My colleague Robbie Robertson remembers the first time he ever watched Andy Ogletree golf.
Andy’s father, Jim Ogletree, wanted Robbie to do a story on his son, the golfer. Robbie claimed he was shooting in the high 70s to low 80s — “So I was decent,” he said — at the time, and he and young Andy went out to the County Line Golf Club in Union. In nine holes, Robbie was going to see what 8-year-old Andy was made of.
“He played from 150, where he played at in his tournaments, and I teed off where the adults teed off, and he absolutely killed me,” Robbie told me. “Almost every hole, he either drove it to the green or was right off the green, then he would pitch and putt it in.”
It’s safe to say the entire town of Union and everyone from East Mississippi who has any interest in golf was pulling for Andy this weekend at the USGA Amateur Golf Championship in Pinehurst, N.C. As the tournament unfolded, Andy kept making the cut, along the way defeating fellow Mississippian Cohen Trolio Saturday in the semifinal. That pitted Andy, a Union High School alumnus, against John Augenstein in Sunday’s final.
It would have been easy for Andy to panic after going 4 down early against Augenstein, but instead, Andy kept his cool and fought back to defeat Augenstein 2 and 1. When I spoke to several people who know Andy personally, nothing about Sunday surprised them, be it the skills he showed as a golfer or the mental fortitude he exhibited when facing the early deficit.
They all couldn’t have been more proud of Andy, either.
“Over the years, I’ve probably done 20 or more stories on Andy Ogletree,” Robbie said. “If you’ve never had a kid perform on the field, there’s no way to explain how that feels.”
The success the former Union Yellowjacket and current Georgia Tech golfer has experienced is something Robbie came to expect.
“You could tell he had a chance to be a really good golfer, but at 8 years old, kids can change their mind,” Robbie recalled. “When he got to high school, he won the state championship from his eighth-grade year through his senior year. I’d say somewhere around his ninth grade year I knew he was going to be one of the best players to ever come out of Newton County. I told my son about five or six years ago that you would see Andy play on TV one day.”
To Jimmy Gamblin, it was also evident early on that Andy Ogletree had this kind of potential. The former Northwood Country Club golf pro took Andy under his tutelage when Jim Ogletree joined Northwood Country Club. Andy was 6 at the time.
“When he got to be about 10, he was winning really early in his age group in different tournaments,” Gamblin said. “As he went forward, almost every time you came to watch him you could see a change he had been practicing and working on.”
Gamblin described Andy as someone who would do whatever it took to win, which is what set him apart at a young age. After being coached by Gamblin and Tony Ruggiero as a junior golfer, Andy went on to dominate at Union before earning a scholarship to Georgia Tech. Gamblin said he was glued to his television over the weekend and noticed something about Andy that Gamblin thinks was a major deciding factor in the championship round.
“I could see the other player get upset on a shot he hit, but we never saw Andy lose it,” Gamblin said. “The new assistant coach at Georgia Tech (Devin Stanton) did a wonderful job. You would see him and Andy working closely on his shot, and they would even laugh sometimes. I never saw the other guy laugh. Andy’s game has matured, and that’s as fine a mental (performance) that I’ve seen in a long time, including on the Tour.”
It was something Brad Breland, his former golf coach at Union, noticed as well. Breland followed Andy throughout the weekend and was trying to keep up Sunday morning between church and Sunday school, when Andy got 4 down early. When Breland left church, Andy was still 2 down, but Breland said he knew the match was far from over.
“As tough as Andy is mentally, I knew if he kept it close he would have a chance,” Breland said. “He’s so cool under pressure. He doesn’t let anything bother him.”
Along with his skills, Gamblin said Andy’s mental game is what will hopefully help propel him to the PGA Tour after Andy is done at Georgia Tech.
“He has the temperament to play the Tour, and that’s a big plus,” Gamblin said. “The way he handles himself in his interviews is impressive. He’s still a college kid, but he’s not cocky. He’s very humble.”
Andy was still a seventh grader when Breland began coaching him at Union, and he said Andy would sometimes get frustrated during his seventh-grade season. As he became a high schooler, however, Andy seemed to have outgrown getting emotional.
“By the time he was a ninth grader, he had ice water in his veins,” Breland said. “If it were match play, you wouldn’t know if he was 3 up or 3 down by his demeanor. I guess that goes back to his confidence. It’s like he’s never out of it.”
Breland said it was a joy to see someone he watched grow up compete on a national stage, and the entire community of Union is beaming with pride over Andy.
“That’s all anyone is talking about over here, even people that don’t watch golf,” Breland said. “I think everyone in Union must’ve been watching yesterday, because it was Andy — someone from Union.”
Gamblin also said the win was big for Union, and it’s an even bigger feel-good story due to the time and effort everyone in Andy’s family has put in to help Andy excel at golf.
“I think it’ll draw some people there to Union and Little Rock,” Gamblin said. “You can’t ever take it away from him that he is the USGA Amateur champion, and his dad, his mom, his two brothers and his aunt, you just can’t imagine the love they have for each other. It’s just something that’s as great to watch as his golf.”
Make no mistake: Andy winning is huge for Union, huge for Northwood Country Club, huge for East Mississippi and huge for the entire state. Union and Northwood can forever say they had a USGA Amateur champion come from their ranks, which serves not only as a source of pride, but also as a tool to use to attract young athletes interested in golf.
The win Sunday qualified Andy for the U.S. Open, the British Open and the Masters next year. Robbie said he always jokes with Andy that he was his ticket to the Masters every time they speak. Now, that’s a reality, though it may not truly sink in for Andy until he meets a golfing legend in 2020.
“I have to figure out a way to get to the Masters next year,” Robbie said. “In the Masters, he’ll be paired with the defending champion, which is Tiger Woods.”
Drew Kerekes is the sports editor at The Meridian Star. He can be reached at email@example.com.