Peter Uihlein had one goal heading into his first start for 4Aces GC: Don't let his new team down.
Joining the defending champions to fill the spot vacated by Talor Gooch, who moved to the rebranded RangeGoats GC, Uihlein could statistically be argued as an upgrade. After all, he finished third in the Individual Champion standings last season; Gooch was 11th. But evidently some people didn’t see it like that.
“If you ask my DMs or Twitter or whatever, I’m way worse than Talor,” Uihlein said, breaking into a grin. “But it’s all fun. It’s all good.”
He definitely didn’t let down the 4Aces at LIV Golf Mayakoba. Uihlein was the team’s top performer, finishing second individually to tournament winner Charles Howell III. The 4Aces also were second in the team standings to Howell’s Crushers GC.
For Uihlein, it was the third time in his last four LIV Golf regular-season starts – going back to last year’s Invitational Series when he was a member of Smash GC – that he’s been the runner-up. That kind of consistency is a valuable commodity in the first season of the LIV Golf League and its stabilized rosters.
It wasn’t always like that for the 33-year-old. Once a top 50 player in the world, Uihlein has struggled for consistent results in recent years and had fallen outside the top 300 prior to joining LIV.
Realizing he needed a jumpstart, he overhauled his support staff less than two years ago. He brought in a new swing coach, Jason Baile, the director of instruction at Jupiter Hills Club in South Florida. And he started training with performance specialist Lance Gill, who also helps with analytics. They worked on neutralizing a swing that was threatening to get out of control.
It took awhile for the changes to take effect. “Doesn’t happen overnight,” Uihlein said. “Everything came together slowly and it just happened that the timing (of joining LIV) was perfect for me.”
Plus, the team component has rekindled his game. Knowing that he’s accountable to more than just himself has raised his level of play. Three teammates now depend on him at each LIV start. With the 4Aces, it's captain Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed and Pat Perez.
He’s now meeting the promise on display during his collegiate days at Oklahoma State University when he won the 2010 U.S. Amateur and was ranked as the top amateur prior to turning pro in 2011.
“The reality is I'm just a lot happier playing golf,” Uihlein said. “I wasn't happy the last few years. It just didn't really work out for me on the PGA Tour, but this was an unbelievable opportunity for me and my family, and just trying to play well and keep putting good scores up on the board.
“I don't know if it correlates that I'm playing better and I'm happier, or if I'm happier and that helps correlate to me playing better. I'm not entirely sure. But things are going well, and I'm thrilled to be out there.”
About the only place he wasn’t thrilled to be at on Sunday was the 12th tee box at El Camaleon.
In second but trailing Howell by four shots, Uihlein knew he was running out of time in trying to apply any pressure on the leader. After Howell ripped another of his seemingly endless perfect drives, Uihlein followed with a snap hook that crashed into the jungle barely 100 yards off the tee. He then hit a provisional tee shot that mirrored his first drive. So he followed with another provisional that sailed into the jungle again, this time down the right side.
Uihlein eventually found his original ball nestled among some cut branches. After his penalty stroke, he could’ve gone back to the tee box to hit another drive. Instead, he removed some of the branches, took his drop and chipped out, his ball coming to a stop on the forward tee box. “Like watching the Hindenburg crash into the Titanic,” joked LIV Golf analyst David Feherty on the live broadcast.
The crash ended with a triple bogey. Asked about his troubles at the 12th, Uihlein said, “It’s an awkward-looking tee shot. … I try to hit like a low cut, and it’s just a funny-looking tee shot for me, and with left-to-right wind, it’s very hard. … I had zero intentions of hitting that shot again.”
Uihlein wasn’t the only player who struggled at the 12th. Gooch, the third member of the final group, also hit a tee shot and two provisionals. Overall, the 479-yard par-4 hole played as the toughest all week, with a stroke average of 0.771 over par. Of the 144 total rounds played last week, 54 included a bogey or worse at the 12th.
Any thoughts of catching Howell disappeared after the triple bogey. But instead of letting the disaster impact the rest of his round, Uihlein produced one of the best bounce-back sequences in LIV Golf’s short history. He proceeded to birdie four of his next five holes – including the par-4 16th, which yielded just nine birdies all week – to reclaim second place with a 3-under 68.
It was a continuation of his impressive bounce-back ability all week. In the first round, he bounced back from his lone bogey with an immediate birdie en route to a 67. After his first bogey late in Saturday’s second round, he bounced back a birdie on the next hole, eventually shooting 66. And early in his final round, his bounced back from a bogey with birdie-eagle in the next two holes.
No wonder Uihlein was in good spirits after his round as he celebrated on the 18th green with wife Chelsea and 1-year-old son Tucker. The fight he had shown in his last six holes more than made up for the troubles at the 12th.
“Other than one – technically three – bad swings on one hole, it was good,” he said. “All in all, a good week.”