Drive, chance meeting carry UAB golfer Martin Rohwer to NCAA success

Martin Rowher

For three consecutive days the weather called for long pants and a sweater.

It was unusual for the UAB men’s golf team to compete in 50-degree temperatures. They played in Florida, Georgia and Mississippi months earlier and were putting on suntan lotion.

It was mid-May but here there were gray skies and an occasional mist in the air.

The Olympic Course at Golf Mountain Golf Course, site of the NCAA  Bremerton (Wash.) Regional, was a one-hour ferry ride from downtown Seattle. The 7,115-yard track is made of poa annua greens and bentgrass fairways, not the Bermuda grass UAB was accustomed to playing on.

But playing 2,630 miles from campus and 10,580 miles from home in different weather on different grass did not matter to UAB’s Martin Rohwer. He felt like he had a course record in him when he walked to the first tee for his opening round.

“I did feel like I had a low score in me,” said Rohwer, a junior from South Africa. ”I hit the ball really well the first day.”

He posted a opening-round 68, placing him in a tie for fifth. More importantly the Blazers, ranked 30th in the country, were in first place with a one-stroke over TCU and Southern Cal.

Martin Rohwer will compete in the NCAA championships this weekend for the second consecutive year. Photos by (Jimmy Mitchell/UAB Athletics)
Martin Rohwer will compete in the NCAA championships this weekend for the second consecutive year. Photos by (Jimmy Mitchell/UAB Athletics)

Two days later in the final round Rohwer put on a show in front of playing partners Chelso Barrett of TCU and Southern Cal’s Jonah Texeira. Rohwer dropped in nine birdies, five coming on the back nine, to set the Olympic Course course record with a 8-under 64.

“I played the exact same way on the third day as the first,” Rohwer said. “The difference was I just made more putts. I was thinking that a low number like 4 or 5-under would be a good score.”

Getting to 8-under didn’t just get Rohwer’s name on the wall in Golf Mountain clubhouse. His 64 helped UAB withstand a late charge by South Carolina, the sixth-ranked team in the country, to win the regional title by two strokes.

UAB’s first regional golf championship, which sent them to this week’s national championships for the second year in a row, was also the culmination of a unlikely journey for Rohwer thanks to a chance meeting.

“I grew up watching Ernie Els battle Tiger,” said Rohwer, who shot an 6-over-par 78 in Friday’s first round of the NCAA men’s golf championships and was in a 17-way tie for 108th that included No. 1 Maverick McNealy of Stanford.

“Then as I got older it was Charl (Schwartzel) winning the Masters and Louis (Oosthuizen) winning the British Open. I looked up to those guys. I watched how they did things, what they did in (their) junior golf days and always compare it to what I was doing at the same age.”

Most South African juniors though, like Els, Schwartzel and Oosthuizen, played amateur golf after high school and then turned pro. Not many  took the college route to get to the pro ranks.

It’s understandable why they wouldn’t want to spend four years third-quarters of the way around the world to play golf when there are tours and courses in their backyard. But in 2011, during his last year of high school, Rohwer bumped into PGA Tour veteran Tim Clark at Umkomass Golf Club, 20 minutes from his home course in South Africa.

“When Tim Clark injured his elbow (missing most of the 2011 season) … he was practicing his short game for three hours at a time,” Rohwer said. “I would often go there to practice and I started speaking with him. Over time we hung out more and more. We started practicing together. I started to pick his brain; see what he had to say about young lads turning pro, what they should do, what they shouldn’t do.”

Clark, a native of Durban, South Africa, took the college route to the Tour, attending North Carolina State. He was ACC Player of the Year and U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship in the same year. Winning the Public Links qualified him for the Masters at 22.

“He gave me a bit of advice about what college golf was like too,” Rohwer said. “Getting my education was important. My father and I spent a week at UAB and then I decided it was the place for me.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

Keith Chartrand

Keith Chartrand

Keith Chartrand is a freelance writer based in Ocala, Fla.