By Sean Martin
The summer is an exciting time for the hardcore golf fan. The newest crop of college prospects has just turned pro and a handful each year get to test themselves against the top players in the world just a few weeks after final exams. It feels like more and more make an immediate splash each year, and Christopher Gotterup may be the latest one. The reigning collegiate player of the year birdied his final three holes Sunday to shoot 66 and finish T4 at the John Deere Classic. His high finish came just a week after Pierceson Coody, the top player in the PGA TOUR University Ranking presented by Velocity Global, won on the Korn Ferry Tour in just his third start as a pro. Exciting times indeed.
Gotterup’s high finish at the Deere could help him be a PGA TOUR member in less than three months. It earned him 122 non-member FedExCup points to total 154 for the season so far. This is already enough to qualify for the Korn Ferry Tour Finals. He won’t need to attend those, though, if he can earn an amount of non-member points equal to or exceeding No. 125 in the FedExCup standings after the Wyndham Championship. That would immediately earn Gotterup his card for the following season, as well. Kramer Hickok is currently 125th in the FedExCup standings with 295 points.
1. TOP OF THE CROP
Gotterup won both the Haskins Award and Jack Nicklaus Award as the top player in college golf this year. After transferring from Rutgers to Oklahoma for a fifth year of college golf, Gotterup finished atop both the Golfstat and Golfweek/Sagarin rankings. He won both the East Lake Cup and Puerto Rico Classic, was runner-up at the Big 12 Championship and finished in fifth place at the NCAA Championship, one shot out of a four-man playoff.
“His game is as ready for big-time pro golf as anybody I have been around,” said Oklahoma head coach Ryan Hybl, who was an All-American and assistant coach at Georgia before making his way to Norman. “His ball-striking is TOUR quality and his driving can be unbeatable at times. More importantly, he is gritty and he believes he is supposed to be there, which is high on the value chart.”
While at Rutgers, Gotterup was the 2020 Big Ten Player of the Year and a third-team All-American.
2. SUCCESS STORY
Gotterup already had a top-10 finish on TOUR before he even turned pro. He finished T7 in this year’s Puerto Rico Open on the same course where he won a collegiate title a month earlier. That experience came in handy, as he didn’t arrive at the Puerto Rico Open until the tournament’s eve. He played in a college tournament in Las Vegas on the Monday and Tuesday of tournament week. His Sooners team won the title and, after a celebratory dinner, Gotterup hopped on an overnight flight to Orlando before continuing on to Puerto Rico, arriving at 11 a.m. on Wednesday.
“I guess I got a little taste of the TOUR life,” he said after arriving on the island. “I think it’s a good thing. I’m not going to have any expectations. I’m just here to have fun. This is house money for me.”
The Deere was Gotterup’s fourth TOUR start as a pro. After missing the cut in his pro debut at the RBC Canadian Open, he finished T43 in the U.S. Open and T35 in last week’s Travelers Championship.
3. PEN PAL
This was Clair Peterson’s final tournament after a long stint as the tournament director for the John Deere Classic. Peterson always prided himself on giving opportunities to young pros via sponsor exemptions into the Deere field. Gotterup was the latest in a long line of players to whom Peterson has given a helping hand. That list includes Tiger Woods, who had the first 54-hole lead of his career in the 1996 Deere, and David Gossett, the former U.S. Amateur champion who won the 2001 Deere on a sponsor exemption. The Deere also has been a launching pad for careers like Jordan Spieth, who earned his first TOUR title here in 2013, and Collin Morikawa, whose T4 at the 2019 Deere was sandwiched between runners-up at the 3M Open and a win at the Barracuda Championship.
“I want to thank you for your consideration and assure you that if I were fortunate enough to receive an exemption, I would make you and the tournament proud,” Gotterup wrote in his request for an exemption. He did indeed.
4. JERSEY BOY
Gotterup would join a short list of TOUR pros who hail from the state of New Jersey. Gotterup has the grittiness that the state’s residents pride themselves on, while also possessing an outwardly laconic demeanor. His father, Morton, said that as a junior golfer his son was more likely to wonder what he’d order at Taco Bell post-round than to follow his competitors to the range.
Even Jason Birnbaum, the accomplished instructor who continues to help Gotterup hone his big swing, suggested rolling out of bed for early tee TOUR times may be Gotterup’s biggest professional challenge.
“It’s not like he can’t sleep,” said the swing coach. “He’s unfazed by all this.”
Yet, behind all that “chill” is a cool and very confident competitor who’s willing to put in the work required to harness his powerful game.
“He’s extremely focused,” said Birnbaum, whose clientele also includes such accomplished professionals as Roberto Diaz, Oliver Wilson, Alexandre Rocha, Julieta Granada and past PGA TOUR winner Jim McGovern. “The Taco Bell comment is funny and it’s not totally inaccurate. But he’s practicing and he’s working hard as well.”
5. MIXED BAG
Many collegiate stars turn pro with big endorsement deals from equipment manufacturers. So far, Gotterup is sticking (mostly) with what worked for him during his breakout collegiate campaign. His mixed bag of clubs includes a TaylorMade driver and wedges, Callaway irons, Titleist wedges and ball and a Scotty Cameron putter. There’s no doubt the club companies will come clamoring on Monday but his asking price has assuredly increased exponentially. Here’s a closer look at his clubs.