Sport: Men’s golf
Hometown: Cincinnati (Mariemont H.S.)
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Question: Let’s start with your fall golf schedule: Pebble Beach, Inverness, Coldstream, Pumpkin Ridge, NCR — do you realize how much money some people would pay to play those courses?
Answer: We’re really lucky to have the schedule we do. We not only get to play great courses throughout the year but we’re playing championship-level courses, which prepares us for tournaments at the end of our season.
Q: Regarding your first tournament, at Pebble, you’ve played that a few times, right? Does it ever get old?
A: No. I’ve had the same caddie all three years I’ve played there. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first time or your 100th time at Pebble Beach, it’s still the same jaw-dropping experience every time.
Q: Do you have a favorite course that you’ve played?
A: It’s hard to pick a favorite because I’ve played so many tremendous courses. There are elements about different courses that make them stick out to me. Pebble Beach has the most amazing views on a course that I’ve played. Pinehurst No. 2 is special to me because of the memories I’ve had there. Winged Foot West is another course that is special because it’s an old classic club and is typical of New York and classic American golf.
Q: Besides Augusta National, which everyone wants to play, what’s a course you’d like to try?
A: Cypress Point in California. Our coaches just played with some alums when we were out there a few weeks ago and word is that we may be close to getting to play it as a team. I can’t wait.
Q: When OSU played at Pebble a few weeks ago, was that the same tournament when Hurly Long of Texas Tech set the course record with a 61? Did you congratulate him, or remind him that you once shot a 59 at Pinehurst No. 1?
A: We were eating lunch afterward and he sat down beside us. We were like, “Dude, that was incredible.” To get a course record in a collegiate event and to do it at a course like Pebble Beach is amazing. Of all the players that have played there in PGA Tour events, U.S. Opens, U.S. Amateurs, pretty much all the best players in the world over the last 60 years have played at Pebble Beach in some event and to say you have the record. It’s a tremendous honor.
Q: Of course, you could have reminded him that as a 16-year-old you once shot a 59 at Pinehurst No. 1. What happened that day?
A: I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a sunny morning, perfect for golf. I had never played the course before. I was 11 off the lead going into the round, so I went in aggressively knowing I needed a low score. I was 1-under through the first five and went birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie to shoot 6-under on the front. My playing competitors mentioned 59 and then I bogeyed No. 10. They thought they jinxed me. I then rattled off a bunch more birdies and made a 25-footer for birdie on the last hole for 59. It was a surreal day.
Q: The next year you were back at Pinehurst, having qualified for the U.S. Open; does that memory ever get old?
A: Never. Hopefully I play in a bunch more U.S. Opens in my life but there will never be a tournament more memorable for me than that one. As a 17-year old high school kid, I was a little scrawny teenager out there competing with the best players in the world. That’s the beauty of the U.S. Open and the USGA: It’s truly an open. I had an incredible week.
Q: Considering only two players broke par that week, did you feel OK about shooting 77-80?
A: Absolutely! The first round I made five birdies, which was second in the field behind the eventual winner, Martin Kaymer. I shot 42 on my opening nine and once I got past that, I settled in. I birdied three holes in a row on the second nine and then birdied my last hole for 77. That was a big thing for me. It proved that I could compete with the very best in the world. At that age, everyone has in their mind that they want to turn pro and play at the highest level but rarely does someone that young get the opportunity to get a gauge or where your game is compared to players at that level. I was lucky enough to have that experience. It gave me a lot of confidence that I was able to bring with me for my senior year of high school and then to Ohio State. Looking back, if that week had played out differently and I had a bad experience, I’m not sure where my game would be today.
Q: Of all the golf you’ve played, how were the nerves on the first tee at the US Open compare to other tournaments?
A: Oh, man. It wasn’t even close. No other tournaments combined was I as nervous as I was at Pinehurst that first round. I had gotten comfortable by Wednesday because I had played practice rounds with Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler and Brooks Koepka but then when I got on the first tee Thursday, the nerves came flooding back. I haven’t always been the best at consistently controlling my nerves and my heart was pounding and I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I was hitting it around 260 (yards) or so off the tee at that time but I was so amped that day, I think my first drive went like 290 uphill. It was such a cool experience.
Q: Let’s talk Cincinnati. Rank them in order of your preference: Reds, Bengals, Cincinnati chili.
A: 1. Bengals; 2. Reds; 3. Chili.
Q: Why are the Bengals No. 1?
A: It’s hard to choose an order because you hit pretty much my three favorite things about my hometown. I only went with the Bengals because they have had the most recent run of success. It’s hard to justify why chili is third because I feel like they could all be 1 and 1A and 1B.
Q: Who are your favorite players among the Reds and Bengals?
A: He doesn’t play for them anymore, but Brandon Phillips will always be a Red to me. I’m a big believer in not athletes who are great on the field but also give back to community and become a symbol for the city. That’s why I feel sports are great and a huge positive for a city. For the Bengals, I would go with A.J. Green. I love watching that guy catch footballs. You can just toss it up to him and he’ll come down with it.
Q: Any all-time favorites?
A: For football, I loved Chad Johnson and his personality. And even though he was before my time, I’m a Boomer Esiason fan. I’ve watched old film of him and I love the way he threw the ball and was a playmaker. On the baseball side, I’d go with Pete Rose. My dad grew up three doors down from him while he was playing for the Reds. Despite his off-field troubles, he’s a Cincinnati legend.
Q: How about a favorite golfer? Is there someone on whom you’ve modeled your game?
A: I don’t have one golfer who is a favorite but being an Ohio kid growing up I looked up to Jack Nicklaus and his records and accomplishments. Knowing the fact that he grew up in Columbus, went to Ohio State, played at Scioto and now having met him and his family, it’s cool following in his footsteps here at Ohio State. As for a current player, I like watching Phil Mickelson and Matt Kuchar. New guys are fun, too, but I’ll always be fans of Phil and Matt’s game.
Q: How and when did you get started with golf?
A: I was 4 or 5 years old. My dad would go play with his buddies in the morning and we would go to the pool. When my dad got done, we’d jump on a cart and go play nine holes. I’ve always loved playing the game and the competition. I got started really young in US Kids Golf and playing in those tournaments. I have always been self-motivated and the drive to compete has never left me.
Q: What do you remember from your first tournament?
A: It was a junior tournament at Safari when I was 6, the World Championship qualifier and I did not win. I shot 39 and lost by seven shots. I was pumped that I broke 40 in my first tournament but it doesn’t matter what stage of golf you’re in, there are really good players. Some kid shot 4-under in a junior tournament at the age of 6. I can vividly remember the nerves of having never played in a tournament before and having my dad caddie for me. I was bouncing around with a hot dog after the round hanging out by the scoreboard watching the other scores come in. It was a cool experience.
Q: What are your plans or goals going forward, in terms of golf, after you’ve had such a sterling amateur career?
A: It’s hard looking too far ahead with almost two years left here at Ohio State but I would really like to make the Walker Cup team in 2019. If I’m fortunate enough to do that, then I would remain an amateur through that summer and then probably turn pro and head to Q-School to try and get out on the Web.com Tour.
Q: What else do you like to do, when you’re not golfing — or studying? Do you have any hobbies?
A: I’m a sports guy, so watching and playing sports. We’re a really close team so we do a lot of things together. Most involve sports but we hang out and go to movies and just do college things. I’m really enjoying the college experience here.
Q: A lot of kids these days are wearing tattoos, but you don’t see many golfers with them. Are you inked?
A: I do not have a tattoo and I can say I will never get one. It’s just not my personality. A lot of people in my generation are getting tattoos and you can see some of the younger guys on the PGA Tour getting them. It’s a trend right now but I can say I will not be joining that trend.