Playing in a Korn Ferry Tour event still feels surreal for Reed Lotter.
It was just a few weeks ago when the 16-year-old Savannah Country Day golfer found out he had received a sponsor’s exemption into the field of the Club Car Championship at The Landings Club, which begins Thursday at the Deer Creek Course.
Lotter will step onto the No. 10 tee at 2:30 p.m. in the last group to go off in the first round, ready to live his dream and embrace everything that comes with it.
It’s just another tournament. Except it isn’t. Lotter is one of just 13 people under 17 years old to ever play in a Korn Ferry Tour event and is only the fifth in the past 10 years. He’ll play alongside professional golfers who travel week in and week out throughout the year, some of whom have won on the PGA Tour.
He has played a four-day tournament only one other time in his life, and that was not anywhere close to the Korn Ferry level.
That’s the challenge facing Lotter this week: how to treat this as another tournament when it is anything but.
“The way I look at it, I still have to hit a round ball and get it into the hole,” Lotter said. “It’s an unbelievable experience, but I’ve been given this experience, and I still have to come out and play like it’s another golf tournament.”
No matter what happens this week, Lotter knows he wants to play someday on the PGA Tour, and he’ll have a lot to glean from playing in the Club Car Championship — from how to prepare to how to conduct himself during the tournament to how to handle the media spotlight.
In October, Lotter played in the Billy Horschel Junior Championship, an AJGA event held on Fleming Island, Florida. Reed’s father, Chris Lotter, recalled how Horschel gave a speech to each of the participants about what they could expect if they ever hoped to turn pro one day, and what they need to start doing now to make that happen. He said young golfers have to deal with three things: golf, social life and academics, and someone can only be good at two of those things.
“I always ask him, ‘Do you like that?’ ” Chris Lotter said. “Is that something you want to do? It’s hard work. You wake up at 5:30 in the morning and go to the gym, then you go to the course and warm up. You eat, come back and practice again, then you go play, go to an early dinner, go to bed early. It’s a job. There are times when you don’t go to a prom or some social event that you want to do.”
It’s a lifestyle that Reed Lotter is already embracing. He wakes up early each morning and goes for a run and works out before starting his school day, then he gets in as much practice at the range as he can before he does homework and goes to bed.
Chris Lotter said he never had to instill any kind of discipline for Reed to develop this routine. It has always come naturally to him.
“He always loved the game,” Chris Lotter said. “It wasn’t anything for him to have to go to the course and practice for hours. I didn’t have to ask him, ‘Hey did you practice today?’ ”
Lotter has plenty of people to go to for advice about how to play in a professional tournament. He is friends with Savannah native and resident Tim O’Neal (also playing in the Club Car Championship), has strong relationships with The Landings’ professional staff, and works on his swing with Savannah Harbor director of golf instruction Andrew Rice.
Rice said he isn’t surprised to see Lotter in the Club Car field this year. Lotter almost made it in October, when the 2020 event was held, after falling one stroke short of making a playoff in the Monday qualifier.
“He’s truly a joy,” Rice said. “He gets up early and works out before he goes to school. He loves the challenge of the game. He knows how to work hard at everything he does. He’s always shown a passion for the game. He loves golf so much, he cannot go a day without doing anything to further grow his golf game.”
Preparation can only go so far. Some things can only be handled through experience, and landing in a difficult situation during the tournament may be one of them.
“As long as I feel prepared on that first tee, like I couldn’t have done anything more, then I’ve got to live with the results,” Reed Lotter said. “My only goal is to stay positive through the whole thing. I know there’s going to be some doubts and gremlins that come in, but if I can keep positive thoughts going through my mind, I know this course better than anybody, so I think that’s going to be key to me.”
Lotter said shaking off a bad shot or a bad hole can sometimes be a struggle for him, but one of the players he looks up to in that area is Rickie Fowler and the way he goes about his business, able to put each shot behind him and move onto the next one.
The good news is, if Lotter does wind up in a tight spot, he’ll have someone standing next to him to go to for advice. Phil Haug, a Landings resident who often plays with Reed, will be his caddie.
“It’s going to be a nice comfort,” Lotter said. “Not only are you looking for a caddie who knows how to read greens and give yardages and carry the bag, you want someone who in stressful situations you can talk it through, and he’s going to give you the best advice to hit the shot. I’ve played a lot of golf with Phil. He knows how far I carry my clubs because he’s about the same distance as me. And he knows me as a person, too.”
Haug, a 40-year-old regional manager for an insurance company, had planned on trying to get into the Club Car Championship through the Monday qualifier, but he backed out when he heard Reed had received his exemption. He approached him on the range one day and asked if needed a caddie, Haug said.
“I’m more honored to have the opportunity to be a part of it,” Haug said. “I don’t think he’s going to need (much advice) because mentally he’s wise beyond his years the way he approaches the game. Having a friendly face will help, but mentally and physically he’s ready.”
Handling the spotlight
Thanks in large part due to junior tours like the American Junior Golf Association and the rise of young players ascending to stardom, Lotter is growing up in an age of golf in which the best junior golfers get plenty of coverage from the media. Golf writers and analysts are always on the lookout for the next Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth or Rory McIllroy.
The Rolex AJGA rankings currently has Lotter as the No. 154th ranked junior player in the world, and he’s being recruited by some of the top college golf programs in the country. But Rice said it doesn’t matter much where Lotter is ranked now, and that’s the biggest reason for Lotter to enjoy the moment and learn what he can from the experience.
“I’ve said to him for a long time, you don’t want to be the best 15-year-old golfer in the world,” Rice said. “You want to be the best 25-year-old golfer in the world. That works out much better.”
Lotter isn’t afraid of any of the attention. In fact, he thinks it makes him a better player.
“The good thing about it is, it prepares you,” Lotter said. “If you look at (Jordan) Spieth, and Rory (McIllroy), some of those big names, they’re so good when they’re under the mic. They’re trained. It helps you learn how to talk in front of people. That’s part of it. You kind of have to just embrace it.”
And when it comes to the gallery, the bigger the better, Lotter said. He expects to have the largest following he’s ever played in front of this week.
“I feel like I thrive when there’s people watching,” he said. “I just focus more. Instead of intimidating, I kinda like it. I don’t want to play bad, so much to the point that it makes me play better. I’m just a little bit sharper.”
Lotter also owned the Deer Creek course record of 63, which he carded at age 14, until October when Julian Etulain shot a 62 in what was then known as the Savannah Golf Championship.
With a home crowd on his home course, it would seem Lotter has a lot going for him coming into Thursday. But he won’t know anything for certain until he steps onto the No. 10 tee.
“You don’t want to set the bar too high, but I think for the first day my expectations are to just feel it out, embrace that you’re in this, and not let it get to your head and just take it one shot at a time,” Lotter said. “If I’m right there with the leaders, that’s great, but if I miss the cut and bomb it, I’m going to learn from it.”
original article link https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2021/03/25/16-year-old-golf-phenom-tournament-the-pros/