When they first met, something about Harrison Ott impressed Vanderbilt University men’s golf coach Scott Limbaugh even more than Ott’s ability to get a golf ball in the hole quickly.
It was Ott’s maturity, Limbaugh remembers, that stood out.
“He never was on his cell phone, ever,” Limbaugh said. “Never had it out. Never had it around. He always looked me in the eye when he talked to me. A lot of people can look at golf scores and figure that out, but we’re trying to build a program with high-character young men.
“That was something that jumped out at me. We’re really big on fits here. The right kind of kids. We just thought he was going to be a good fit for who we are and what we’re trying to do.”
Ott, a Milwaukee Marquette High School graduate from Brookfield, played mostly as an individual as a freshman in 2017-18, his scores not counting toward the Commodores’ team total. But it was only a matter of time before the maturity in his golf game caught up with his maturity off the course.
“When he committed to us, we thought we had something really special,” Limbaugh said. “He wasn’t a guy who dominated junior golf, but he was good. I like guys who don’t necessarily peak early in their high school years. He’s not there yet, but he’s closer today than he was yesterday.”
Ott, a sophomore, recently won a 72-hole team qualifier and will be in the lineup when the fifth-ranked Commodores open their spring season at the Gator Invitational, Saturday and Sunday in Gainesville, Florida.
Ott credits Dr. Morris Pickens, his sports psychologist, for helping him understand the importance of routine and how to deal with pressure. Among Pickens’ PGA Tour clients are Zach Johnson, Stewart Cink, Lucas Glover and Jonathan Byrd.
“I feel like I’ve always had a pretty good game,” Ott said. “But something I had to move a long way in was working on progressing and peaking at tournament time and understanding how I’m feeling and why I’m feeling that way. Being aware of what I’m feeling under pressure and acknowledging and accepting it. And letting my confidence take over.”
His confidence soared last summer, when the won the Wisconsin State Amateur in an epic, eight-hole playoff with University of Minnesota standout Thomas Longbella of Chippewa Falls. A few weeks later, Ott reached the round of 32 at the U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach.
In the first round of match play, he beat Justin Suh, 1-up. Suh, a senior at Southern Cal, is the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world. Ott then lost to Viktor Hovland of Norway, 2 and 1. Hovland, a junior at top-ranked Oklahoma State, currently is ranked third in the world.
“Obviously, we started to see real progression in the summer,” Limbaugh said. “And then he came in (for his sophomore year) with confidence and a belief that he belonged.”
Ott is coming off a fall in which he averaged 73.17, fifth-best on the team. His best finish was a tie for 18th at the Shoal Creek Invitational.
At the Carmel Cup at Pebble Beach, he shot 1-under-par 215 to finish in a tie for 32nd despite making a quintuple-bogey 9 on the 10th hole in the first round.
“He made a bad decision and hit one on the beach, but we saw a good step there,” Limbaugh said. “The big thing he needs is continued experience. He does a lot of things really well. He’s got to continue to understand that his bad golf has got to get better. At this level there’s a big difference between a guy who turns 75 into 73 and a guy who turns 73 into 75. That’s huge.”
The important thing is that Ott’s game is trending in the right direction.
“I just want to keep working on understanding what I’m feeling and thinking and always try to get better at that,” he said. “It’s about managing how I feel and convincing myself that I’m going to play good golf all the time.”