Asmussen | Ex-Illini golfer ready to make new memories at U.S. Open

Asmussen | Ex-Illini golfer ready to make new memories at U.S. Open

On Friday afternoon, Luke Guthrie waited out a storm in Greer, S.C.

During the break at the BMW Charity Pro-Am, one of the stops on the Web.com Tour, Guthrie talked about what's next for him.

On Monday, the former Illini golfer heads to Pebble Beach, Calif., for the U.S. Open, which begins on Thursday.

It won't be an easy trip. No private jet like Tiger Woods. He's flying from Atlanta to California. Guthrie plans to play a practice round Tuesday morning.

It won't be Guthrie's first time at Pebble Beach. He has played in three PGA Tour events on the historic course and also participated in off-season outings.

"It's fun to go there and know what the layout is going to look like," he said. "The USGA will obviously make it play quite a bit different than what I'm used to. I will, in general know, what to expect."

Guthrie won the U.S Open sectional qualifier at Columbus, Ohio, to make it into the tournament for the third time. He missed the cut in 2013 and '14.

Playing it at Pebble Beach makes it extra special.

"To me, it's the ultimate U.S. Open venue," he said. "At the end of my career, I know I'm going to be able to say I played at a Pebble U.S. Open. I hope I can say I've played a St. Andrews British Open. That's about as cool as it gets right there."

Once he reaches Pebble Beach, Guthrie won't be alone. His wife, former Illini golfer Kaitlyn Wampler, will be there.

She travels with him to most tournaments.

"It's the best," Guthrie said. "We're still young and family is on the horizon at some point. We love having all these memories we are sharing and being on the road together. This is the time in life for us to really travel and experience it and see cities and see countries. It's so fun. I'm so lucky to have the support system that includes my wife, my parents, my brother and my in-laws. They are so awesome. It's nice to never play a golf tournament without somebody there rooting me on. It's unique."

Some of the trips include their golden doodle Banks, named after Cubs great Ernie.

"I'm a pretty big Cubs fan," Guthrie said.

Last year, Banks traveled to 75 percent of the stops. Luke and Kaitlyn live full time in Jacksonville, Fla.

Many of us regular folks have golf as a hobby. So, how do golfers spend their free time?

Guthrie recently started building furniture.

"I really enjoy it," Guthrie said. "I have no formal training. I've started reading up on it and tried my hand at it. And tried not to cut my hand off."

Lessons learned

Guthrie turned pro in 2012. And had immediate success. His first year on the Web.com Tour, he won two events and finished second on the money list.

That earned him a spot on the PGA Tour. It's like a baseball player getting called up from Class AAA to the Major Leagues.

His first year in the bigs went well. In 27 starts, he made 13 cuts and earned $991,902. He finished third at the Honda Classic and tied for 47th at the PGA Championship, one of his three majors that season.

He closed the year 90th in the FedEx Cup standings.

"I was kind of dumb and playing good golf," Guthrie said. "Now, I know what these tournaments mean."

In his second season, Guthrie played in 26 events and made 18 cuts. His earnings dropped a bit, to $840,555, and he fell to 106th in the FedEx Cup.

Still, he was cashing checks and had two top-10 finishes.

Illinois golf coach Mike Small says all the time that the game is very humbling. When you think you have it figured out, you find out you are wrong.

Guthrie hit a rough patch in third season on the PGA Tour in 2015. In 27 events, he only made the cut 12 times and earned $575,150. He finished 148th in the FedEx Cup standings.

He made 10 of 19 cuts in 2016, finishing with earnings of $427,442, good for 170th on the FedEx list.

That meant another trip to the minors.

Guthrie has spent the last three seasons on the Web.Com Tour, working his way back toward the PGA.

This year, he has returned to past form. Guthrie currently stands 35th on the Web.com money list. The top 25 at the end of the season earn spots on the PGA Tour. That's where Guthrie wants to be.

"That's my ultimate goal," he said. "Get there, stay there and win. I know I have the game to do it."

He started the season with conditional status on the Web.com Tour. Now, he's got guaranteed starts the rest of the season.

"I'm proud of my year so far," Guthrie said. "It makes me want to work harder."

Now 29, Guthrie has matured since his early days as a pro.

"My self-esteem isn't in my golf game anymore," Guthrie said. "When I first came out, if I played bad, I felt bad that day. I'm in such a healthier place.

"I have perspective in life and it frees you up on the golf course."

A big fan

Guthrie continues to follow his alma mater and its golf team. He routinely runs into the growing group of former Illini playing pro golf.

Brian Campbell and Dylan Meyer are also in South Carolina this weekend at the Web.Com Tour event.

"We see each other all the time," Guthrie said. "We try to play our practice rounds together whenever our schedules line up. If not, you see each other around all week. You have lunch together. You have built-in friendships."

Former Illini Charlie Danielson will be his playing partner the first two days at Pebble Beach. Danielson, who is recovering from knee surgery, advanced by tying for ninth in the sectional qualifier at Dallas.

There is pride among the ex-Illini.

"You root on the current team when they were making their run this year and winning the Big Ten, winning regionals," Guthrie said.

Back in the day, Wake Forest was the golf power. Then, Oklahoma State.

Now? Illinois is in the conversation.

"I get it all the time out here," Guthrie said. "People ask, 'How in the world does Coach Small do what he does at Illinois?' They always throw the weather factor at us. Honestly, it is impressive what Coach has been able to do over the last decade and a half. I love it when I hear comments when you get a ball up and down from a tough spot, you hear, 'Of course you would. You're Illinois golf.' That's a cool thing to hear."

Guthrie and Small had a few disagreements during their successful run in C-U.

Guthrie remembers one time at the Big Ten tournament his freshman year. Playing at Penn State's Blue Course, then-freshman Guthrie hit a ball into the bunker on No. 3.

He tried to use a 4-iron, but hit the lip and the ball rolled back in the bunker. The head coach was not pleased.

"He was pretty mad at me that I tried it and he started giving me his two cents and I gave him my two cents back," Guthrie said. "It was a fun exchange of two competitors fired up in the moment. I appreciated those moments out of Coach."

Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at asmussen@news-gazette.com.

Sections (3):Illini Sports, Golf, Sports
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