By Steve Hanf
Five years ago, Ben Schlottman was at Sedgefield Country Club when Arjun Atwal won the Wyndham Championship.
In July, the 19-year-old from Advance was a playing partner with Atwal and Tom Hoge in the PGA Tour’s Barbasol Championship.
The former Forsyth Country Day standout capped a remarkable freshman year at Auburn with a sponsor’s exemption into the inaugural Barbasol Championship, played on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Grand National in Opelika, Ala., opposite the British Open.
“It was really fun playing with Arjun … and it was an awesome experience being inside the ropes the whole time,” Schlottman said.
Nerves were apparent from the first tee for the amateur, who opened the first round with a bogey-5, made six straight pars, then had a double-bogey 5 at No. 8 and another bogey on the ninth hole to make the turn at 4-over. Schlottman recorded his first PGA Tour birdie on the par-4 10th, gave a shot back on No. 12, then went birdie-bogey at Nos. 13 and 14 to settle for a 4-over round of 75.
“I was pretty nervous starting out,” he said. “I kind of made a few bad swings, was able to get out on the range after the round, and I felt great going into the second round.”
Schlottman’s second round began at the 10th hole and included another bogey to start. He then got on a tear, recording birdies on the 12th, 14th, 15th and 18th holes to move to 3-under for his round and 1-over for the tournament. The front nine proved less spectacular, however, with eight pars and a bogey-4 at No. 8. His score of 2-over missed the cut by two shots, but he beat out some familiar names such as Tim Herron (3-over) and Billy Mayfair (4-over) among the nearly 80 pros who didn’t play on the weekend.
“It was really cool, especially when I got it going on Friday,” Schlottman said. “I really thought I was going to make the cut on the back nine. I couldn’t get quite enough putts to fall on the back side.
“I had a great time, my family was down there – it was just a great opportunity,” he added.
Auburn coach Nick Clinard expects the Barbasol to be the first of many PGA Tour appearances for Schlottman.
“He’s gonna play on the PGA Tour. It’s just a matter of when,” Clinard said.
Clinard’s confidence is well-founded. All Schlottman did as a freshman at Auburn was rewrite the golf record book. He was the Southeastern Conference’s freshman of the year. He earned first-team All-SEC honors – the first freshman in Auburn history to do so. He placed second at the SEC Championship and was an All-Southeast Region selection. Schlottman’s scoring average of 70.96 was a record for Auburn freshmen and the fourth-lowest scoring average for any player in school history.
Sure, Schlottman was supposed to be a top prospect after starring at FCD – but this was one heck of a rookie season.
“I knew that he was going to be a really good player. I wasn’t really sure when,” Clinard said. “I knew he was a good student, a hard worker. But I think this has happened a little faster than I originally thought.”
And yet, the fabulous spring season came after a disappointing fall.
Schlottman started playing golf thanks to the influence of his grandfather, Harold Peeso, and remembers hitting balls “since I could walk” at Oak Valley Golf Club. He grew serious with the game in middle school and played five years at Forsyth Country Day, helping win one team state championship and earning all-state honors each year.
His final college choices came down to Wake Forest (too close), Arkansas (too far) and Auburn – a just-right drive of 6 ½ hours. But when Schlottman arrived in Alabama, he struggled with his game and his role on the team.
“It’s kinda awkward – you don’t know anyone and you’re trying to compete for a spot. It’s kind of hard to get close to anyone,” Schlottman said. “That first semester was rough for me. I didn’t really feel like I fit in on the team at all.”
Schlottman’s low point was shooting an 80 in the team’s first qualifier. That certainly didn’t help him get into the traveling rotation, but it did get him out to the team’s practice facilities even more than usual.
“It was kind of a wake-up call,” Schlottman said. “I’ve always been one who hits a lot of balls and chips a lot, but after that 80 I definitely got after it even more. Every golf team I’ve played on so far, I’ve kind of been the guy. I got there and my game was in pretty poor shape. I really had to dig deep and work really hard. By the time spring came around, I was really prepared to play well.”
Schlottman, who is majoring in business analytics, said Clinard remained encouraging, and also made a point to praise the freshman for making the Dean’s List that fall semester. For his part, Clinard said Schlottman perhaps was dwelling a bit too much on that one bad round.
“We’re a top-10 program in the country and he played OK – shot a lot of 72s, 73s, but to play in our lineup he needed to shoot more scores in the 60s,” Clinard said. “Golf’s a process and he started to fall in love with that process, and he just kept chipping away. You never know when the light’s going to come on for players.”
Over Christmas break, Schlottman came home and won the Country Club of North Carolina Amateur at Pinehurst. Back at Auburn, he traveled with the Tigers to their first tournament – to Hawaii in February – and tied for second-lowest score on the team with a 6-under.
“He never looked back,” Clinard said. “The spot in the Barbasol … he earned it.”
Prior to his PGA debut, Schlottman won the Palmetto Amateur in South Carolina and placed 10th in the Swiss Amateur after combining a family vacation with the chance to play golf in an neat locale. With the Barbasol behind him, Schlottman now turns his focus toward qualifying for the U.S. Amateur and then enjoying a successful sophomore season.
He enjoyed college life at Auburn, from the fun of football games and volleyball games to the challenge of a rigorous course load to attempting to gain “the freshman 15” to fill out his growing frame – “I put on 10 pounds. I wish it was 15,” he said with a laugh.
“I love it,” Schlottman added of college golf. “You get to practice so much more than in high school. You have the flexibility to work your classes how you want, the facility is so much better, there’s an awesome gym where you can work out every day, a wellness kitchen where I can eat a ton, and a ton of good stuff, too. Whatever your goals are, you can work to achieve them there.”