Casey Wittenberg was groomed for greatness.
A Leadbetter Academy prodigy with a former
Tour pro dad, he went on to star at Oklahoma
State, and later tied the scoring record for an
amateur at the 2004 Masters.
But his reputation — fairly or not — was forged during his quarterfinal match
at the 2003 U.S. Amateur. Playing against 53-year-old stockbroker
George Zahringer, Wittenberg, in reflective-lens sunglasses,
came off as arrogant. Or at least that’s how the NBC
analysts described him, most pointedly on the 13th hole when
Wittenberg struck a 20-foot putt and strolled off the green
before it dropped. Wittenberg, now 24, says he has matured
since that week, but still insists he was misportrayed.
Nobody really knew me at the ’03
Amateur. I was an 18-year-old kid, and the
commentators didn’t have much to talk
about. Gary Koch [an NBC analyst] wanted
to pick on me. Koch said I wasn’t deserving
because of my past, because I went to the
Leadbetter Academy, that I was bred to be
a golfer. I took a different route than George,
whose dad worked in a blue-collar job.
has always been a serious thing for me.
My dad [Jimmy] played on the Tour. Where I
went to high school, nobody cared who you
were taking to prom. They cared about how
many tournaments you won. The Williams
sisters [Venus and Serena] were there,
Paula Creamer. We had a good time, but
it was very, very competitive.
My interpretation was that I had a
pretty good idea that the putt [on
the 13th green] was going in. I wasn’t
trying to show up anybody or showboat. It
was just the job, and I got it done. We were
trying to get into the Masters. I treated
every match as businesslike as I possibly
could. I was trying to be as courteous as
I could. When George was asked about
it by reporters, he didn’t know what
they were talking about. It wouldn’t ever
happen again. For two years, I was kind
of portrayed like that.
I’m 24 now. I was
18 then. Nobody talks about the amateur
anymore. I’m at a different level of golf now.
Gary Koch’s a commentator,
that’s what he’s paid to do. I wish
he would’ve said something to me
privately, but that’s all behind me now.
Your perception, your handle on life
changes when you get older. I had some
growing up to do, but I don’t take anything
back about being confident on the golf
course. It was unfortunate, but I’ve grown
from that opportunity. It’s made me mature.
My best memory from the 2004
Masters was when I eagled 15 on
Sunday. I was on the green with my father
[who was his caddy], and we knew then
that we’d get to come back to the Masters
the next year [for finishing in the top 15]. I
was in Tiger’s group the first couple days.
Then I got away from that circus and played
a little bit better on the weekend. But I
didn’t appreciate the moment like I should
have. I didn’t have the understanding that
could let me appreciate it.
When I turned pro at 18, I wasn’t as
aware about everything that goes into
professional golf. I wasn’t used to the
travel, the number of tournaments. It went
from being something cool to do to being a
365-day-a-year job. That was an adjustment.
I don’t think people understand how
hard it is out here. It’s totally different
than a corporate job. Pretty much everything
in my life revolves around my game. It’s
demanding on families, on coaches, and [on
everyone] as far as travel is concerned. To
be where I am and thinking about where my
friends are who have graduated, I’m doing
pretty good. It’s a privilege.
No, I didn’t have too much success
too soon. Those were irreplaceable
memories. You’re fortunate when
you’re that successful that young. If that
happens, you deserve the right to play
at the Masters. If you put it on paper,
this was my first full year out of school.
I was on the Nationwide Tour this year
and will be on the PGA Tour next year. If
you would’ve told me that when I was a
freshman, I would’ve said, “Book it.”