Tech’s Ogletree gets a first, abbreviated look at golf on PGA Tour

Andy Ogletree’s journey from the Georgia Tech practice facility to the PGA Tour is still largely unmapped. In uncertain times who knows if he can get there from here? But, at least this much he has put behind him: He hammered his first-ever hole on the big-boy circuit.

No. 10 at Colonial Country Club – Ogletree launched from the back nine in Thursday’s first round of the Charles Schwab Challenge – is a fairly straight-forward, merciful 404-yard par 4 that allows for an iron off the tee. Tech’s U.S. Amateur champion bisected the fairway, hit his approach to six feet and converted his birdie putt.

Easy as that, so began what is Ogletree’s PGA Tour debut in all ways but financial (he is retaining his amateur status in order to play in November’s delayed Masters).

What nerves? As he said on that Wednesday, “I’ve prepared my whole life to be ready for that, so I don’t know why I’d be nervous. If I do feel nervous, I’ll know how to handle it. I’ll be fine.”

There were 35 other holes to play in Fort Worth, Texas before Friday’s cut, a line that Ogletree is not expected to rise above (his missed cut will be official late in the day). Shooting 73-69 in the first two rounds of his first PGA Tour event – 2-over – he won’t be around for the weekend. Call this one a valuable learning experience, a small down payment for whatever comes next.

So unsettled is golf, like all else in the coronavirus landscape, that the usual arteries to the PGA Tour are blocked. In a perfect world, Ogletree would have finished out his Tech career as a junior, redeemed his Amateur title for a tee time with Tiger Woods in April’s Masters and then gradually slipped into a pro career.

But in the imperfect now, golf is static. The Tour has said that because of the compressed schedule all those who have their cards and enjoy exempt status now will keep them into next season. Golf’s Triple-A tour, the Korn Ferry, has started up, but the usual tournament at the end where PGA Tour playing privileges are won will not be held. Instead, the top 10 on the Korn Ferry money list at season’s end will earn entry to lesser Tour events in 2021.

The resulting loss of opportunity, along with the need to remain an amateur for the Masters in four months, plays havoc with Ogletree’s master plan. As in, there is no master plan.

Credit: Jon Super

Credit: Jon Super

Ogletree has invitations to play next week at the PGA Tour event at Hilton Head and at the Memorial Tournament on July 16. The Masters on Nov. 12 awaits. Otherwise, so much is up in the air that it’s even conceivable Ogletree would return to Tech for his senior season.

Pretty tight-lipped on the question of returning to Tech, all Ogletree would say is, “I don’t know. I can’t speak on that now. It’s an option.

“I can’t really speak on any of that now. I don’t know what I’m going to get in (as far as other pro events). I’ll kind of see what I get in after the Masters.”

Tournament golf may have taken off the last three months, but Ogletree was hardly without competition. Staying in Atlanta, he was part of a group organized by former Tech player Stewart Cink that played together on some of the lusher local courses. “We had 20 to 30 guys every week for three months. Usually a couple days a week of that,” Ogletree said. “It’s been good. We’ve all been able to keep our games kind of sharp.”

Between that and occasional visits to his swing coach on Sea Island, Ogletree said he reported to Colonial in as fit a playing shape as possible. And once there, the fact that no fans were allowed on the property made it all feel more comfortable to him, like it was a college tournament. If not, that is, for the practice-round matches when he and his playing partner were getting schooled by the likes of Phil Mickelson, Bill Haas, Lucas Glover and Brendan Steele. “I kind of ran into a buzz-saw twice, a couple hot putters. But that’s what you’re supposed to do out here,” Ogletree said.

The drawback to a gallery-free event was not being able to have his family there this week to witness his first swings in a PGA Tour event. “Everyone is having to deal with the same thing so I don’t think I can look at it like (a disappointment),” he said.

As he laid them out earlier in the week, Ogletree’s goals for this first voyage were simple and broad: “Trying to get the most experience I can possibly get. Trying to build some relationships out here, get to know these guys. Just play as well as I can. There are things I can control and things that I can’t control – for instance I can control my preparation, I can control my decision-making. I can’t control what someone else goes out and shoots.”

And on golf’s comeback from a long spring’s nap, they have been going very low at Colonial indeed, the leaders double-digit under par after the first two days.

For future reference, know that Ogletree also finished with a birdie Friday, making another six-footer on No. 18. A very modest parting gift for the amateur.