SBJ/August 15-21, 2011/Labor and Agents

This amateur has the golf world watching

Potential pro is also son of powerful golf executive

When Peter Uihlein tees off to defend his title as U.S. Amateur champion next week, there will be the usual speculation on future marketability and potential PGA Tour success that comes with most promising young players.

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Peter Uihlein has compiled a long résumé of successes in amateur and collegiate golf.
But Uihlein is no regular young golfer, and interest in him is far more than the norm. He’s also the son of one of the most powerful men in the sport: Wally Uihlein, chairman and CEO of Acushnet Co., which owns the Titleist, Footjoy and other leading golf brands.

“One of the biggest questions amongst agents is the question of who will represent Peter Uihlein,” said veteran golf agent Rocky Hambric, “not only because Peter is one of the top two amateurs in the world, but because he and his family are the most informed consumers of management services in the history of the game.”

Peter Uihlein, who will turn 22 at the end of this month, has won every major amateur award and title and has topped every national and international amateur ranking for the last few years. He intends to compete in the U.S. Amateur as well as represent the United States in the Walker Cup for the second time early next month before starting his senior year, planning to complete his degree at Oklahoma State University.

Meanwhile, Wally Uihlein, in his role overseeing one of the world’s largest golf companies, has known — and negotiated with — all the major agents in golf for decades. Acushnet posted more than $1.2 billion in sales last year.

IMG Vice Chairman Alastair Johnston, who oversees IMG’s golf division, said the golf world is watching and waiting to see what Peter Uihlein does.

“I think he is the most anticipated in that he has a name-brand recognition in the golf industry and everybody wants to see how Wally’s kid plays,” Johnston said. “For anyone who came into the golf industry in the last 25 years, the first person they wanted to know was Wally Uihlein. But Peter has earned that reputation and has earned that respect.”

Wally Uihlein reluctantly consented to be interviewed for this story, first by email and then by phone, because, in part, he is aware of the growing speculation about his son’s future plans and he wanted to point out that such talk is premature.

In response to an emailed question of how many agents had expressed an interest in representing his son, Uihlein wrote back, “Peter is an NCAA student athlete.” He was even more emphatic in the subsequent phone interview. “We don’t even know if he is turning pro,” Uihlein said.

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Wally Uihlein, Peter’s father, is chairman and CEO of golf giant Acushnet Co.
As to rumors that Peter Uihlein already has a business plan for when he turns pro, including hiring a particular agent, Wally Uihlein said, “Many people have insinuated there is a plan. There isn’t a plan.”

But the talk continues. Among the hottest rumors is that Peter Uihlein will hire a representative with a well-known name from long ago: Hughes Norton, the former IMG agent who was Tiger Woods’ first agent. Attempts to reach Norton, who has virtually disappeared from the golf industry in recent years, were unsuccessful.

Wally Uihlein laughed when asked about that talk. “That rumor, for the most part, is prompted by me,” he said, adding that it is “a ruse.” He said he brings up Norton’s name — and points out that he counts Norton as one of his oldest friends — when someone in the industry brings up the subject of who Peter might sign with.

“It’s as much a disarming comment,” Uihlein said, “intended to say, ‘Hey, this subject matter is out of bounds.’”

Uihlein has been CEO of Acushnet since 2000 and has worked in golf since 1976. When asked if it is a forgone conclusion that Peter, who has played Titleist equipment his entire life, would sign with Titleist when and if he turns pro, Wally Uihlein wrote back, “I suspect Titleist will have an interest in an association with Peter, but that is for the company to decide, not me.”

In the follow-up phone interview, Uihlein said he would recuse himself from any decision by the company on whether Titleist would sign Peter.

That kind of separation wouldn’t be new. By all accounts, Wally Uihlein has not been the stereotypical, pushy parent of a gifted young athlete through Peter’s growth.

“You would never hear from him,” said David Whelan, Peter’s coach at IMG Academies from the time Peter was 13 until he entered Oklahoma State. “The only time Wally and I would communicate is Wally saying, ‘Peter would like to see you.’ Wally, if anything, really created the environment for Peter to do whatever he wanted to do.”

Oklahoma State officials declined to make Peter Uihlein available for an interview, in deference to NCAA amateurism rules because the story pertains to a potential pro career. OSU officials are increasingly protective of Uihlein’s time, with a growing number of interview requests being made. Peter has already been featured in numerous stories in industry trades, including Golf Magazine and Golf Digest, and he was dubbed “Golf’s Little Prince” in a Wall Street Journal article earlier this year.

“We have just tried to stop Peter from getting run over,” said Oklahoma State golf coach Mike McGraw. “Ultimately, what is more important: that he talks to another reporter or that he plays well?”

When asked how good Peter Uihlein is and how he compares to other young golfers, McGraw said he thinks maybe one or two amateur golfers have accomplished in the last 30 years what Peter Uihlein has done. “It’s pretty rare,” he said, “to be the No. 1 ranked junior player in the country twice and then to be ranked the No. 1 college player and then the No. 1 ranked amateur in the world and to be the U.S. Amateur champ.”
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