Being named the top NCAA Division II golfer in the nation is pretty exciting, though not quite as thrilling as the perk that goes with it.
Brent Witcher found that out recently.
The 23-year-old Duluth resident picked up a nice trophy for his outstanding senior season at Valdosta State, but also earned a visit with legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus. The Golden Bear hosted Witcher for The Memorial, allowing the young golfer and select others the chance to interact with him up close instead of just seeing his likeness on The Nicklaus Award trophy.
Witcher had never seen the legend in person, much less spoken to him.
"It was really neat meeting Jack," Witcher said. "He was just sitting there, talking with us about the vision he had for the (Memorial) tournament, how he wanted it to turn out. ... He just talked about a lot of his experiences, like winning the U.S. Amateur for the first time. He said the 8-footer he made to win the U.S. Am was the biggest putt of his career. It was a turning point."
From there, Nicklaus embarked on the most renowned pro golf career in history. Going pro, as it has been for as long as he can remember, also is Witcher's goal.
His college career - two seasons at Darton College and two seasons at Valdosta State - was preparation for that route. The Peachtree Ridge grad was steady throughout his VSU career, finishing in the top 20 in all but two of his 22 career starts.
He had a 71.1 stroke average as a senior, with two tournament victories. He repeated as Gulf South Conference player of the year, in addition to his second straight All-American honors.
Witcher, who graduated this spring with a communications degree, plans to remain amateur for the summer. He's got a busy slate of major amateur events, with the goal of earning a spot on the U.S. Walker Cup team.
"I think it will help to play well this summer in amateur events," said Witcher, who grew up playing the TPC at Sugarloaf, but now practices at St. Ives Country Club. "Hopefully I can gain confidence there and play the mini-tours for a month or so. Then it's (PGA Tour Qualifying) Q-School. That's really going to determine what I do for the next year.
"But all this summer is building up to Q-School and doing well there."
The summer of travel will be a good preview of what Witcher expects his life will resemble in the near future. If all goes well, his 2010 season will be spent on the PGA Tour.
If not, he plans to pursue pro golf on another tour. But eventually he wants to play on the big tour, possibly teeing it up in The Memorial instead of just paying Muirfield Village a visit.
"(Pro golf's) always been a goal of mine," Witcher said. "Growing up, that was always the goal, play college golf and the play pro. It's the whole reason I've always practiced and worked so hard."