Guest: Tommy Kuhl, Professional Golfer and University of Illinois Alumni
Host: Jeff Pelizzaro
Episode Number: 349
Podcast: The 18STRONG Podcast
In this episode, Jeff Pelizzaro chats with Tommy Kuhl, a rising star in the world of professional golf. Tommy shares his journey from playing collegiate golf at the University of Illinois to transitioning into the professional realm, specifically the PGA Tour Canada. The conversation delves into the challenges, learning experiences, and the support system that has guided Tommy through this significant transition.
- Introduction to Tommy Kuhl
- Tommy’s recent transition to professional golf after a successful stint at the University of Illinois.
- His experiences and challenges in the PGA Tour Canada.
- Tommy’s Collegiate Experience
- The prestige and challenges of playing for the University of Illinois.
- Team successes, individual achievements, and the influence of Coach Small.
- PGA Tour University System
- The benefits and structure of the PGA Tour University system for college players.
- Tommy’s insights into the system and its impact on his professional journey.
- Challenges of Professional Golf
- The mental and physical toll of continuous travel and tournaments.
- The financial challenges and the importance of enjoying the journey.
- Support System and Future Goals
- Tommy’s reliance on Coach Small and other Illini alumni for guidance.
- His aspirations and goals for the future in professional golf.
- Linksoul – The preferred brand of apparel for golfers. Mentioned as a sponsor in the episode.
- PGA Tour University – A system that aids college players in transitioning to professional golf.
Tommy Kuhl provides a candid look into the world of transitioning from collegiate to professional golf. His insights, challenges, and the support system that has been instrumental in his journey offer a unique perspective for aspiring golfers and fans alike. Tune into the 18STRONG Podcast for more in-depth conversations with golf’s rising stars.
Want the full episode transcript? (click the “+” 👉🏻)
Jeff Pelizzaro: [00:00:00] The 18STRONG Podcast episode number 349 with Tommy Kuhl, professional golfer.
What’s up guys. Welcome back to the 18STRONG Podcast, where we are here to help you build a stronger game. This week we have on Tommy Kuhl, recently turned professional golfer that played golf at the University of Illinois, had a great career there playing for coach small. He And he’s now transitioning over into the professional world, playing on the PGA tour Canada.
And we talk about Tommy’s experience going from the collegiate game. And everything that goes on there with all the resources that he has there. And then now becoming his own, basically his own [00:01:00] business as a golfer. And now having to figure out and navigate through the professional world. Through the travel, through the fitness, and figuring out his routines.
We talked today with Tommy about some of the experiences he’s already had. Playing in the John Deere Classic, which is his first. PGA Tour event that he’s ever played in. Also a bit of a situation that he was in, in a US Open qualifier, where he ended up having to DQ himself. You may have heard that story and seen that on, the Monday Q or some of the other golf publications.
that put that out where Tommy actually called a penalty on himself after shooting a course record at Illini Country Club and had to DQ himself because of rules infraction. So we go through all of the different situations that Tommy’s been in, what it’s been like to transition, and it’s just a great conversation with a young up and coming golfer that is looking to make his dream come true on the PGA Tour.
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com slash link soul. Okay. Let’s get into the conversation with Tommy cool.
Tommy Kuhl: So
Jeff Pelizzaro: are you back home right now?
Tommy Kuhl: Are you sorry? Yeah. So I’m actually in Windsor, Ontario. we have an event this week up here and then, I have two off [00:03:00] weeks starting next week. We’re on a four week stretch. This is the last one. So I’m going to finish strong. All right,
Jeff Pelizzaro: sweet. So yeah, you had a good weekend last weekend, right?
Tommy Kuhl: did. Yep. Got back on track. just finally some good golf. So it felt good to put together some rounds and
Jeff Pelizzaro: build off of it. where was that event?
Tommy Kuhl: it was in Toronto, TPC Toronto.
Jeff Pelizzaro: Okay. Third place finish? third place. Yeah. All right. so where does that put you right now?
Order of merit? And, if you could even explain to people, like where? How the PGA Tour of Canada, what gets you to the next step and what’s your Yeah,
Tommy Kuhl: basically, PGA Tour Canada, you’re playing for the top 5. top 5 on the money list, or the points list, I should say, gets your Corn Fairy Tour card at the end of the season.
And we’re on week, I believe it’s 6 right now, 6 or 7. and, I, last week, helped me a lot. this tour is very top heavy with points. First or third. I made a clutch [00:04:00] birdie on hole 17, which bumped me up to solo third, got me a lot of points. And, I moved up, I think, 46 spots and I’m on 19th right now.
I was outside the top 60, didn’t play my best golf, early this season, but, felt good to finally get a good finish. And, like I said, just going to keep building off of it and carry that momentum into this week.
Jeff Pelizzaro: Nice. so you said there’s Four weeks left. Is that right?
Tommy Kuhl: this week and then three more after this.
Jeff Pelizzaro: so a couple good finishes could, could pop you up towards the top there. and then that you said top five order AmeriCos to corn fairy tour, right? Correct.
Tommy Kuhl: I believe first place gets their full corn cherry card and then two through five get conditional status.
So that should get you in the first couple events of next season. just, that’s the goal for everyone up here, and a lot of guys up here are playing for top 25 on the Order of Merit, which gets you into second stage of Korn Ferry qualifying. But, I’m actually already exempt in the second stage through, the new PGA Tour [00:05:00] University.
Jeff Pelizzaro: Okay, cool. so yeah, explain that a little bit to us. I want to get into, your time at Illinois and obviously that’s what kind of got you to where you are. You’re having a really strong year. Last year at Illinois, PGA Tour University, which I was just talking to, our buddy, Justin Barjay, who is now working with PGA Tour University.
And, I know that you know him very well. It sounds like you actually saw him today. but tell us a little bit about like how does PGA Tour University, what does that do? How does that work? Because that’s a fairly new thing, right?
Tommy Kuhl: Yes. I want to say it’s three years, three years old. they started, three years ago,they made this new PGA Tour University and it gives,college seniors, you stay in school, and you play for the rankings.
they go off world amateur golf ranking points, wagger,and it only counts for college events and, PGA Tour events. Based on how you play in college tournaments, the number of lagger points you get based on the finish and that, that goes into the system. obviously, like [00:06:00] everything, the better you play, the higher up you’ll be.
there’s not much to it, play good golf and you’ll be up on those
Jeff Pelizzaro: rankings. And so the top spots at PGA Tour University. do they get their tour card? And then some guys go Corn Fairy. What does that break down?
Tommy Kuhl: yes. they’re making changes always to it.
But, this was the first year that number one on PGA Tour U got his PGA Tour card. this… Stud by the name of Ludwig Eber, went to Texas Tech, had a heck of a college career, and,he gained his full PGA Tour card, and he’s off and running, he’s killing it right now, and, and then 2 through 10 get, Corn Fairy status.
I think 2 through 5 get their Corn Fairy Tour card, and then 6 through 10 get Conditional status, I believe. and then 11 through 20 get full status on PGA Tour Canada.
Jeff Pelizzaro: Okay, awesome. Yeah, I was, that’s why I was texting with, Justin today. We’re gonna hopefully bring him on the show too, so he can go a little deeper into [00:07:00] what PGA Tour University is and really the whole program behind it and what that’s doing for
Tommy Kuhl: the game.
it’s funny you brought it up. I, like you said, I actually saw him today. I know he’s traveling to events. I think that’s his new role, just going to events, learning more about, what it’s like up here. and, this game, professional golf, amateur golf, it’s always changing.
And, it was great to see him today. And obviously he has a better idea of what’s going on in PGA Tour University. But, what a platform for college players, but it’s, It makes players stay in college, work for something and have a job out of college, I was talking to him today.
I was like, if I just graduated, two months ago, what would I be doing now? Probably just chasing the mini tours and, PGA Tour University gave me the opportunity to come up here and, get a jumpstart professional goal. Yeah.
Jeff Pelizzaro: So at the end of this season, Canadian Tour, if by chance you do not make it in that top five.
Are there other tournaments that you’ll then be, like, looking to play in the interim before you get to, next year’s Canadian Tour or [00:08:00] Corn Ferry Tour, going through Q School and things like that? What are the other avenues that you can then take, even just to earn paychecks and make money?
Because, I know everybody out there is, you guys aren’t rolling in the dough like the PGA Tour guys. people think PGA Tour Canada, they think. That sounds really big, but I know that, it’s a struggle to get out there, stay out there, make money, and make all the ends meet when you’re traveling, how many weeks a year.
Tommy Kuhl: Exactly, yeah. I’m sure, like I said, I’m new to this, so I’m learning as I go, but, I’ve heard, the guys up here who’ve been out here, grinding it out have said there’s some pretty good mini tour events during the off season, down in Florida. I know there’s a minor league golf tour down there, and then, out west, there’s a new tour called the Asher Tour, and they provide, players with good opportunities to play and some decent purses, I’m sure during the off season, I’ll, sign up for a couple of those and just stay fresh. and for me, more than anything, I want to be out playing more than practicing. Obviously, practice is important, but I think to go out and test your game and,that’s where [00:09:00] I see, the, Biggest improvement in my game is going out and actually doing it.
So I’m sure a player knows and,see if that prepares me for Q school. I’m sure
Jeff Pelizzaro: it will. What have been some of the biggest changes for you switching from, you’re playing at one of the most elusive collegiate organizations at Illinois University. you’ve got all tons of resources there.
You’ve got crazy practice facilities. You’ve got an incredible coach. You have all of these different, things at your disposal and now you’re a business. You are Tommy Kuhl Incorporated, right? Like you’re now looking to make your ends meet and make your way onto the tour. What have been some of the biggest changes and were you prepared for some of these?
Obviously you have a lot of guys you can lean on that have taken that step too.
Tommy Kuhl: It’s been a huge learning experience for me, even these first… Six weeks, it’s I mean i’m playing for money now, which is One thing I mean at the end of the day, it’s golf, you know You still got to go out and produce scores, but playing for money and just the [00:10:00] travel That’s one thing i’ve learned is just you know How expensive the travel is as a professional golfer and you know how hard the travel is on your body.
You know physically how hard that can be and I went through a stretch there. where I wasn’t playing great golf either and it’s hard on you mentally as well. you’re not making anything when you miss the cuts and it’s hard. So you just got to find a balance, mentally and just keep going.
like I said, just a huge learning experience and I’m learning every single day I’m out here. it’s good to have guys I know out here who have, who’ve been through it. And obviously, Coach Small and a lot of the Illini moms, I lean on them for support, but,I think more than anything, you just got to enjoy it.
Yeah, all of us up here in Canada probably don’t want to be, this isn’t where we want to be, playing for the rest of our lives, but you got to find a way to enjoy it and, enjoy the grind of it and, keep that end goal of making the PGA Tour and winning on the PGA Tour in the back of your mind.
Jeff Pelizzaro: Have you had a chance to head home at all during this stretch? I know you had a couple [00:11:00] tournaments which we’ll get to in a little bit. You had a big tournament that you went and played in, some qualifiers and stuff. We’ll touch on that. But have you actually had a chance to do you get a couple weeks off or a week off in
Tommy Kuhl: between?
It’s been pretty constant going. I’ve tried straight from this college season. We had regionals, nationals. And then I actually had the opportunity to represent the United States in the Arnold Palmer Cup. So I went straight from nationals to Arnold Palmer Cup and then straight from Arnold Palmer Cup to Canada.
So I’ve been on the road. I want to say this is my 10th week in a row. Sprinkled in one day at home in there, when I got the opportunity to put in the PGA Tour event, but man, it’s just the constant grind, it’s hard, not a lot of time at home, which, is hard, but, like I said, you just got to enjoy and embrace the travel.
Jeff Pelizzaro: Who are a few of the guys that you’ve been able to, reach out to? Obviously, you’ve got some PGA Tour guys that went through Illinois, and what’s some of the advice that they’ve maybe given you? [00:12:00] Regarding this big change in the travel and all the different things that you’re going through.
Tommy Kuhl: I said, I would say the biggest person I’ve leaned on is Coach Small. Obviously, he’s been a huge role model for me. he’s someone I look up to and someone I respect a ton and he’s been through it. I think that’s why you see the program have so much success and, it’s because of him. he’s been through it.
He’s been through the professional golf grind and I found myself calling him. A lot, just reaching out to him. It’s always good to hear his voice and the biggest thing he keeps telling me is, this is what you work for. This is what you’ve wanted to play professional golf and just more than anything go out and enjoy it You know, I think that’s one thing with golf that sometimes players can get wrapped up in this yeah, it’s hard on you.
Sometimes it’s very hard, but you just got to find a way to enjoy it Enjoy the challenge of you know being up here competing, and just really embrace
Jeff Pelizzaro: everything. take me [00:13:00] back to your Illinois days. So you were there five years, right? what did that trajectory look like? I know you and I had a chance to actually work together a little bit before you went to Illinois.
it’s been really cool to be able to follow you and keep up with, what’s going on in your career. And, from the time you got to Illinois, Give us a little bit of a highlight reel, Tommy Kuhle highlight reel of, where things started, how, what it was like going there, knowing you’re going into this huge program.
obviously it’s a huge honor that, and showed that you had tremendous talent going in. When you got there, was there a little bit of shell shock, or did you feel like you fit right in, fit into the family? How did those next five years play out?
Tommy Kuhl: Yeah, as a junior golfer from central Illinois, it was always a dream of mine to go play for the University of Illinois and coach Small.
as a kid, I remember going to the Illinois golf camps with my brother and, getting to know coach Small and, get familiarity with, the university, the campus, the facilities. I always told my parents this was, That’s what I wanted was, that’s what I [00:14:00] wanted to work for is getting a scholarship to play for coach in the University of Illinois.
I had a decent junior career, committed very early. I think I committed my sophomore or freshman year of high school. I had a decent junior career, won the state high school championship twice. And,going into my freshman year, it was a wake up call. I got there my freshman year and I didn’t know anything.
that’s one way to put it. I thought I did, as a young player and I did my, such a big learning curve, to figure out and,it took me a while to, to learn as a selfish junior thinking he knows everything, and as I started to mature and as I got older in the university and, in the program, I started to see results
more or less just listening to coach and what he
Jeff Pelizzaro: preaches. when did you really start to get into the rotation of playing there? how many guys are on the actual squad? And then how many play in the individual events?
Tommy Kuhl: Yeah, [00:15:00] so we, so golf teams usually have around, I would say, 8 to 12 people, on the team.
Our coach usually keeps our team around 8 to 10. fluctuated in that number of people. Through my time there and, freshman year, I didn’t play much in the lineup, obviously in college events, you have, let’s say, 10 guys on the team, and you do qualifying when you get there and throughout the year to see who’s in the lineup, five play in the lineup, and then depending on the tournament, coach might have the opportunity to take a few individuals, and those individuals, don’t get to play, for the team’s success.
Basically, you’re just there playing, by yourself, which, that was me a lot of my freshman and sophomore year. I had a few opportunities to be in the lineup, and it was a huge learning experience for me. but, actually, my freshman year, I didn’t play the Big Ten championship.
And then one of our fifth guy got hurt right before regionals and I got subbed [00:16:00] in for regionals and then we made it through and I got in the lineup for nationals as well. that was really the first time I was in the lineup and,it’s, it’s hard, man. It’s just, it’s hard to make the lineup at a program like that.
It’s, you got to bring it every day and, that’s one thing I
Jeff Pelizzaro: learned. What were some of the biggest successes that you guys had, both as a team and then you individually, in your five
Tommy Kuhl: years at? as a team, we made it to the national championship three out of the four years. Obviously, COVID year, they didn’t, that season got cut short.
But, we made nationals three out of the four years. We, er, sorry, nationals, yeah, three out of the four years. And then we made match play in nationals two out of the three years we were in. And that was probably, the biggest stage of golf I’ve been in, in college or even amateur golf. so that was really fun.
just getting to chase that national championship with a group of guys, that’s what you work for all year. we, we, gave it all we had came up short, but,[00:17:00] definitely a very cool experience. And then individually, I never won in college. That was always my goal is to, get that individual win.
obviously for me, I was more focused on the team success, but you do want to see individual results, but,had a couple of runner ups, But never got that win. So still searching for it.
Jeff Pelizzaro: So I know that,you had a very successful last year. I was told to ask you, which are you more proud of being a first team All American or an academic All American?
And I think that question came from,
Tommy Kuhl: Oh, that’s a good one. Man, school for me was always hard, so it’s an honor to get the Academic All American, to be honest. I honestly put in a lot of work towards school, and to see, see me get that award is pretty special, and I know it means a lot to me and my family, but,First Team All American’s also a very big.
Big honor to have and, honestly, if you would have told me I would have been a first team all american [00:18:00] my freshman year, I don’t know if I would have believed you, I always dreamed of it, as a junior golfer and obviously in college and that’s what you work for, but, man, I really don’t think, it, just a lot of hard work, honestly, and, very special year.
What was that balance like? School, obviously, you put a lot of time and effort into your schoolwork. But then, playing golf at a Division I school like Illinois, many people equate it to a full time job. So what was it like to balance those things out, and what processes or routines did you find that were most beneficial to help you do that?
Tommy Kuhl: Yeah, it’s very difficult, and I would say one thing that helped me more than anything is just the resources that the University of Illinois offers to student athletes, specifically golf. we have an athletic academic counselor, Sherry Clapp. I don’t know if she’ll listen to this, but big shout out to her because she helps our team, [00:19:00] more than anything of just staying organized and making, enrolling for classes and just adjustment to college very easy.
So having her was a huge advantage. And, I can equate my academic success to her, but, just one thing with golf, too, is tournaments. You’re gone for four or five days at a time, during a week when you’re traveling for tournament. you’re missing class, you’re doing homework on the road, whereas other sports, let’s say football or basketball, you’re gone for a night or two, that was one of the biggest things I learned is just saying organized communicating with your professors and finding the balance of one when to practice golf and when to study so I always, I got into a very good routine in college, and just stuck with me.
Jeff Pelizzaro: is it nice now that you don’t have all the classes and everything that you have to take? I would assume you probably feel like you have some more free time in [00:20:00] order to put the time into your training, your practice, those kind of things. And have you still maintained a pretty solid, regimented routine?
Or do you find yourself almost being like, I’ve got… More time and trying to figure out how to really piece those things together to really get your plan together for the future
Tommy Kuhl: Yeah, i’m glad you brought that up because honestly, that’s the thing i’m trying to Focus on right now and learn is what’s my routine and obviously it depends where you’re at up here in channel, it’s hard to get into routine because for me, I know you focus on the fitness side of golf, but that’s been very important for me in my routine and how I feel physically and mentally.
so I’m trying to find a routine that works good for me and working out, nutrition, golf practice, and then my free time. The free time is the biggest. The biggest thing I’m trying to learn is just what am I going to do to fill that free time because you have a lot of it up here. and lucky to have a lot of guys up here to [00:21:00] be doing things with, but,I think having a routine is probably the most important thing.
and if you talk to a lot of professional golfers, they’ll say the same. What does
Jeff Pelizzaro: your fitness routine kind of look like right now? Obviously you guys don’t have The same kind of resources that the PGA Tour do. Do you have any kind of a trail or anything, or is it more local gyms that you guys have access to, those type of things?
Tommy Kuhl: Correct. Yeah, the PGA Tour can actually gives us, they’ll have three gyms a week, maybe one that we have access to, but usually Those are for the guy. I’m able to use them, but a lot of guys do Airbnbs. I’ve been doing hotels, so I’ve been just working out in the hotel gym. Obviously, they’re not the best resources for, from the fitness side of things, but,
I’m easy. I just find a way to, get my body moving and I like to just focus on more of the mobility side of things right now. I do a lot of stretching and mobility before I work out or, maybe the [00:22:00] Monday of the week just to, after travel, I like to get my body moving, the blood flowing and just like I said, just trying to find that routine, which, what works
Jeff Pelizzaro: best for me.
When you guys were at Illinois, was the physical training a big part of your season, or was that more, prior to, because obviously in season you’re traveling a lot, but, I assume you have a dedicated strength coach or trainer that’s helping you guys up there. Yeah,
Tommy Kuhl: so we actually worked out, I want to say three times in the off season.
we were in the gym mandatory, and then, In season, we were two days a week, but, for me, those were the, strength days. So I would go in, I would four or five times a week, on the other days and just get mobility work and get some cardio work in. And for me, as I mentioned, just the routine of it, I feel.
best mentally when I get in, that rhythm of waking up early, going to the gym, and then I’m able to go to class and [00:23:00] practice. I just like to stick to what I like and what I know. So
Jeff Pelizzaro: it’s working so far. So just keep dialing in that routine.
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I wanna talk to, you had a little bit of, 15 minutes of fame recently. a couple of times actually. one was a bit of a situation that I think many people applauded you for in the US Open qualifier. So take me back to… to that event at Illini Country Club, is that right? correct.
Yeah, so you, you shoot a course record in a qualify, U. S. Open qualifier, and, you take the story from there.
Tommy Kuhl: Yeah, U. S. Open local qualifying each year. It’s obviously every golfer’s dream to make the U. S. Open and compete, for a spot in that prestigious field. And, I had to go through the local process of it.
And, a couple of teammates drove up there and, played a great round of golf. I shot bogey free nine under, My best run of the year and thought I had it. I thought I was in [00:25:00] One of my roommates was actually in a playoff to get the last spot and me and a couple teammates were walking Following him and I just mentioned to the guys like how hard it was to putt on the aerated greens You know the Midwest didn’t have a good spring as far as weather So a lot of the greens in the area weren’t Healed fully.
and there were a few, or the greens were aerated and they weren’t filled in yet. The and I mentioned to one of my teammates how hard it was to put on the aerated greens and he mentioned, but yeah, it was hard ’cause you couldn’t fix ’em. And at that moment I honestly, I, it was the worst feeling ever.
’cause I, throughout the day I was fixing ’em and, didn’t know the rule. I didn’t know. with the new rule changes that you can, fix spike marks, tap down spike marks. I thought you could fix them, obviously, and you couldn’t, and, I went to rules official told him what I was doing throughout the day and Ultimately ended up dq’ing [00:26:00] myself.
very unfortunate, but I tell people when they ask me You know, it comes down to me like nothing on the course nothing on the rules official nothing on the tournament i’m a golfer. This is what I do for a living. I should know the rules, so it falls on me. Yeah, it’s probably not the best rule, but that’s golf.
That’s life. definitely learn from
Jeff Pelizzaro: it. I can’t imagine that moment when that light bulb went off in your head and you’re like, just that sinking feeling of oh man, and I think myself, I remember sending you a text and I’m sure you got so many messages from other people like that. Just the integrity of that moment speaks so highly of your personality.
but also just the game of golf itself, right? And that’s probably one of the reasons why you love this game why so many of us love this game and the fact that you did that i’m sure you got a lot of messages from people applauding that move You obviously got a lot of I had several articles written about it.
What was that like, social media wise? Did you [00:27:00] get a lot of people reaching out to you and different interviews and things like that?
Tommy Kuhl: Yeah, I got so many people reaching out. It was almost very overwhelming and it was at a time right before we were starting, regionals. I had to shy away a couple interviews just because it was almost too much and I was focused on the team and making it to the national championship and winning the national championship.
I answered a lot of people, but I just put it past me after a few days and I was just like, it happened, it’s in the past and let’s move on. But,I did have a lot of people reaching out and just, Sending their thoughts to me. I, and I told everyone it’s life, right?
it’s on me. Let’s, definitely gonna learn from it.
Jeff Pelizzaro: That’s awesome. And not only was it a, nine under round, that was a course record there, right? It
Tommy Kuhl: was, yeah. So I don’t know if they kept it or not, but in my heart, in my head,I had the course record there. Hey, do you
Jeff Pelizzaro: ever play there before?
Tommy Kuhl: yeah, I’ve played there a couple times. [00:28:00] Gotcha. Yeah, and it’s a great course. And one thing with the media that I just was a little frustrated with was just a lot of it was towards a line at Country Club and, oh, they shouldn’t be aerating their greens. the matter of fact is every course has to aerate their greens for them to be healthy.
it just, it was unfortunate, all the course in the area had the same problem. nothing on the line at Country Club. Great course, great venue for a local qualifier.
Jeff Pelizzaro: so then not too long after that really, you had another pretty cool opportunity to play in your first, was this your first PGA Tour event, the John Deere Classic?
Correct. Yeah, first one. And so how did that transpire? How did you get into the John
Tommy Kuhl: Deere? the John Deere Classic does a great job of giving, young guys right out of college opportunities, to play. make… Make their first pj tour start obviously jordan spieth he was a winner at the John Deere classic as a young gun.
And there’s been [00:29:00] Handful of illinois guys that have gotten the opportunity to play in the john Deere classic and start their pro career you know starting the year that was one of my goals that I had was Potentially get the sponsors exemption with john Deere classic and I knew that I had to you know Play well to get it.
It wasn’t just going to be like I’m a local kid. They’re, hopefully they give it to me. I wanted to earn it. And, after I had a really good fifth year, at the University of Illinois, I sent in a letter and, they, they got back to me two weeks before the tournament and, it was pretty special moment for me and my caddy.
Jeff Pelizzaro: Set the scene for us a little bit when you got there. What were the nerves like? What was, what did it feel like? and then tell us a little bit about how you played out there and how you feel like you performed on that stage.
Tommy Kuhl: it was an incredible week. Obviously, it was my first PGA Tour event, so I didn’t really know what to expect.
And I didn’t have many expectations going into the week. I actually missed the cut in [00:30:00] Canada the week before, so if I were to make the cut, which obviously I’ve, I’m never planning to miss the cut or hope for that, but it was almost a blessing in disguise of travel and getting there and just.
Just the run I was on with tournaments, it almost worked out perfect that I could get down to Silvis, Quad Cities area on Sunday night, play nine holes on Sunday, and then practice around Monday, Tuesday, and then right into the tournament. what a week. a PGA Tour event, I quickly learned that this is the lifestyle I want to live and, it’s always going to be in the back of my mind just being there and with the fans and how tour events are set up.
that’s what’s going to keep pushing me, to make it there. And, I’m glad I got the opportunity to compete. to compete there. And, just, and the support I had, it’s it was an hour and 20 minutes from my hometown, and central Illinois. And the amount of people I had out there supporting me, it was,pretty special.
It just put in, put everything [00:31:00] into perspective of how lucky I am to first off be playing this game, but also how many people there are behind me supporting me and,helping me
Jeff Pelizzaro: reach my goal. So unfortunately you didn’t make a cut, but how do you feel like you played? How do you feel like you, you stacked up to the competition out there?
Tommy Kuhl: yeah, so I shot one under the first round, even the second round. Looking at the stats, I want to say I was, I think I was 8 strokes gained approach, which is a crazy good stat, which is not good, given the fact I didn’t make the cut, which means I didn’t make many putts, which I didn’t, that was frustrating, but,I felt like I played fairly well, T to green.
and I felt pretty comfortable out there. Obviously, the first two nerves were there and just getting comfortable out there. but, I felt like I belonged. it was a pretty cool feeling, almost an addictive feeling being out there. And, just what an incredible
Jeff Pelizzaro: experience.
What would you say are the big strengths of your game? And [00:32:00] then, are there any things that being out there that you saw throughout the couple of days? This is what I really need to work on or that I see these guys doing this or that and you know We talked about the process and routine or there’s certain things that you took away from that you know Like all right.
This is why I got to step up. This is where I’m actually pretty darn good
Tommy Kuhl: huh. I my strengths are always ball striking I’ve always been a really good ball striker to the green and great long iron player, great driver of the golf ball. But I learned if you want to compete out there, make cuts, make a living.
It all comes down to short game. and coach Smalls preached that to me for five years. and,I’m still working on it. that’s the biggest thing I learned out there is everyone can hit the ball, far or straight. It comes down to, Short game, wedges, getting up and down, making putts, and not a lot of stuff people see.
Everyone gets, goes crazy about the 350 yard drive someone hit, but they don’t look at the small things that, that it takes to win out there. And,moving forward, I think that’s the biggest thing I need to work on if I want to compete out there. [00:33:00]
Jeff Pelizzaro: Yeah, man, we just saw, what, last week at the Open Championship, Ryan Harmon, his putter was just…
Tommy Kuhl: Yep. That’s what it comes down to is, and I think if you look at each week, the statistics on. The guys who went out there, they’re going to be top 10 in putting. It all comes down to putting. especially, with the scores they’re shooting now, it’s 20 plus under to win. And you just got to be making putts.
You can’t be shooting those scores and
Jeff Pelizzaro: not making them. What are a couple putting drills that you can give the 18STRONG crew that you’re working on or even short game stuff? do you have I’m sure you have tons of games you play any good ones that are pretty simple to describe and That anybody can go out to their own local putting green do the
Tommy Kuhl: biggest thing I’m trying to learn with putting and talking to people just out on tour and coaches, making putting as athletic as possible, nowadays with coaching and [00:34:00] stuff, people can get so technical with putting, where the putter’s aimed, how my stroke is, what’s the perfect stroke.
the matter of fact is everyone’s going to be stroking a different you, you look at. Some of the best putters on tour, they don’t do it conventionally at all, so right now for me Focusing on I use a chalk line. that’s one drill. I like for my alignment with my putter face where I feel comfortable alignment wise, and just starting the ball in line.
I like to do that before, I tee off, the days leading up to the tournament. but other than that, just picking a target and reacting to that. It’s just people make the, the comparison, the shooting a free throw. it’s essentially the same thing. You have your routine,
and do that every time, and having no expectations when you puff.
Jeff Pelizzaro: Speaking of coaching,growing up, did you have a coach that you worked with a long time? Do you still, are you still working with a coach? what does that look like, especially with you traveling and everything?
Everything’s a little bit more [00:35:00] remote these days. where are you there?
Tommy Kuhl: Yeah, I’ve worked with a bunch of people, a couple guys, obviously Brian Fogt, who you know, and, St. Louis guy, B Fogt’s the man, and, I still am in very good contact with, B Fogt, and, whenever I’m down in St.
Louis, I love to go see him, and he helps me a lot. with my golf swing and he did growing up, but, not really working with anyone fully, there’s a couple of guys in the Champaign area, that have helped me obviously coach small and some guys, Chris Harder at Urbana Country Club has helped me a lot with my golf swing, but, I’m more of a field player, I don’t like to get too technical in my golf swing.
yeah. just figure it out when I’m struggling by myself.
Jeff Pelizzaro: And, yeah, I know, Coach Small obviously has a wealth of knowledge. Does he get into much instruction with you guys or do a lot of the guys already have their own coaches that they’re working with? And is that a bit of a balance there?
Tommy Kuhl: a lot of the guys come into school with swim coaches that they’ve worked with their whole life. and [00:36:00] he jumps in when he, when the When a player asks him to I wouldn’t say he forces himself in there But he does a lot of coaching on the short game side of things chipping he’s very knowledgeable with that and obviously the full swing too.
He knows more than I can even wrap my head around But like I said, he’s not gonna tell you something if he doesn’t think it’s gonna help you So I think he Honestly, balance is perfect with his players, of when to help him with fundamentals and stuff like that. I
Jeff Pelizzaro: know he’s a big, he’s really big on process.
We had Dylan Meyer on the show a while back and he talked a lot about how, Coach Small is so big on process, and falling in love with the process, right? Knowing that he’s coaching all of these different athletes that have their own personal coaches. What would you say is his biggest role and where does he shine as far as, honestly, he’s one of the top coaches of all time in collegiate golf.
what are the things that make it, him so special and make that program so special?
Tommy Kuhl: I think the biggest thing [00:37:00] about coaching, what makes him so good is just how competitive he is. I think in any sport, that’s what it takes is just that competitive side, that competitive fire and,just going out there, giving it your all.
And one thing I tell people is he sets the culture, he sets a very high standard in the culture. of the University of Illinois and he recruits players who buy in, if it’s, how we work in the weight room, how we work in our studies, how we treat people, how we go about our business, how we play golf.
We’re gonna, he holds us to a high standard, and if we’re not doing it well, we’re gonna, we’re gonna hear about it. I think that’s what makes him, him so good. from a mental side of things and just, it’s not just golf, it’s everything. it’s how you carry yourself. And, as soon as I started to realize that, I started to see results and it’s crazy.
You don’t even, you don’t even know it. and you’re playing better golf and you’re like, but it’s crazy. I wouldn’t trade my experience at the University of [00:38:00] Illinois for anything. he’s the best coach in the country for a reason. And, I think, I can’t speak highly enough about him and his role in my success.
Jeff Pelizzaro: What about goal setting? going into your season, maybe this is something you guys did at Illinois as well and built on. Are you one of those kind of guys that sets goals specifically for yourself? I know, year in, year out, we’ll see Justin Thomas every now and then post, what his goals for the year were and whether he made them or didn’t make them.
Is that kind of a process that you go through? Or is yours a little more loose or a little more tight and strategic? How do you go through that? And maybe what are the goals for, the end of this season and even looking
Tommy Kuhl: into 24? Yeah, so yeah, I’m always goal oriented. I set my goals very high.
I think anyone should, but,in college, I obviously set my goals, very high of playing well, a couple awards that I wanted to win, obviously first team all American, team goals, winning national champion, stuff like that. But I like to focus on process [00:39:00] goals.
I think those are
Jeff Pelizzaro: what
Tommy Kuhl: are almost yeah. More important, what can I do to better myself to, to reach those goals? I’d say the process goals are something I like to focus on
Jeff Pelizzaro: more. Can you give us an example of what that might look like?
Tommy Kuhl: Yeah, so for example, let’s say,short game or putting, Statistically, we track our stats. Let’s say my putting stats weren’t all that I wanted. a process goal for me would be, so many three or four footers a day. Let’s, focus on alignment, speed, things like that. And ultimately, hopefully if you do the right things in those process goals, it’ll work out in the end goal.
just little things like
Jeff Pelizzaro: that. And then any, anything in regard to,how many tournaments you’re going to play a year, where are you going to be at the end of 24, or is it simply more, as long as I stick to the process, as long as I’m doing the things, in the gym, on the practice screen, on the drive range, on the golf course, I know that, that stuff will come.
Tommy Kuhl: Yeah, you know what, as I’m, as I’ve turned professional, obviously I’m setting my [00:40:00] goals the same that I did in college, obviously I want to focus on PGA Tour Canada, what I can do up here and getting top five on the points list, getting my Korn Ferry Tour card and, just going from there, I think right now, obviously I have the end goal of making the PGA Tour and winning on the PGA Tour, but I need to focus on now and that’s PGA Tour Canada.
Kind of just focusing on each week what I can do, you know The little things that we talked about and in my process goals Each week out here that coach preached to me every day and just focusing on those things and I know if I do Those every day, give it my all You know, at least I can look back and be like, at least I did the right things
Jeff Pelizzaro: great answer All right, buddy.
We’re gonna wrap it up with some of the questions. We ask everybody that comes on the show first one, I want to know, you’re obviously a different generation than I am. Are you more of a Candy Shack guy or more of a Happy Gilmore
Tommy Kuhl: guy? Happy Gilmore. Happy Gilmore guy.
Jeff Pelizzaro: Is that one that you have on repeat?
do you guys, as a team, did you ever watch any of those kind of movies? [00:41:00]
Tommy Kuhl: We’d turn it on here and there, but, I, honestly, I haven’t seen it too much. but, I always get a good laugh out of Adam Sandler and some of his lines in, in, in that movie.
Jeff Pelizzaro: Alright, if you could pick a walk up song to the first T Box.
what’s your walk up song?
Tommy Kuhl: I gotta go with Country, Morgan Wong, huge Morgan Wong guy, his new album, Sunrise. PGA Tour Canada asked me the same question, and I gave him the same answer. his new song, Sunrise, it’s a perfect vibe for me and my Midwest,
Jeff Pelizzaro: Are you, are you a music on the golf course kind of guy when you’re out with your buddies?
Or are you a little bit more…
Tommy Kuhl: I’m not a big mus I love music, but once I’m on the course, I think just the peace and quiet of being out there and hearing the, sound of the club hitting the ball and just everything around you. that’s big for me, so I don’t really like listening to music on
Jeff Pelizzaro: the course.
Is there a book that you’ve read, that has inspired you or really given you some insights and something that you [00:42:00] might recommend that other people in the 18th Strong Crew check
Tommy Kuhl: out? Yeah,I’m trying to get into reading more. I think it’s a big thing and I always love learning.
One of, one of the books, I think a lot of golfers have read and one that helped me a lot is Golfers, Not a Game of Perfect. it’s by Bob Rotella, one of the most famous sports psychologists and such an easy read for a golfer wanting, to get… better and strive to be better. And, he just gives you a good insight on, the mental side of the game.
some of some, he draws connections between some of the best players in the world. what goes through their head and, and I think the title is just says it all golf is not a game. Perfect. And it’s not great read and I’d recommend it to any golfer.
Jeff Pelizzaro: Alright, if you could pick a dream foursome, and this could be celebrities, this could be influential figures, but basically a foursome that you would love to go spend four or five hours with, pick their brains and learn from, or just spend the time with, who’s [00:43:00] that?
Tommy Kuhl: I’d have to go Tiger Woods, he’s a true competitor. obviously one of the greatest to ever do it. he, I’d have to throw him in there. Patrick Mahomes. quarterback. new documentary out on Netflix. It’s quarterback. I don’t know if you’ve seen it yet, but I
Jeff Pelizzaro: haven’t seen it yet.
No, I’ve heard good things.
Tommy Kuhl: I’d check it out. after watching that, I got to throw him in there because it’s crazy to just see the type of competitor he is too and how bad he wants it, how high he sets his goals, how high his standard is. definitely throw him in there, and then, I’d throw Michael Jordan in there as well.
He’s all, true competitors, and it’s what you want.
Jeff Pelizzaro: A solid group of highly competitive dudes, that’s for sure. Yeah, exactly. Alright, is there a bucket list course that, if I told you, Tommy, we’re, we’ve got the 18STRONG G4 fueled up, we’re ready to go, we’re coming to pick you up, what golf course are we going to?[00:44:00]
Tommy Kuhl: I’d say Pine Valley, out east, in New Jersey. I love that style of golf. That’s obviously Chicago has some of the best golf in the world, and so does, the east part, of the country. I’d say Pine Valley. Never played it. Always been a dream of mine to play there. if you have that jet fueled up, I’d say, Jeff, we’re heading out there to, for a quick
Jeff Pelizzaro: 18.
Sounds good. Sounds good. Alright, what’s the best piece of golf advice you’ve ever been given?
Tommy Kuhl: coach always says golf owes you nothing. I think you got to go out and you got to earn it each and every day. and that’s something that’s stuck with me is, and it’s true.
Golf does owe me nothing. I got to go put in the work each and every day and, create my own. Own blueprint of what, my story is going to look like and how I’m going to get there. I’m just, I think that’s one thing that’s stuck with me.
Jeff Pelizzaro: And last one, is there a social media account, could be golf, could be fitness, could be kind of anything that you follow that you think is worth [00:45:00] agents for our crew checking out?
Tommy Kuhl: I’d say one really cool social media account, that I follow is Monday Q info. I don’t know if you follow them on Twitter, but I think they give a group, the guy gives a, Great insight of what professional golf’s what mini tour life’s what, any professional golf tournament’s some of the stories from his content is pretty cool, and he just gives you a great, overview on professional golf.
Jeff Pelizzaro: Yeah, Ryan’s, he breaks a lot of the stories that end up coming out, stories like yours, from those kind of tournaments that don’t get the publicity that, Might from a golf magazine or golf digest or something, but then, he’s able to put it out because he’s got the inside track.
Tommy Kuhl: When you hear some of the stories of just guys who, who don’t have much and who grind it out and get the opportunity to play and take advantage of it. It’s pretty cool just to see, some of the stories.
Jeff Pelizzaro: For sure. All right, buddy. Where can everybody go to, to find you, follow your journey?
Obviously, the 18STRONG Crew is going to [00:46:00] be backing and supporting you as you move forward and looking forward to you making it on the PGA
Tommy Kuhl: Tour. Yeah, yeah, obviously, social media, I’m on social media, Instagram, Twitter, but hopefully, you guys can be following me on the PGA Tour app and climb my way up from PGA Tour Canada to Korn Ferry to PGA Tour and hopefully see my name on that number one on that PGA Tour app here in the next couple
Jeff Pelizzaro: years.
Absolutely, and that’s K U H L for you guys. K U H L, yeah. great golf name. Ever since I met you when you were, When did that, when did we first meet? Were you like 14, 15, something like that?
Tommy Kuhl: I was probably, yeah, like 15 or 16, when I came down to St. Louis to, to see B Fogt. I stopped over to see you and we create, we created a great relationship and, I really respect You know what you and your team does over at 18STRONG.
obviously your guys’ content’s great And you guys are the best in the business for a reason. Looking forward to working you guys working with you guys here in the next you know in the future and You [00:47:00] know decide to build this brand because like I said best in the business.
Jeff Pelizzaro: I appreciate that brother and and i’ve been saying since you were 15 years old or whenever you came in I remember telling my cousin Ryan, my circle of friends, like this kid is phenomenal.
But what a great name for a golfer, Tommy cool, like cool as ice, cool under pressure. we’re rooting for you, we’re in your corner, bud, and, I know you’re going to do great things. You’re going to, you’re going to do some big time things on the PGA tour. So we’re looking forward to being part of that journey.
Tommy Kuhl: Yeah. Thank you. Thanks for having me. And, hopefully see you soon. Absolutely. Alrighty. Thanks Jeff.
Jeff Pelizzaro: Thanks for joining us this week on the 18STRONG podcast with our buddy Tommy Kuhl. It’s gonna be really fun to see him grow and see him realize his dream on the PGA Tour. If you want any more information on Tommy or this episode just go to 18strong.
com. This is episode number 349. We’ll catch up again with you with another great guest next week. Train hard, practice smart, and play [00:48:00] better golf.
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