, natural talent can only go so far, especially for a player like Bling, who isn’t afraid to show his emotions on the course.
That’s where Larkin comes in.
“(Larkin) will be there to keep my head level throughout the tournament,” said Bling. “It’s what he did at the U.S. Amateur. Whenever I’d get upset or irritated he was always there looking at the grand scheme of things saying, ‘It’s fine, let’s move on and make a birdie on the next hole.’”
While he relishes the opportunity, Larkin knows this experience is all about Bling.
“The moment is about Devon, so for me to go caddie, it’s cool to be a part of a program that has a player of his ability. As a coach, it’s rewarding in that sense. My whole thing is enjoy the walk with him and stay out of everyone else’s way more than anything else,” Larkin said with a smile.
From his busy class schedule as a business economics major – for now – to his practice and tournament schedule, Bling sees it all as a build-up for the Masters and U.S. Open.
“I do look ahead to (the Masters and U.S. Open), but I just take it day-by-day, knowing each day working with the team and coaches will heighten my ability,” said Bling. “I’m always thinking about it.” Gwk