The distance Andy Ogletree has traveled the last year, both physically and metaphorically, is impossible to ignore.
There were dark times when injury and providence left him questioning everything about his future.
“I’d just missed the cut at a mini-tour event and had a Monday qualifier scheduled and withdrew. I was tired of it. I want to play in a tournament that matters, against good players,” Ogletree recalled. “I went from playing in the Masters with Tiger Woods to a mini-tour event in middle-of-nowhere Louisiana in a Comfort Inn with gross red carpet.”
Late Sunday as he gazed out at the Persian Gulf from his room at the posh Intercontinental Doha, the juxtaposition wasn’t lost on the 24-year-old Georgia Tech alum.
“It’s crazy to think about all that’s gone on the last year, it’s kind of been a rollercoaster ride. I don’t know where to begin,” he said from Qatar following his three-shot victory at the Asian Tour’s International Series event.
By way of backstory, Ogletree’s path began with his victory at the 2019 U.S. Amateur, which earned him a spot in the field at the ’20 Masters where, playing alongside Woods, he finished tied for 34th to claim low-amateur honors. Everything seemed to unravel after that.
There was a torn labrum in his left hip followed by back issues, and his game suffered with every medical set back. Hobbled by injury, he literally limped to a tie for 115th at the 2021 Korn Ferry Tour Q-School.
With few options to play beyond the mini-tours and Monday qualifying for Korn Ferry Tour events, he accepted a spot in the field at last summer’s first LIV Golf event in England. Like every other player who has crossed the PGA Tour line and participated in tournaments on the Saudi-backed circuit, Ogletree was suspended for violating the circuit’s rules on conflicting-event and media-rights releases.
“I was told by Korn Ferry Tour player relations [officials] that they look at every media-rights [release] differently and suspension differently. The suspensions came out and I’m on the front page of The New York Times with Phil [Mickelson] and Dustin [Johnson], I wasn’t even close to that scale,” Ogletree said.
The Tour and commissioner Jay Monahan had been abundantly clear that playing a LIV Golf event would have consequences. While mounting lawsuits will take years to sort out the legality of those suspensions, many on both sides of the divide understand the concept, if not the execution, of the punishments.
Unlike Mickelson and Johnson and many others, Ogletree’s status on the secondary Korn Ferry Tour was limited by his poor finish at Q-School. The week he played the LIV event in London he wasn’t qualified for any Tour-sanctioned event.
“I basically had no status. I’ve never played a Korn Ferry Tour event in my life and, essentially, I got suspended from Monday qualifying for the Korn Ferry Tour,” Ogletree said. “I paid $1,200 to go to Q-School to have my rights taken from me.”
Initially, Ogletree – who did not join the antitrust lawsuit that was filed against the Tour last August by a group of suspended players – was told his suspension was the same as all the others, one year from the date of the “unauthorized event” he played. But he was later informed his suspension only ran through Dec. 31, 2022. But even that did little to improve his competitive prospects since it kept him from playing last fall’s Q-School.
It was a competitive vacuum he filled with what he thought was the best option – the Asian Tour’s International Series events which were born from that circuit’s partnership with LIV Golf.
Thanks to his work with swing coach Tony Ruggiero and trainer Kolby Tullier, Ogletree’s game and body began to improve last fall with a 15th-place finish in the Asian Tour’s event in Korea, followed by his victory at the International Series Egypt event in November.
“I won in Egypt and it was the second week of a trip and I started to realize my body was getting better and better,” Ogletree said. “I’m becoming more comfortable with full round events and building out a schedule.”
Working in tandem, Ruggiero and Tullier came up with a blueprint that would allow Ogletree to keep the same, powerful swing and remain healthy by transforming his body.
“The big thing when he struggled with injury coming out of college, he’d always been dinged up and Kolby and I work so close and we needed to make sure his body was strong and flexible enough,” Ruggiero said. “I’ll give him credit, he started doing the stuff he needed to do with Kolby. We developed a good plan and a way to practice.”
Ogletree picked up where he left off in January with a ninth-place showing at the Saudi International and preceded his victory in Doha with another top-10 finish last week in Oman.
He currently leads the Asian Tour and International Series Order of Merits, which would come with full-time status on the LIV Golf circuit if he can maintain that position for the season. He’s also requested to be an alternate for next week’s LIV Golf event in Mexico.
“We have nothing to lose now with regards to how he’s been treated. The Tour has made their point,” said Mac Barnhardt, Ogletree’s manager with Rock Sports Group. “I’m not looking for sympathy, but he’s a perfect example of how the LIV opportunity creates options. Playing the Asian events was what this was all about.”
Ogletree didn’t ask to be dropped into this no man’s land, but he now finds himself wedged between competing tours and doesn’t know what’s next because, frankly, there’s no easy answer.
“I’m super excited about any opportunity that presents itself,” he said with an understandably vague shrug. “I show up every week now thinking about how to win a golf tournament and not anything else. That’s a good place to be when you’re a golfer.”
Actually, compared to the dark days at the middle-of-nowhere Louisiana Comfort Inn, the Intercontinental Doha felt like a great place to be.