Golf fans probably do a double-take when glancing past Casey Wittenberg's name. "I've heard of that guy," they probably say when his name appears randomly here or there.
He was the runner-up in the 2003 U.S. Amateur, where he was known more that week for his cocky attitude on the course than his impressive play. (At one point in a match, he started walking to the next tee as a putt was 5-feet out, not even looking as it disappeared in the cup to win the hole.) Although that attitude might not be well received, we've learned that the great ones must have it.
Back in junior golf, I remember walking past Wittenberg on the range during a muggy first round in Alabama only to notice he was wearing pants, the only kid in the field doing such a thing.
The road toughened for Wittenberg after his amateur days, when he joined Phil Mickelson in Butler Cabin after closing the '04 Masters with a back-nine 31, the lowest ever shot by an amateur at Augusta National (he'd make the cut in both majors he played that season). He has bounced around between tours, making just 10 of 25 cuts a season ago when he had full status on the PGA.
Thursday at TPC Southwind, Wittenberg, 25, shot an opening 64 to find himself a shot back of Lee Westwood (No. 3 in the world) and a shot ahead of Padraig Harrington (No. 14) on a day when he didn't make a bogey.
His pro career has been disappointing considering the success he had heading into it, but he's shown flashes of that pizzazz we saw in his "younger" days. He shot 16-under last season at the Travelers Championship, his only top 10 of 2009. He finished tied for fourth at the Vikings Classic in 2008, one of only four events he played on the PGA Tour.
Heading into this week, Wittenberg had missed four straight cuts on the Nationwide Tour but has seemed to find something back home that is working. Hopefully Wittenberg can keep it up, and continue to make 2010 the year of the young.