Burnsville’s Uloth back in familiar surroundings

Golfer returns to MGA Amateur, the tournament that super-charged his career

Wearing the gear of his school, the University of Minnesota, Alex Uloth reaches the 18th green in the first round of the MGA Amateur at Interlachen Country Club. Uloth, a Burnsville High School graduate, was the tournament’s defending champion. Photo by Mike Shaughnessy

Alex Uloth was ready to make a change, and it was about this time last year his new direction started to take shape.

It happened on a golf course. He shot 63 in the first round of the 2016 Minnesota Golf Association Amateur Championship in North Oaks, equaling the lowest round in the tournament’s 113-year history. He held a four-stroke lead entering the third and final round but came to the 18th hole needing a birdie to win. He did that one better, making a 30-foot putt for eagle to win by one stroke.

Although he had played two seasons at Concordia University in St. Paul and five years before that at Burnsville High School, Uloth, who plays out of Crystal Lake Golf Club in Lakeville, wasn’t one of the most heralded players in the tournament. His victory at the MGA Amateur got the attention of the University of Minnesota men’s team, which offered him a spot after Uloth requested his release from Concordia.

“I was actually in the process of trying to find another school. I hadn’t had anywhere to go to school before the Am, so that opened up quite a few doors for me,” Uloth said after finishing his first round in the 2017 MGA Amateur on Monday at Interlachen Country Club. “I got a few offers and decided going to the U and staying close to home was the best route for me to go. It was definitely a great opportunity to me.”

He played in three tournaments for the Gophers last season, with an average score of 77 and a top finish of tied for 30th at the St. John’s University Spring Invitational. Uloth said he was hoping to play better in his debut season at Minnesota, but “it’s a big adjustment. Not just the golf, but the school. It took some time for me to get straightened out,” he said. “I had some downs and some ups. I definitely wasn’t quite as good as I would have liked.

“I wanted to play all the tournaments and contend in some. It’s getting better. I’m getting where I want to be but there’s still room for improvement.”

Returning to the state amateur is a comfortable feeling for Uloth, although he defended his championship on a course that’s vastly different than the course on which he won. Low scores were possible at North Oaks, and Uloth’s winning total was 7 under par.

Low scores were at a premium – if they were to be had at all – at Interlachen, a historic layout that has held the U.S. Open, U.S. Women’s Open, Solheim Cup and Walker Cup. Par was shaved from 72 to 70 by turning two par-5s into 500-yard par-4s. That, combined with greens that were tough to hit and tougher to putt, made matching par an achievement. No one did match par in Monday’s first round; the lowest score was 71. Uloth didn’t see overly upset about his 79, which still put him in the upper half of the 156-player field.

“The pin placements kind of spoke for themselves,” he said. “If you hit good shots you could score, but there weren’t a ton of birdies. I made three birdies and felt that was pretty good. If anybody goes under par today it’s a good round, a really good round.”

The MGA Amateur was scheduled to conclude Wednesday, after this edition went to press.

Uloth said he didn’t feel any pressure because of his status as defending champion.

“I think honestly it’s not any different,” he said. “I just try to go out, play my own game, play smart golf and shoot the lowest score I can. Out here, you can’t get too greedy. You have to take your medicine sometimes and hit smart shots to the center of the greens. There were a few times today I didn’t do that, so that’s where I can improve (Tuesday).”

Uloth shot 75 on Tuesday, easily making the cut but leaving him nine strokes out of the lead with one round to play.

At Burnsville High, Uloth was the South Suburban Conference boys golf medalist in 2012, his sophomore year, and was his school’s Most Outstanding Athlete award winner as a senior.

College golf is “a completely different deal,” he said. “Into college, I realized I wanted to get better at golf. I always was a good putter and had a great short game in high school and that hasn’t really changed, but as time went on I worked a lot harder on my golf swing.”

Uloth also will play in the Minnesota State Open beginning Friday at StoneRidge Golf Club in Stillwater. He finished in the top 20 at last year’s state open after having a one-day break following his state amateur victory. He plans to play in two match-play tournaments, the Resorters in Alexandria and the Pine to Palm in Detroit Lakes, followed by the Bobcat North Dakota Open, a professional tournament on the Dakotas Tour. Uloth will remain an amateur for his senior season at Minnesota starting in September.

“This summer for me is big for prep and getting ready for the school season,” he said. “It’s a pretty long haul once we started with school tournaments.”

When he won last year’s MGA Amateur, the first place he took the trophy was Crystal Lake Golf Club, where Uloth learned to play and his instructor, Sheryl Maize, teaches.

“My mom used to work at Crystal Lake when I was a kid. I’d go into work with her at 6 a.m. and stay there all day, hit balls and chip and putt,” he said. “I’m still playing golf every day, four, five or six hours a day, so not a lot has changed that way. The golf course is always a place I’m comfortable and feel I should be every day.”

Golf notes

Farmington native Sammy Schmitz, the 2015 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion and MGA Player of the Year five of the last six seasons, was trying to battle back after a rough start in the MGA Amateur. He had a 10 on the par-4 11th hole (his second hole of the first round). followed by an 8 on the par-5 12th. He played even par the rest of the way for a first-round 79 and added a 72 on Tuesday and was seven strokes out of the lead going into the final round.

Noah Rasinski, a Lakeville South High School graduate and Concordia-St. Paul player, shot 76 and 73 in his first two rounds, placing him in the top 20. Rasinski was first-team All-Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference in 2016-17 and the conference’s Newcomer of the Year. Eagan native Trent Peterson, the 2008 MGA Amateur champion, was 10 over after his first two rounds and former Eastview High School player Max Tylke was 12 over, well inside the cut line. The low 60 players and ties played Wednesday’s final round.

In the first two days at Interlachen, only one MGA Amateur player had an under-par round (Taylor Sundbom, who shot 68 on Tuesday after a first-round 88) and only one matched par (Sam Foust, who shot 70 on Tuesday).

Schmitz, Tylke and Peterson also are entered in the Minnesota State Open this weekend. Lakeville South graduate Justin Doeden is expected to make his professional debut at the state open after playing the last two seasons at the University of Minnesota. Doeden reached the NCAA regional stage this spring.