WISE BE­YOND HIS YEARS

Aaron Wise ex­cels in rookie sea­son on PGA TOUR

New Zealand Golf Magazine - - CONTENTS - WORDS CHRIS COX PGA TOUR

At­lanta, ge­or­gia, It’s the same rou­tine ev­ery time.

Aaron Wise will sink a putt to win a golf tour­na­ment. He’ll re­lease a quiet, re­frained fist pump— the only faint traces of emo­tion he cares to elicit—be­fore re­mov­ing his cap to ac­knowl­edge the gallery. He’ll end things with a col­le­gial hand­shake of his play­ing part­ner and go mer­rily along his way, an­other tro­phy in hand.

Onto a new tour, a new coun­try, a new level of com­pe­ti­tion. What­ever the set­ting, what­ever the lo­cale, the im­age at the end of each of them re­mains a con­stant.

“I use him as an ex­am­ple all the time,” said Casey Martin, Wise’s col­lege coach at the Univer­sity of Ore­gon. “He’s prob­a­bly one of the most emo­tion­ally sta­ble and wellad­justed young men I’ve ever been around. He has a lot of self-be­lief and a lot of pa­tience in him­self, and when he goes and plays, he doesn’t get tossed around by the emo­tions of the game.”

Even now, here in the locker room at East Lake Golf Club, Wise still seems to be that same kid from way back when. It’s quiet in this part of the club­house, where the PGA TOUR’s top 30 golfers hang their be­long­ings at the end of each sea­son as they com­pete for the ul­ti­mate prize that is the TOUR Cham­pi­onship.

“It’s still just golf,” Wise non­cha­lantly ex­plains. “I’m the same kid I was way back when, just try­ing to get bet­ter. We all say it—if you can do that, you’re go­ing to be pretty good in the long run. That’s my fo­cus.”

This is no easy task con­sid­er­ing the whirl­wind of suc­cess the na­tive South African has en­coun­tered over the past three sea­sons. Since turn­ing pro­fes­sional, Wise has won in each of the last three years on three dif­fer­ent tour stops: the Macken­zie Tour – PGA TOUR Canada in 2016, the Web.com Tour in 2017 and this past sea­son on the PGA TOUR.

It all cul­mi­nated in a cov­eted spot at the sea­son-end­ing TOUR Cham­pi­onship, where Wise was the only rookie in the field. He would ul­ti­mately wrap his de­but sea­son with a tie for 15th fin­ish at the FedExCup Play­offs fi­nale, enough to earn him a nom­i­na­tion for the PGA TOUR’s Rookie of the Year award.

Join­ing him on the bal­lot are Austin Cook, Satoshi Ko­daira, Keith Mitchell and Joaquin Nie­mann. Only Ko­daira, who won the RBC Her­itage in a play­off over Si Woo Kim, joined Wise as a rookie win­ner.

“To make it here (to the TOUR Cham­pi­onship), I set it as a goal when I started this year, and I knew how tough it would be to get here,” Wise said as he humbly as­sessed his sea­son. “Now, look­ing back and see­ing how hard I worked and all the good golf I’ve played, it’s pretty spe­cial be­ing in this field with the 30 best peo­ple on the TOUR this year. I love it, it’s a good test.”

The 22-year-old has seem­ingly passed all of his tests of late, start­ing with that mem­o­rable Cana­dian win two years ago. In just his sec­ond start as a pro­fes­sional, Wise shot a 19-un­der 269 over four rounds at the Syn­crude Oil Coun­try Cham­pi­onship to edge Brock Macken­zie and Ar­gentina’s Puma Dominguez by one stroke.

The win in Ed­mon­ton as a 20-year-old made him the youngest win­ner in Macken­zie Tour his­tory. He would go on to fin­ish in­side the top 15 in all seven of his starts that sea­son, in­clud­ing a third-place re­sult at the sea­so­nend­ing Free­dom 55 Fi­nan­cial Cham­pi­onship. He fin­ished fourth on the Or­der of Merit, which awards Web.com Tour mem­ber­ship to the top-five on the Or­der of Merit.

“I’m happy I did it that way vs. maybe just com­ing out here right away,” he said of his time in Canada. “I felt like it gave me a lot of time to ad­just to trav­el­ing so much. They’re bet­ter play­ers, and the mar­gins just get smaller and smaller and smaller. I’ve al­ways felt like when I play re­ally well, I’ve al­ways been able to win at pretty much ev­ery level. The dif­fer­ence was my bad golf and whether I was able to make the cut and make money that week or not.”

To be fair, Wise had a bit of fa­mil­iar­ity with travel long be­fore his sea­son in Canada.

He was born in Cape Town, South Africa, and lived there un­til he was 3. His par­ents—Marc and Karla Kane Wise—were long­time res­i­dents of Cape Town but sought to open up Aaron to more av­enues in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. Marc still trav­els back and forth to South Africa, where his side of the fam­ily re­mains, but only a lone trip in 2008 rep­re­sents the younger Wise’s home­town re­turn.

“They thought it would give me more op­por­tu­ni­ties as a kid,” said Wise, who counts South Africans Ernie Els and Retief Goosen among his fa­vorite play­ers. “They had a kid and just thought there would be more op­por­tu­ni­ties in Amer­ica where I was able to move, and it kind of worked out.”

What would be the more fate­ful move, how­ever, came in the midst of Wise’s suc­cess­ful col­lege ca­reer.

In the win­ter break of his sopho­more cam­paign, Wise trav­eled to Aus­tralia to com­pete in the Mas­ter of the Am­a­teurs. Four days and a 5-un­der 283 later, he left Royal Mel­bourne with a green jacket. He knew it was time to move on.

“For some rea­son I won that,” he flatly stated. “That was when I thought I could take it to the next level and turn pro. I went back to Ore­gon that Jan­uary and talked to Casey, and we started the process of look­ing at agents and what was out there and whether it was a good de­ci­sion. It went from there.”

Only a year had passed since that Aus­tralian win be­fore Wise found him­self on the Web.com Tour. And the break­neck speed at which his ca­reer was surg­ing only ac­cel­er­ated in pace.

He placed third in just his third event—the Chiti­macha Louisiana Open—be­fore claim­ing his sec­ond pro­fes­sional vic­tory later that sum­mer, at the Air Cap­i­tal Clas­sic, where he rolled by five shots over Beau Hossler, thanks in part to con­sec­u­tive 62s to be­gin the week.

It was a fa­mil­iar sight to Martin, who saw the wins pile up dur­ing Wise’s ten­ure with the Ducks. In 2016, he de­liv­ered the team its first na­tional cham­pi­onship when he cap­tured the NCAA men’s in­di­vid­ual ti­tle, then fol­lowed it up with a team cham­pi­onship by go­ing 3-0 in match play.

“It’s a mem­ory I’ll never for­get,” Wise said. “Prob­a­bly my best mem­ory in golf.”

He was the first player since UCLA’s Kevin Chap­pell in 2008 to win both the in­di­vid­ual and team NCAA Cham­pi­onships.

“In the re­cruit­ing process you saw that he was a spe­cial ta­lent,” Martin said. “His fourth tour­na­ment in col­lege, he won, and he just looked to­tally in con­trol and like it just didn’t faze him. Since then he’s just con­tin­ued to build on his suc­cesses, and he’s just a very ma­ture per­son. He’s got lots of ta­lent. But, re­ally, it’s the emo­tional sta­bil­ity and ma­tu­rity that gives him that even greater edge.”

Wise’s Web.com Tour vic­tory set the stage for his rookie sea­son on TOUR, where he won yet again, at the AT&T By­ron Nel­son Clas­sic out­side Dal­las. He pulled away from sec­ond-place fin­isher Marc Leish­man af­ter mak­ing the turn, dis­man­tling the tour­na­ment scor­ing record at 23-un­der to win by three shots. The 21-year-old was the sec­ond-youngest win­ner of the event be­hind only Tiger Woods.

With the vic­tory, Wise joined Macken­zie Hughes as the sec­ond player to take ti­tles on the

PGA TOUR, Web.com Tour and Macken­zie Tour.

“First time I played with him. Very good player,” Leish­man said. “He grinded well. He fought hard. Hit it in a few bad spots, but (he) hit re­ally, re­ally good re­cov­ery shots. That's prob­a­bly the most im­pres­sive thing. Cou­ple of re­ally good up and downs.

“He's a solid player, for I heard he's only 21. I didn't re­al­ize that. I guess I was in high school be­fore he was born so that's—I don't know. You hear guys talk about that all the time, but I've never said that, I think. Yeah, he's a good player.”

Wise’s win in Texas was no fluke— not an in­cred­i­ble, once-in-a-life­time week­end never to be seen again. No, this was merely a con­tin­u­a­tion of Wise’s long suc­cess.

The week be­fore his first TOUR vic­tory, Wise tied for sec­ond at the Wells Fargo Cham­pi­onship, just two strokes be­hind Ja­son Day. He would add two more top-10 fin­ishes be­fore his sea­son con­cluded.

He closed his maiden TOUR sea­son with nearly $3.5 mil­lion in win­nings and a 24th-place fin­ish in the FedExCup Standings.

“It just adds con­fi­dence,” he said. “You never know you can do it un­til you’ve done it. And I feel like now, hav­ing done it once be­fore, when I get back in those sit­u­a­tions it just gives me con­fi­dence that I’ve been there, I’ve done it be­fore and I can do it again.

“I’d say the big­gest change it’s all made is just re­set­ting your goals that I didn’t even think were pos­si­ble way back when, and now they are. Just try­ing to chase those.”

As he wraps up his time in the locker room, Wise picks up his back­pack and heads out the door alone. There is no agent or coach fol­low­ing be­hind, no gag­gle of team mem­bers ready to an­swer his ev­ery beck and call.

There’s just Aaron Wise, the same hum­ble kid as al­ways.

No mat­ter how many PGA TOUR wins lay in front of him, that muted, stoic re­ac­tion will still be the same, each and ev­ery time. That’s Aaron.

“He’s smart. He’s great to be around and he’s kind of an old soul in a lot of ways be­cause when he showed up, he was a ma­ture adult,” Martin said. “He wasn’t into play­ing video games, he was re­ally smart about his work­outs and how he prepped for golf. But at the same time, he’ll get fired up about stuff, but he does it in the right way and he’s wise be­yond his years, no pun in­tended.”

Aaron Wise cel­e­brates fol­low­ing his par putt on the 18th green dur­ing the fi­nal round to win the AT&T By­ron Nel­son at Trin­ity For­est Golf Club on May 20, 2018 in Dal­las, Texas.

Aaron Wise walks up to the 14th tee box dur­ing round one of the WinCo Foods Port­land Open at Pump­kin Ridge Golf Club, 2017.

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