JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) – Former U.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein is turning pro and is willing to travel.
In a decision that reflects the changing nature of a global game, Uihlein announced Monday he would not return for his final semester at Oklahoma State and will begin his career exclusively on the European Tour, not only through sponsor exemptions but even on Europe's second-tier Challenge Tour.
Uihlein, one of America's top prospects, signed with Chubby Chandler of British-based International Sports Management, joining a stable that includes Lee Westwood, British Open champion Darren Clarke and Masters champion Charl Schwartzel.
The idea of turning pro in January was to give the 22-year-old Uihlein an entire year to try to earn full status on a major tour. What makes this decision unusual was an American starting off in Europe.
"There has been a great list of players who cut their teeth in Europe,'' Uihlein said, mentioning Adam Scott, Rory McIlroy and Schwartzel. "They all started in Europe and gained great experience by playing different courses. It's a new challenge.''
Uihlein will make his pro debut against the best. He is to play Jan. 26-29 in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, a tournament that boasts one of the strongest fields of the year with defending champion Martin Kaymer, world No. 1 Luke Donald, McIlroy, Westwood and Tiger Woods.
He also is expected to play in the Qatar Masters and Dubai Desert Classic, and possibly the Avantha Masters in India.
Uihlein won the U.S. Amateur in 2010 at Chambers Bay and was the No. 1 amateur in the world for 12 months. He played on two Walker Cup teams, twice was named AJGA Player of the Year and won nine amateur and college tournaments in an 18-month span. He was the Ben Hogan Award winner in 2011.
Taking advantage of a rule that allows amateurs to go to Q-school, he failed to advance out of the second stage on the PGA Tour, and two weeks ago at the European Tour qualifier in Spain.
Uihlein is the youngest son of Acushnet chief executive Wally Uihlein, who has a keen understanding of the global nature of golf.
"Obviously, we have discussed where the 'world' of golf is headed,'' his father said in an email. "It is as if he is leaving 'home' to see just how much game he has, not unlike many years ago (when) one would leave the rural community and move to the big city. In today's global economy, you leave your home country and see if you can establish a global resume.''
Chandler said there was no rush to sign corporate endorsements for Uihlein, instead letting him worry only about his golf.
"I don't know if this is a new trend, but Wally thinks pretty deeply about the world game,'' Chandler said Monday. "It's fun for us to have the responsibility of looking after him. He's a bit of pioneer, leading the way. This might start others doing the same sort of thing. The interesting thing about Peter is that he wants to do this, and he feels capable that he's going to do it.''
Uihlein said he would have had to stretch himself thin to graduate on time in May, though he wants to finish his degree. He played only once for the Cowboys this fall, taking time off to recharge after a busy summer in which he played in three majors, two other PGA Tour events and the Walker Cup.
"I loved my time at OSU. It was unbelievable experience and I'm definitely going to miss it,'' Uihlein said. "But the timing made perfect sense. I talked to my dad about it, and it seemed like a good opportunity.''
Wally Uihlein spent the bulk of his year going through an ownership change – Acushnet was purchased by a Korean consortium – and watching his son in three majors and the Walker Cup. His wife, Tina, traveled with their son to most of the tournaments.
"I guess she can rack up the miles like me,'' Uihlein said with a laugh.