'No Regrets': Ulrich Enjoying Career Choice
Gus Ulrich is playing some of the best golf of his career, but he’s content to keep his job at Pinewild Country Club’s Golf Academy and help others learn the game.
Ulrich won two of the Carolinas PGA Section’s coveted titles in 2011 and as a result has earned a berth in the PGA Tour’s Wyndham Classic in Greensboro later this year, as well as in the National Club Professionals’ Championship.
The Garner native and former N.C. State Wolfpack star won the CPGA Section Championship last summer and then teamed with old friend and another Wolfpacker, Kelly Mitchum, to win the Pro-Pro Championship a few weeks ago.
“I guess I’m pretty close to playing as well as I ever have,” the 49-year-old Ulrich said. “I don’t play as much now, so maybe that’s why.”
Ulrich, who says he’s never had a lesson himself, has established himself as one of the premier teachers of the game in the Sandhills area. He’s been involved as a club professional and teacher practically since he graduated from N.C. State, where he was the team’s Most Valuable Player under coach Richard Sykes in 1985 and earned second team All-ACC status.
“Neither of my parents played golf, but they were members of Garner Country Club,” Ulrich said, “so I just kind of fell into it.
“During the summer they’d drop me off at the club on the way to work and pick me up on the way back. A couple of my friends had golf clubs and I’d play with them.
“I never took a lesson, but if I could do it again, that’s something I would definitely do.”
Although Ulrich was a standout player for Garner High School, he was not heavily courted by college teams.
“The only letter I got, ironically, was from Sandhills Community College,” he said. “I was always an N.C. State fan, so I went there and was a walk-on. I finally got a scholarship my senior year.”
By then, Ulrich was in love with the game and knew he wanted to make a career in some aspect of it. He tried playing some mini-tour events but met with little success.
“I wanted to keep playing, and the PGA Tour was always a dream,” he said. “But when that didn’t work out, I realized that being a PGA professional was a way to keep in touch with the game. I love to play and compete, and I’d love to be able to make a living doing that. But I understand that not all of us can do that.”
Ulrich was working as an assistant and teaching professional at the Tillery Tradition Club in Albemarle when he got what he considers his “big break” in 2000. Chris Little, head professional and general manager at Pinewild, called and offered him a job as an assistant.
“That was my first job at a big, successful country club,” Ulrich said, “and I saw it as a great opportunity and as a way to get to the Pinehurst area.”
Ulrich left Pinewild to work as an assistant at the ultra-exclusive Forest Creek Club.
“Working for Waddy Stokes at Forest Creek was a great experience,” he said,” but I had always enjoyed teaching, and when I had a chance to go to Pine Needles and work for the Bell family, I saw it as a great opportunity to improve my teaching skills.”
The job at the Pinewild Academy opened up last year when Tom Ream left to take an instructor’s position in Greensboro.
“Chris called and offered me the job,” Ulrich said, “and I knew it would be a good fit. Chris has been the biggest influence in my career, especially in teaching me the business side of the game.”
Teaching is a passion with Ulrich, who says the nearest thing he has to a hobby is working in his yard and watching his two sons, 11-year-old Kristofer and 9-year-old Kyle, play team sports.
“That moment when something clicks for a student and he understands that what we’ve been working on is succeeding is the greatest thing about teaching,” he said. “Being able to share my passion and see them wanting to play and improve is so satisfying.”
Ulrich also shares his love for the game with the Sandhills Community College golf team, which he and Rob Pilewski, head professional of Pinehurst Resort’s No. 6 Course, co-coach.
Ulrich turns 50 this year and admits he sometimes thinks about making an effort to qualify for the PGA Champions Tour.
“That’s something I’ve thought about,” he said, “but it’s definitely on the back burner, not a top priority. I really don’t know if I want to do it.”
Meanwhile, he’s hoping to make the cut in the Wyndham Championship and team up with Mitchum again in an effort to win a third Pro-Pro title,
“Kelly and I have had a great partnership,” he said. “We’ve won twice and finished second five or six times. Our games are similar, although he’s probably more consistent. He’s a great player who makes me a better player.”
For now, Ulrich is enjoying life with this wife, Annie, in Whispering Pines and looking forward to the future.
“I don’t regret anything,” he said, smiling, “except maybe for not starting earlier as a club professional. Maybe I chased the dream too long. But there are no regrets.”
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