Two for Tee

Brothers Andrew and Michael Putnam chase a shared dream on the golf course.

July 21, 2011  | 3 min read

Like Andrew Putnam, Waves golfer Taylore Karle (’11) graduated this spring after concluding one of the most successful careers in Pepperdine golf history. Read her story.

When Daniel and Karin Putnam joined a small golf club in Tacoma, Washington, more than two decades ago, they never could have predicted that their Sunday afternoon pastime would lead to successful carers for two of their four young boys. Nor could they have anticipated that Michael (’05) and Andrew (’11) would become legends in the history of Pepperdine University’s golf program as the top two players of all time.

“They didn’t want little kids on the course, even though I could probably beat a lot of the older members when I was 10 or 11 years old,” Michael recalls of his placement in the four-hole group at Fircrest Golf Club. For years, the youngster perfected his swing under the watchful eyes of golf pros at the club, including PGA Hall of Famer Ken Still, who lauds the “true talent” as a man about whom “there aren’t enough adjectives to describe.” It wasn’t until a fellow junior golfer upped his game on the green that Michael’s competitive spirit kicked in. “He started taking lessons and getting better than me,” admits Michael. “He was my best friend out there, but I didn’t want to see him beat me!”

Though he excelled at the sport throughout high school, Michael remained uncertain of the long-term role that golf would play in his life until his sophomore year at Pepperdine, when he shot a 64—the course record—at the NCAA regionals. “That round flipped the switch and made me realize that I can play golf for a living at the highest level and beat anyone on any given day,” he remembers. Soon enough, the PGA tour expressed interest and it was a “no-brainer” for Michael to turn professional.

“Michael had some success playing in tournaments, so I watched him go through that process and kind of did the same thing,” recalls Andrew, who similarly took to the course every summer, playing golf and training with a swing coach. Summer swing practice turned into yearlong golf programs, where the young talent applied himself because “I saw that some of my hard work was paying off and started thinking of the potential awards, possibly getting a college scholarship, and even playing golf as my job.”

When Andrew began to consider his collegiate career, he looked no further than his older brother’s alma mater. At Pepperdine the younger Putnam excelled, earning competitive accolades such as multiple All-American and WCC honors. “There’s always competition between us,” admits Andrew. “When we get to play together, we always try to beat each other, even more so now, because I have some ability to compete with him!”

Last summer Andrew proved himself a worthy competitor when he qualified for the U.S. Open as an amateur, just as Michael had in 2007. “I grew up watching my brother play on the tour thinking hopefully it would be me one day,” he admits. With Michael in steady competition on the PGA tour and making his third U.S. Open appearance this summer, recent graduate Andrew is preparing for the Waves’ postseason, heading to regionals and nationals and preparing to play in amateur tournaments back at home.

Despite their healthy sibling rivalry, the brothers can agree on some things. “A lot of young pro golfers on tour treat the sport like it’s their life and the only thing that decides what they are,” explains Michael, “but I try to treat golf as something I do and not who I am.” Echoing his brother’s sentiment, Andrew explains, “When you spend so much time playing a sport, your identity and worth as a human becomes tied to how you perform, but my identity is not in what I do or what I play, and that’s a good lesson that I’m glad I learned early on.”

Witnessing his older brother’s highs and lows throughout his career, the younger Putnam has learned to see past the glamour and victory of golf, noting, “It’s harder than people think. You’re out there playing for your livelihood and job for the next year.” In fact, Andrew experienced firsthand the effects of failure during a slump in his sophomore year at Pepperdine. “You put so much time into practicing and getting better, and when you digress and move backwards, it’s frustrating,” he admits. “It feels like a job. I wasn’t having fun anymore.

Recovering in true sportsman style, Andrew took to heart an important lesson his more experienced brother learned himself early on. “You can’t play professional sports if you don’t love the game,” Michael asserts. “There are a million people who love the game more than you or just as much, but you just have to work hard at it and hopefully have a little bit of talent and luck.”

Career Highlights:

Andrew Michael

Top 20 Finishes

  • 36 (tied with Michael for No. 1)
  • 36 (tied with Michael for No. 1)

Stroke Averages

  • 72.57 (No. 2)
  • 71.61 (tied for No. 1)

Top 10 Finishes

  • 21 (No. 4)
  • 4 (No. 1)

Career Victories

  • 2
  • 4 (No. 1)

Rounds Played

  • 147 (No. 7)
  • 160 (No. 1)

Honors

  • All-WCC first-teamer (4)
  • All-WCC first-teamer (3)
  • WCC All-Academic (2)
  • WCC All-Academic (3)
  • All-American (2)
  • All-American (3)
  • WCC Commissioner Honor Roll Bronze
  • GCAA All-American (3)
  • GCAA All-American (3)
  • 2005 Byron Nelson Award