A name to remember: Christopher Gotterup in contention at the Deere
July 01, 2022
By Craig DeVrieze , PGATOUR.COM
- July 01, 2022
Christopher Gotterup drops in 21-foot birdie at John Deere
SILVIS, Ill. — The teenaged kid from Little Silver, N.J., was just another name on the lesson schedule when Jason Birnbaum checked in for work at his indoor learning center at Manhattan Woods Golf Club on a crisp January afternoon in 2013.
A couple of 120 miles-per-hour swings later, Birnbaum knew Chris Gotterup’s was a name he would remember.
When a 42-foot eagle putt at TPC Deere Run’s 14th hole briefly vaulted him into a share of his first lead on the PGA TOUR early Friday afternoon, Gotterup similarly let the golf world know his is a name it may be hearing a lot for a good long while.
The reigning Jack Nicklaus Award winner out of the University of Oklahoma, Gotterup parred his way home from No. 14, missing a downhill 3-footer for birdie at the home hole, and posted a 10-under midway total that puts him squarely in the weekend hunt at the John Deere Classic.
“Yeah, happy to get to 10,” said the rookie professional making his fifth start on TOUR this year on a John Deere Classic tournament sponsor’s exemption. “I had good look at 17. And then 18, I actually did everything perfectly and just misread the putt.
“So it is what it is. You pick up some where you don't expect to and lose some where you don't expect to also. I'm pleased to be where I am at.”
Great expectations ofttimes fizzle, but Gotterup is the latest young player to hit the TOUR with big talent, and, like two-time John Deere Classic winner Jordan Spieth and others before him, he could be the newest young pro to use the Deere as a launching pad to stardom.
“His game is as ready for big-time pro golf as anybody I have been around,” declared Ryan Hybl, who has seen his share of TOUR-ready players as the ninth-year head coach at Oklahoma and as an assistant coach and player at the University of Georgia before that. “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.”
The grittiness isn’t always evident in Gotterup’s outwardly laconic demeanor. Morton Gotterup once 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 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.”
Over the past nine years, Gotterup has pushed that 120 mph swing speed that still is the fastest Birnbaum has seen in a teen to a high of 133 mph. “And that’s the fastest I’ve seen for a TOUR pro,’’ Birnbaum said.
En route to a T35 finish at last week’s Traveler’s Championship, Gotterup led the field with an average of 328.5 yards over eight measured drives, which was 12 yards beyond Rory McIlroy’s average for the week. Friday at Deere Run, he set up his eagle at the short 14th with a drive of 351 yards, birdied the par-5 second after a drive of 354 yards, and settled for easy pars after respective tee shots of 353 yards on 15 and 368 on 9.
Yet, his talent only starts on the tee.
“Probably around his sophomore year of college at Rutgers is really when I started to say this kid’s got what it takes to be the best player in the world,” Birnbaum said. “He started to put up a bunch of 62s and 63s at some big local and college events; started to develop a better wedge game, a better short game. He started to keep the drives in play a little bit more.”
After earning first-team All-American status and 2019-2020 Big Ten Player of Year honors at Rutgers, Gotterup’s path led to Oklahoma. There, he finished a shot out of a playoff for NCAA medalist honors in May, while helping the Sooners to the national team championship. He also earned the Nicklaus Award designating the top player in NCAA Division I.
In March, Gotterup contended as an amateur en route to a T7 finish at the Puerto Rico Open. Earlier this month, he finished T43 at the U.S. Open followed by last week’s T35 at the Travelers.
A big Deere finish could go a long way toward earning a spot in the Korn Ferry Tour qualifying tournament later this year. A Top 10 would book a start at next week’s Barbosal Championship, and Gotterup also has a chance to earn one of the Open Championship berths available to the three highest Top 10 JDC finishers not otherwise exempt for the year’s final major in two weeks at fabled St. Andrews.
With a sponsor’s exemption awaiting in the end-of-the-month Rocket Mortgage Classic, that amounts to a busy July. Rather than sweat the future, though, Gotterup will chill.
“I just am worried about getting some rest this afternoon,” he said Friday. “I don't think too far ahead. Usually when you think too far ahead bad things happen in the present. I'm just going to focus on this week, and whatever comes from it, comes from it.”