Peter Uihlein, Brooks Koekpa blazing American trail to Europe

American golfers Peter Uihlein and Brooks Koepka, due to a number of factors, are paving the way for Americans to try their hand on the European Tour, writes Steve Elling.

Peter Uihlein is the first to play in the DP World Tour Championship, the finale to the Race to Dubai. Andrew Redington / Getty Images
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Peter Uihlein walked into another sterile, boxy hotel lift the other day, and for several moments, could not remember which button to push.

He stared at the array of numbers.

“I couldn’t remember what floor I was on,” he said.

Ah, the glamour of living out of a suitcase. Uihlein, a European Tour rookie, has played in 19 countries already this season, plus Puerto Rico, which might be a record for an American player, since the Yanks don’t often blaze international golfing trails.

Admittedly, the year at times has been a blur. A query about whether he has ever awakened, feeling somewhat disoriented, was half-completed when Uihlein, 24, interjected the answer.

“You mean to not know where I am? Yeah, this week,” he said, laughing.

From China to Turkey to the UAE in three weeks, the former No 1-ranked amateur might need a compass and an atlas to track his location, but others have been charting his travels with great interest. In fact, Uihlein and countryman Brooks Koepka have touched off a reverse American migration of sorts.

Because of their success this year, a small army of Americans crossed the water to try their hand at European Tour Qualifying School. If golfers are analogous to American explorers, he and Koepka are the Lewis and Clark of the new-age player.

After Q-school in the States did not work out two years ago, both signed up for European qualifying and earned spots on the Challenge Tour, the developmental circuit of the European Tour. Both played the Challenge Tour last year, but made meteoric ascents in 2013, drawing plenty of attention back home.

Koepka won three times to earn an automatic promotion to the European Tour at mid-season, while Uihlein landed a spot in a European Tour event in May and won, securing a card for the next two years.

Uihlein, in particular, kept right on rolling after his promotion. In fact, today he will become the first American to play in the Race to Dubai finale, the DP World Golf Championship. He is 12th in seasonal points, even though he did not secure a full card until six months ago.

“You don’t have to in America, per se, to find a great place to play,” Uihlein said.

Clearly, the message has been received. In 2011/12 combined, 85 Americans signed up for European Q-School. This year alone, 83 entered. Moreover, three Americans made it to the finals last year, while 11 are playing for a full tour card this week in Spain.

Because of a comprehensive and controversial overhaul to the Q-School system in the States, players must spend what is tantamount to a one-year apprenticeship on the developmental Tour before potentially advancing to the PGA Tour. In Europe, they can still jump straight to the parent tour.

“People say BK and I are trailblazers, but it’s also the changes with the that are a big part of this,” Uihlein said.

European Q-School chief Mike Stewart said American players have cited the lack of direct access as a huge reason for their record presence in at the final stage in Spain, plus the fact that Q-School in the States costs roughly US$5,000 (Dh18,400). European Q-school costs half as much at £1,350 (Dh7,879). The third reason was both popular and easy.

“I suspect that the success of Uihlein and Koepka has also played a part,” Stewart said in an email from Spain.

John Hahn, an American who led after the first two rounds of Q-School in Spain, all but saluted the global mindset of his two countrymen.

“There are obviously a lot of young American guys trying to make it over here now and that is 100 per cent because of Peter Uihlein and Brooks Koepka and their success,” Hahn said.

Uihlein said his professional development has only been helped, not hindered, by playing in India, Russia, Kenya and Japan over the past two years. His two-year world-ranking record shows visits to 27 countries in 22 months.

“It’s a different type of golf and that will only improve you and make you a more well-rounded player,” Hahn said.

Uihlein said that insular Yanks are missing the boat by not considering looking more globally at their options. He darned likely won’t be the last American to make the Race to Dubai finale.

“It’s a shame, because there are so many great tours out there,” Uihlein said. “Good fields, good venues, good world-ranking points. All you have to do is go find them.”

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Thursday’s tee-off times all from Hole 1 of the Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates, Dubai

8am Luke Donald (ENG), David Horsey (ENG)

8.10am Garth Mulroy (RSA), Craig Lee (SCO)

8.20am Peter Hanson (SWE), Eduardo de la Riva (ESP)

8.30am Simon Khan (ENG), Alejandro Canizares (ESP)

8.40am George Coetzee (RSA), Jonas Blixt (SWE)

8.50am David Lynn (ENG), Marcel Siem (GER)

9am Darren Fichardt (RSA), Rory McIlroy (NIR)

9.10am Marcus Fraser (AUS), Rafa Cabrera-Bello (ESP)

9.20am Felipe Aguilar (CHI), Louis Oosthuizen (RSA)

9.30am Thomas Aiken (RSA), Ross Fisher (ENG)

9.45am Julien Quesne (FRA), Kiradech Aphibarnrat (THA)

9.55am Raphael Jacquelin (FRA), Nicolas Colsaerts (BEL)

10.05am Shane Lowry (IRE), Pablo Larrazabal (ESP)

10.15am Thorbjorn Olesen (DEN), Marc Warren (SCO)

10.25am Scott Jamieson (SCO), Chris Wood (ENG)

10.35am Gregory Bourdy (FRA), Paul Casey (ENG)

10.45am Tommy Fleetwood (ENG), Bernd Wiesberger (AUT)

10.55am Mikko Ilonen (FIN), Martin Kaymer (GER)

11.05am Lee Westwood (ENG), Miguel Angel Jimenez (ESP)

11.15am David Howell (ENG). Joost Luiten (NED)

11.30am Branden Grace (RSA), Stephen Gallacher (SCO)

11.40am Francesco Molinari (ITA), Brett Rumford (AUS)

11.50am Matteo Manassero (ITA), Peter Uihlein (US)

12pm Victor Dubuisson (FRA), Thomas Bjorn (DEN)

12.10pm Thongchai Jaidee (THA), Richard Sterne (RSA)

12.20pm Jamie Donaldson (WAL), Gonzalo Fdez-Castano (ESP)

12.30pm Graeme McDowell (NIR), Ian Poulter (ENG)

12.40pm Justin Rose (ENG), Henrik Stenson (SWE)