Ahmedabad: Not many Masters Tournament debutants are afforded the privilege of playing alongside a pair of Major Champions over the first two rounds at Augusta National, but Peter Uihlein’s reputation had clearly preceded him.
If he found being paired with the defending champion Phil Mickelson and Geoff Ogilvy a daunting proposition last April the young American did not show it, shooting an opening round of 72 which enhanced an already burgeoning reputation built on his victory at the US Amateur Championship and six wins on the collegiate circuit during his time at Oklahoma State University.
He recalled: “Playing in the same group as Phil and Geoff at the Masters was something I’ll never forget, no matter what I go on to achieve in the game. They’re both great guys, and you can only learn from playing with them.”
Another glimpse of his prodigious talents came at The 2011 Open Championship, where he was one of only two amateurs to make the cut at Royal St George’s Golf Club along with the eventual Silver Medal winner Tom Lewis, who entered the winners’ enclosure on The European Tour shortly after turning professional.
This week, Uihlein’s globetrotting adventure sees him travel several thousand miles from his native Florida to Kensville Golf and Country Club in Ahmedabad, India, host venue for the opening event of the 2012 Challenge Tour campaign.
The €200,000 tournament marks Uhlein’s first competitive outing since he relinquished his amateur status at the end of last year, and whilst the two-time Walker Cup player perhaps did not envisage taking his professional bow on the Indian sub-continent, he is clearly determined to embrace the opportunity.
Uihlein said: “I’m very excited to be here – it’s a great opportunity for me. I was lucky enough to get a sponsors’ invitation to play, which I’m very grateful for, and hopefully I can make the most of my chance.
“The Challenge Tour is a great breeding ground for The European Tour, so I’m looking forward to testing myself against the guys out here. I’ve got a few more events on the Challenge Tour and The European Tour coming up, starting with Dubai next week and then Qatar the week after, so this week should be a great warm-up for that.”
Uhlein, who will be dividing his time between the States and the house owned by his management company in Manchester, will recognise some familiar faces in this week’s field, including his fellow American Scott Pinckney and Korea’s Byeong-hun An, who is attached to the same club in Orlando.
It might be overstating matters to call it an American invasion, but the former World Amateur Number One is keen for more of his compatriots to cross the Atlantic in order to broaden their golfing and cultural horizons.
He said: “I’d definitely recommend it, because playing in different conditions and on different courses can only make you a better player. Plus the standard is so high on The European Tour now, and even here on the Challenge Tour. If you don’t play well you don’t get anywhere, so it definitely helps to toughen you up.”
Uihlein remains coy over the mid and long-term goals he wants to achieve in the game, preferring to fall back on the old adage of letting his clubs do the talking, but in the shorter term the 22 year old is keen to make the most of the opportunities which his impressive amateur career has afforded him.
He said: “My first goal is just to get comfortable with the life of a professional golfer, and also to enjoy it. I’ve got a few tournaments coming up, so hopefully I can keep on learning and improving my game. It’s more of a marathon than a sprint, so I’m going to stay patient and not get frustrated if things don’t go my way straight away. It’s a long process, and I don’t need to rush into anything or make too many changes.”
Having flown to Ahmedabad from Dubai, where he spent some time practising and playing with his management company stable mate and the World Number Two Lee Westwood, Uihlein’s address book is full of players he can turn to for advice on what it takes to reach the pinnacle of the sport.
He said: “I had a couple of great days in Dubai, playing with Lee and also with Romain Wattel, who had such a great rookie season on Tour last year. I also spent some time with Chris Wood, and all these guys know what life’s like on Tour, so hopefully some of their experience and know-how can rub off on me.
“Playing with Lee and watching how he goes about his business showed me the kind of levels I need to aspire to reach the top. He’s an unbelievable player, and I’ve got a long way to go before I can get to where he’s at. But I’m hopeful of getting there one day.”