WISE BEYOND HIS YEARS
Aaron Wise excels in rookie season on 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.