Golf has always been a part of my life. My parents have footage of me in a walker swinging a plastic club. If I didn’t play golf, I would have been a baseball player. I could sit and watch baseball all day. The mentality of a golfer is like the mentality of a pitcher. If you’re standing on the tee telling yourself, “Don’t hit it there,” or if you’re standing on the mound saying, “Don’t throw it down the middle,” that’s exactly what’s going to happen.
I grew up in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and I’m a huge Red Sox fan. I’ve probably been to Fenway 40 times. I’ve been pretty lucky as a sports fan because the Patriots have won Super Bowls and the Red Sox have won World Series during my lifetime. It was different for my parents, growing up with all those letdowns. My mom told me the story of watching the 1986 World Series. When the ball went through Buckner’s legs, my dad left the room and went upstairs. She says he wasn’t the same after that.
When I was 13 I told my dad I wanted to move to Florida to attend the IMG Academy. I wanted to be a golfer, and that’s hard to do in New England where I could only practice half the year. I thought I was good enough to compete with the best players in the country. My dad was all for it, so we went after it. My mom moved to Florida with me, and my dad stayed north with my brother. I know it was difficult for my mother to have the family split up, and I’m thankful to her.
My dad is just like everybody else’s dad. I see him as kind of a goofy guy with a great sense of humor. I try to get in a battle of wits with him, but he always gets me. I emulate him because I’ve never seen anyone work as hard as he does. Growing up, I would wake in the morning, and he would already be gone. He was the first one to leave the house every day. He started as a sales rep and worked his way up. He worked hard to get where he is. That’s where I learned that there is no substitute for hard work. That’s why I wanted to move to Florida, to play against guys who would push you every day and who never wanted to lose. Competition is the best way to get better.
The biggest adversity I ever faced was freshman year at Oklahoma State. Karsten Creek [Oklahoma State’s home course] is still probably one of the hardest courses I’ll ever play. You stand on a tee, and it looks like you’re trying to hit it down a train track. From a mentality standpoint, I wasn’t ready to handle a golf course like that. It was difficult.
Plus, the team was loaded. Rickie Fowler. Morgan Hoffmann. Trent Leon. Kevin Tway, Bob’s son. Jon McLean, Jim’s son. We had three guys exempt, and the rest of us were playing for two spots. And nobody could beat Kevin at Karsten; he’s been playing there since he was a pup. To get hit with that freshman year took some getting used to, but I finally did. In the spring I started playing well. I tied for eighth at a tournament at Texas A&M. Four weeks later came the NCAA South Central Regional at Karsten. I finished second to Tway. At the time that was probably one of the greatest tournaments I had played.
When I got picked for the 2009 Walker Cup team, yeah, I heard those snickers that I didn’t deserve it. It was hard not to. But that just goes back to my mentality. I’m not out to prove anyone wrong. I play because I love playing. When my coach told me I was playing all four matches, I built some confidence off of that. [Uihlein went 4-0.] The thing I remember most was playing a nine-hole practice round with Fowler and Hoffmann. It was just the three of us, and we knew it’d be the last time we’d all be together because Rick was turning pro. We had so much fun playing. Then we went out and won 16 1/2 to 9 1/2. The three of us like to say it was Oklahoma State 10 1/2, GB&I 9 1/2.
What ever happens I’ve decided to stay four years at Oklahoma State. I just love it. When you play golf for OSU you’re representing a golf tradition that’s second to none. I’ve always equated OSU golf to Duke basketball. That’s what tradition is, to win all the time, to be the best and have everyone gunning for you. I love that. In Oklahoma, when you go to a restaurant and have on a Cowboys shirt, people come up and talk to you and ask you how the season’s going.
I still get goose bumps when I think about winning last summer’s U.S. Amateur. Having my brother and my parents there—and that it happened on my birthday—was pretty crazy. That week always flashes back to me. I can’t wait to go to the Masters and see Phil Mickelson up close [the Amateur champ plays with the Masters champ for the first two rounds] and see in person how he hits shots. The guy is one of the greatest players of our time, and I’m looking forward to seeing his game and seeing how I measure up and where I need to improve. I know you have to work the ball both ways and that Augusta is long and wide, so I feel as if it sets up well for me. I’m always working the ball and hitting different shots.
I had my U.S. Amateur trophy at Karsten forever, but now I have it in my room. I never really looked at it until about a week ago. The history of it, seeing the names on it, is just crazy. Woods. Mickelson. And, being a New England boy, seeing Francis Ouimet up there? Now that’s pretty cool.