When Jeff Overton, a two-time All-American golfer at IU, steps to the first tee Friday, he will face an atmosphere unlike anything he’s ever faced before. A crowd of roughly 45,000 will be rowdy, patriotic and atypical to a normal golf tournament.
But this is no ordinary golf tournament. This is the Ryder Cup.
It is a competition between the United States’ best vs. Europe’s best. And this year, Overton will add a little cream and crimson to the red, white and blue.
This weekend, Overton will be competing in the Ryder Cup, one of golf’s most prestigious events, at Celtic Manor in Newport, Wales.
“I’m incredibly pumped up,” Overton said. “It’s definitely going to be an exciting week over there. It’s on their turf and it’s going to be fun to experience the emotional roller coaster that I know it’s going to be.”
While Overton, a 2005 IU grad, has enjoyed his time on the PGA Tour, a Ryder Cup spot did not appear within reach when the 2010 season began.
After missing four cuts before April, Overton looked for any way to gain momentum.
“You’re playing on the best tour in the world, and every single week there are 156 of the top 300 players in the world,” Overton said. “When you get that many good players together, somebody is bound to get hot and go really low for that week.”
Overton did just that.
From April to August, Overton finished in the top 12 in eight of 11 events, posting three runner-ups and two third-place finishes. In that run, he finished sixth at the Bridgestone Classic and 11th at the British Open, a finish that all but sealed a spot on the Ryder Cup team.
“It’s a wonderful feeling to have that consistency where I can feel like I’m back up in the top tier,” Overton said. “This year has made me feel really good about my game, but at the same time it’s frustrating to have not gotten a victory. But, like they say, I guess the first one’s always the hardest.”
Overton and current IU head coach Mike Mayer, who Overton has remained especially close with since his IU days, flew to Wales on Sunday with the rest of the Ryder Cup team.
“He has the potential to do something special here,” Mayer said.
Overton said he believes he is more than ready for the mental challenge that comes with competing alongside golfing’s best, such as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
“Tiger’s Tiger,” Overton said with a smile when asked if he’s ready for the overload of Tiger questions.
Life as a Hoosier
Originally from Evansville, Overton lives in Bloomington and celebrated his Ryder Cup achievement with a family barbecue.
He decided to make Bloomington his permanent home after earning his PGA Tour card on his first attempt.
Upon graduating from IU, Overton moved to Scottsdale, Ariz. to gain experience in the professional golfing world. As tempting as the weather may have been, inconvenient travel and a love for the Midwest brought him back to Bloomington.
“What’s not to love?” Overton said. “I have a great practice facility right here, and I have my family back in Evansville, my sister in Indy and a lot of great things going on here. Plus, Indy is a pretty central location for all of the tournaments out east.”
Overton has a tendency to make daunting shots look as easy-going as his personality, which may be why he still flies relatively under the radar as a professional athlete in his hometown.
“It doesn’t bother me. It’s actually kind of nice. I can just walk and go where I please, and people just walk right past you like you’re one of them,” Overton said. “It’s easy to just go sit on the patio at a restaurant and just blend in. Occasionally I’ll get a person that will come say ‘Hi,’ and I thank them for their support, but if you are in a golf community like Scottsdale, you can’t go out to dinner without somebody recognizing you.”
From 2002-2005, Overton turned a sport he decided he would try in the ninth grade into a career.
He went from an unheralded recruit to an All-American but has always remained comfortable with who he is on and off the course.
“Jeff is very comfortable with himself,” IU assistant coach Jamie Broce said. “Sometimes the announcers will bust his swing up, but he’s comfortable and knows what he has to do to be successful.
And now, a plane carrying about 70 family and friends has followed him overseas for support at the Ryder Cup.
IU gear was such a hit on the trip that Ryder Cup assistant captain Tom Lehman sported an IU hat during the practice round Wednesday, courtesy of Mayer.
While Mayer said he believes Overton has the potential to do something special this week, Overton insists on remaining humble.
“It’s something you can only dream about when you’re born and raised here in southern Indiana,” Overton said. “You just see it on TV, but now you get to put the faces with the names and pictures you grew up watching.”
Overton tries to stick to his roots and spends plenty of time in Bloomington.
“I really love to go to the IU basketball games,” Overton said. “I go to all the games. We have great seats down low and I really enjoy it. You know, growing up in Indiana, IU hoops was always my dream. I grew up playing all the time, but I wasn’t any good,” Overton said.
While basketball was an interest, he spent many days at the practice range until sundown.
“It’s just great to be able to come back to this place and do everything I used to enjoy as a student,” he said.
And now this weekend is all about opportunity for Overton.
“If Jeff has a good showing, there are endless possibilities for him,” Broce said. “He’s already had a great year, but now he gets to show everybody who he is in the spotlight.”