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Expect Uihlein to make serious noise later this summer

Post by Todd Milles / The News Tribune on July 9, 2010 at 9:27 pm with No Comments »
July 9, 2010 9:31 pm
Oklahoma State's Peter Uihlein blistered the field Friday to win the 17th Sahalee Players Championship at The Home Course.

The summer of 2004, as most serious golfers around the Northwest know and do not need to be reminded of, was a classic time for one local player.

Puyallup’s Ryan Moore swept through the summer like a pack of wolverines ready to pounce on prey. He won everything, which included the Sahalee Players Championship in record-setting fashion.

Well, on Friday, the best amateur to play in that prestigious event since Moore’s triumph – Peter Uihlein – gave a near-flawless performance in posting a seven-stroke win at The Home Course.

His 17-under 271 is now considered a new tournament mark, although most pundits would agree, Moore’s 16-under 272 at Sahalee Country Club where the tournament is usually held was recorded on a more challenging layout.

That should not discount what Uihlein accomplished Friday after his 4-under-par 68 in the final round to beat University Place’s Andrew Putnam by seven shots.

Nor should it be overlooked at the upcoming U.S. Amateur, held on two courses that will be in the national spotlight for the first time (Chambers Bay, The Home Course), has a midsummer favorite – Uihlein.

Uihlein’s credential bark stardom, now and in the future: He was an American Junior Golf Association darling, and player of the year. He starred on the U.S. Walker Cup. He is No. 2 in the world rankings for amateurs, and tops in the United States.

The weaknesses in his game are few and far between: His “stinger” 3-wood would rival some of the longest-hitting stars hitting driver. He flashes creativity in all facets. He’s calm. He’s fast-paced. He’s confident – borderline cocky, but only shows it between the lines.

“I felt like I was playing for second,” Putnam acknowledged, “most of the time.”

There is something about trading wits against a golfer who drives it long, hits it close and putts true 90 percent of the time that can be deflating. And it’s downright exhausting watching him – in this case, Uihlen – get up-and-down under the harrowing of conditions.

• Case study ‘A': Putnam had a chance to creep real close midway through the front nine, staring at a long birdie putt (which he made) while Uihlen was not only in the high fescue on the side of the par-3 sixth green, his path was impeded by an imposing bunker, which guarded a short path to a pin placement 20 feet away from the fringe on a sidehill.

Uihlen said he “whiffed” a shot – he might have – but it cleared the bunker by a few inches. It landed so softly, it stayed on the fringe.

To cap it all off, Uihlen rolled in a 12-foot par-saving putt.

“Kind of fluky, actually,” he said with a smirk. “I couldn’t do it again if I tried.”

• Case study ‘B': Same scenario, almost same situation. With Putnam looking at a 10-foot birdie putt on the short par-4 11th, Uihlen was left scrambling from the backside of the green in the rough.

He stopped his chip at almost the same distance as Putnam, rolled in another par putt, then watched Putnam lip out.

Game, set and match.

“That was the best up-and-down of the day,” Uihlen said, “because Andrew was in there close.”

To those who approached, Uihlen said all the right things afterward. He said the tournament was first-rate, as expected. He loved the area. He had always wanted to get up here and play an event of this caliber.

Had the Sahalee Players Championship not been moved out of its usual home for the U.S. Senior Open, and to the assisting course for the U.S. Amateur this summer, most likely, Uihlen would not have appeared.

But encouraged by the circumstances, and swayed by tournament officials on that fact alone, he committed to play immediately. And his first stop wasn’t the Space Needle, or Mount Rainier or a ferry to Vashon Island – it was to Chambers Bay.

“Phillip Francis (college-golf pal) said it was long and hard,” Uihlen said. “And that is what it was, wide and long. So is this place. Tee-wise, there’s not much to aim at.”

Based on two exemptions – a U.S. Walker Cup member and being a 2009 U.S. Amateur quarterfinalist – Uihlen is already in this year’s championship. The excitement isn’t difficult to sense, especially since he’s already funneled through all the match-play possibilities Chambers Bay provides.

“You can put guys on different tees on different holes. There’s a hole with two greens – I hadn’t see that before, and it’s kind of cool,” the Oklahoma State University star said. “It’s the USGA, they’ll change some things up. I think it will be fun. What they did at Southern Hills and Hazeltine was pretty cool, and I’m excited to see what’s next.”

• Nick Taylor was one of five golfers to card the day’s best round – a 68 – on Friday, and finished his defense of the Sahalee Players Championship alone in third at 281 – 10 strokes behind Uihlen.

The reigning Hogan Award winner will stay in the amateur ranks through the U.S. Amateur, then map out his plans to turn professional, which could include a Canadian Tour exemption, or possibly something in the PGA Tour’s ‘Fall Series.’

“I wanted to play those tournaments again – they’re such good tournaments,” said Taylor, who holds a number of records at the University of Washington. “I was never in a rush to turn pro. If I was in a rush, I would have done it right after the NCAAs, but I like playing amateur golf, and hanging out with these guys I know.”

• Lacey’s Cameron Peck had little time for the round-ending barbecue Friday. He had to get home, pack and board a 10 p.m. flight out to North Carolina for the U.S. Amateur Public Links.

Peck will have to endure a 36-hole U.S. Amateur qualifier at The Home Course in early August.

“I have a pretty busy schedule,” Peck said. “I’m not going to have a whole lot of time to prepare, but playing tournaments, it makes my game sharper.”

• Quick-hit stuff: Putnam, who played in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links last month, has decided to play in the Southern Amateur next week. He just returned from a trip to Ireland with his Pepperdine teammates. … UW standout Chris Williams has his summer scheduled lined up: U.S. Public Links; Pacific Coast Amateur; U.S. Amateur qualifying at Palouse Ridge near his home in Moscow, Idaho; and quite possibly an exemption to a professional tournament, if it breaks right. … Sahalee Players founder Mike Johnson had an exemption to play in his own tournament this week, but turned it down. He is the reigning men’s club champion at Sahalee Country Club.

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