- The Washington Times - Monday, June 13, 2011

The breeze drifted through Congressional Country Club, soft and fragrant with the smell of pine cones baking in the afternoon sun.

Leaderboards were blank. Officials wore crisp U.S. Open red, white and blue polo shirts just out of the package. Sunburns hadn’t started. Only a few water bottles filled the blue and green trash bags. Vendors practiced halfhearted pitches for beer and ice cream and Gatorade to the fans trickling through the first practice day for the U.S. Open on Monday.

Two golf carts still had scorecards and pencils attached to the steering wheels, left over from the quiet days before the Open. The grass in public areas was thick and deep green and not tamped down by crowds. Along one rope leading to the practice range, a thin line of autograph seekers whispered the names of their heroes.

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One jittery 21-year-old named Peter Uihlein was in the middle of it all.

Maybe the name is familiar. Uihlein’s father, Wally, is the chairman and chief executive officer of Acushnet Co., which includes brands such as FootJoy, Pinnacle and Titleist.

Peter Uihlein, starting his senior year this fall at Oklahoma State University, is the reigning U.S. Amateur champion. As such, he tees off at 7:55 a.m. Thursday with the men who took the U.S. Open, Graeme McDowell, and British Open, Louis Oosthuizen.

Less than 24 hours into his first U.S. Open, Uihlein’s head spun.

“I still get nervous in college,” said Uihlein, who played in the Masters in April, “So I think no matter what the setting is, I’ll still be a little more nervous.”

Was he nervous right now?

“Yeah,” he said. “Do I look nervous?”

Uihlein stashed a couple of irons, including one covered with a fuzzy version of Goofy, under a table while he talked. His ballcap was pulled low and sunglasses perched on the back of his head. He looked every bit a 21-year-old, maybe younger.

Golf has been part of his life, almost as long as he can remember. When he was 5 or 6, Uihlein hit balls on a course for the first time. That was back in his hometown of New Bedford, Mass. Back then, he hit from the 100-yard plate. On his first swing of his first hole, the ball rolled in.

Perhaps you’d expect nothing less from the son of a man who sells golf equipment. But Uihlein claims no special insight into that world. His father is, well, his father.

His mother, Tina, is here. So is Alan Bratton, the associate head coach for the Oklahoma State men’s and women’s golf teams, who is caddying for Uihlein. Same for his swing coach at IMG Academies, David Whelan. They provide a comfort level on golf’s biggest stage.

The Masters, where Uihlein didn’t make the cut, gave him the first whiff of a major.

“The biggest thing was just getting comfortable out there in front of all the people and just the whole major setting and how difficult major championships are, how patient … you have to be,” Uihlein said. “Hopefully, I’ll use some of that experience this week and have a little better week.”

Getting comfortable took time Monday, as the late spring afternoon seemed to exhale after a stretch of intense heat. One shot at a time may be cliche, but it’s Uihlein’s mantra this week. By the end of Uihlein’s practice round with Adam Scott and David May, he felt better. The 18 holes helped ease his nerves.

The crowds will grow and temperatures will rise at Congressional. Everyone and everything seemed to be gathering strength on this tranquil afternoon for what is to come, the toughest four days a golfer can face.