The quotation from the proud father was a version of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous words, “Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
The path of Peter Uihlein took him inside a cage below the surface of the Indian Ocean, where a Great White Shark with jaws wide open approached while closing in on a tuna. The jagged, triangular teeth gnashed at the tuna’s head against the cage, and the former U.S. Amateur champion could see black eyes roll over to white.
“That was the coolest,” Uihlein said. “When I knew I was going to South Africa, that’s the thing I’ve always wanted to do. We were in Mossel Bay. I was told it was a good cage dive, so we did it. We were out there for five hours. They chum up the water, and there were six or seven of them. It was incredible.”
The 23-year-old out of Oklahoma State earned a spot in the BMW PGA Championship with his two-shot victory Sunday in the Madeira Island Open in Portugal, his first win since he turned pro in December 2011 and set off on a course where few Americans venture.
It started with the Gujarat Kensville Challenge in India.
In the last 18 months, he has been to Korea and Kazakhstan, Finland and France, the Czech Republic and Copenhagen.
Uihlein tried Q-school on the PGA Tour as an amateur and didn’t get out of second stage, leaving him no status on any tour. Most young Americans, especially with his pedigree as a U.S. Amateur champion and two-time Walker Cup player, would try to make the most out of sponsor exemptions on the PGA Tour, or even try to work their way up through the Web.com Tour.
Looking at golf through a wide lens, and with the advice of those who see golf on a global landscape, Uihlein headed to Europe and beyond.
His father is Wally Uihlein, chief executive of Acushnet, which makes Titleist golf equipment. His agent is Chubby Chandler of International Sports Management, whose stable began with Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke and now includes a couple of South African stars in Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel. He began working with Butch Harmon and his son, Claude Harmon III.
There were times when travel, failures and solitude could have made him question what he was doing so far from home.
“Based on the guys I have around me _ Butch, Chubs, my dad _ they’ve been doing this a long, long time,” Uihlein said. “If they say it’s the right thing to do, who am I to question what they say? I had no doubts.”
“Name me one golfer that doesn’t get frustrated,” he said with a laugh.
He says he is not the least bit envious of Jordan Spieth, the 19-year-old from Texas who started out trying to make it through sponsor exemptions. Spieth was closing in on Web.com Tour status when he tied for second in the Puerto Rico Open and tied for seventh in the Tampa Bay Championship, which earned him unlimited exemptions on the PGA Tour. He now has locked up his card for 2014.