Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Lord of the swings: Robby Shelton finds his rhythm


Robby Shelton felt the wind and knew he needed some power to reach the target green 190 yards away. He stepped over to his bag and selected his 5-iron. Alabama’s assistant golf coach Jon Howell was new to the program, and decided to give the then-sophomore a challenge, so he told him that the 5-iron was “broken” and he was going to have to use a 6-iron. Shelton, who is not new to any challenge, accepted. He lined up his shot and let it fly. 

It flew straight into the hole.

Howell, now in his second season at Alabama, recalls that day, one of his first as part of the Crimson Tide. He got the unforeseen opportunity to coach the defending national champions after Mike McGraw took the head coaching position at Baylor University. Before reaching Tuscaloosa, he was the director of golf instruction at the Country Club of Jackson in Jackson, Mississippi, and had always followed Alabama golf. Howell said he had heard many things about the reigning freshman of the year, but it wasn’t until that day on the range he found out how special this guy was.

“Robby is the best player I have ever seen,” Howell said. “I have been around some really good pros.”

He said he couldn’t believe what he saw when the ball dropped in the cup, but for Shelton it was just another challenge. 

Shelton grew up in Wilmer, an unincorporated part of Mobile county. For his fourth birthday, his dad surprised him with his first set of clubs. Shelton said he immediately went outside and started hitting the ball. When he turned six, he began to play in his first tournaments in nearby Mobile. Ever since then, he has taken challenges head on.

By the end of his high school career, Shelton was ranked as the No. 1 junior in all of golf and looked to be one of the next greats of college golf. Shelton said in the back of his mind he always thought he would end up in Tuscaloosa. His grandfather played football for the University, so Shelton grew up a fan of the Crimson Tide.

The Not-So-Typical Freshman Year

Shelton wasn’t so much the big name when he arrived on the team in 2013. Alabama had just won the 2012 national championship and was loaded with talent. Now-pro-golfers Bobby Wyatt, Trey Mullinax and Cory Whitsett were all on the team. 

Shelton had some steep competition for a spot on the team, but he accepted the challenge and surpassed it by all measures. He finished the year with a better scoring average than all three of the upperclassmen, with a 70.14 average. Shelton also claimed two victories, the most on the team that season, and had eight top-five finishes, which is double the next highest total. Shelton finished the season ranked No. 2 in the nation by Golfweek and claimed the title National Freshman of the Year.

“I didn’t really struggle that year because they had my back the whole time,” Shelton said. “I knew we were going to play well as a team, but I wanted to play well just for them too. I grew up with Bobby and Trey, I knew I could play with them, but I wasn’t sure I could beat them, and once I got here I saw that I could and it just helped my confidence a lot.”

Shelton is now a junior and in a much different role. He no longer has the other guys to take some of the pressure off. Shelton is “the guy.” He said he wants to take what he learned that year and apply it as a leader of the team.

“My freshman year the teamwork was unreal, how close we were and how dedicated we were to just golf and school,” Shelton said. “We need to get back to that for sure as a team, because we have the team to win a national championship.”

Alabama is coming off their first team victory of the fall season. The Crimson Tide hosted the Jerry Pate National Intercollegiate in Birmingham this month and won the tournament handily. Shelton did his fair share of damage, winning the tournament individually. His victory wasn’t much of a surprise with him coming into the tournament on fire, something that was sparked way back into the summer.

The Life-Changing Summer

Shelton had an unforgettable summer. It began when he was invited to play in the Palmer Cup in June. Shelton, along with America’s best college golfers, faced off against Europe’s best. Shelton finished with a 4-0 record as the United States regained the cup with an 18-12 victory. He became one of just 16 golfers in the event’s history to finish with a perfect 4-0 record.

Shelton backed that up with a weekend he may never forget. It was in Opelika, in mid-July, and Shelton was invited to his first ever PGA tour event as an amateur. The Grand National hosted the PGA Barbasol Championship. Names like Boo Weekly, Trevor Immelman and Aaron Baddeley were there but were all surpassed by the amateur from Wilmer. Shelton shot in the 60’s every round of play and finished 14-under par to tie for third place.

“It was an amazing summer I think, highlighted by what happened at Barbosal down in Opelika,” coach Jay Seawell said. “Finishing third, which was the lowest amateur finish in a PGA tour event since Phil Mickelson won in ’91. Any time a young person gets to play on the PGA tour there is going to be energy and there’s pressures, but to handle it each day, and to play well, I think made him grow as a player more than anything he has ever done, until the Walker Cup.”

Because of Shelton’s performance in Opelika and the Palmer Cup, he received an invite to the Walker Cup. The Walker Cup may be considered the most prestigious event an amateur can be invited to. The United States’ top amateur golfers faced Great Britain and Ireland’s best. The event is played every two years and this time was played at the Royal Lytham & Saint Anne’s golf course in Lancashire, England. The course is a legend of its own and has hosted 11 British Opens along with two Ryder Cups.

“That’s the first time I ever played a course like that,” Shelton said. “You hit it in one of those bunkers and you’re done. Hopefully I will be playing in a British Open one day over there, and now I have the experience.”

Shelton halved both of his singles matches and split the two foursome matches he played. The United States fell to the Great Britain and Ireland team, but Shelton said he learned a lot either way. Seawell said he could tell a difference in him when he got back.

“Coach Seawell and I both know he’s going to make a bunch of money on the PGA tour,” Howell said. “It is just a matter of when – the Walker Cup is probably the most prestigious amateur tournament you can be invited to. He went over there and may have not played some of his best golf, but it is an experience he will cherish for the rest of his life. It’s an honor.”

The Momentum Never Ceases

Golfweek now ranks Shelton No. 4 in college golf after he carried his summer momentum to the fall. After the Walker Cup, Shelton came back with little time to rest to play in his first tournament of the fall at Olympia Fields, Illinois. He still managed to finish, tied for 13th overall. Afterwards, Shelton finally had a week to shake off the jet lag and return to his routine before traveling to the Dick’s Sporting Goods Collegiate Challenge Cup. Shelton looked like himself again and fired 8-under par to win the entire tournament.

The next week, Shelton trumped his last performance. He won the Jerry Pate Intercollegiate with a score of 11-under par, 199. His 199 is actually the third lowest 54-hole tournament ending in program history. Alabama has one more tournament left in November in Hawaii before the fall season is over. Shelton doesn’t see any reason he shouldn’t try to make it three in a row.

“I don’t plan on stopping,” he said. “I want to win every tournament there is this year.”

Shelton said that his goal is to win player of the year, and both of his coaches said they believe it is achievable. Shelton came close his freshman year and couldn’t quite get his game consistent last season, but this year he said it is different. He said that he is mentally stronger than he has ever been and credits his summer towards that. He wants to be holding that player of the year trophy at the end of the spring. It’s just one more challenge he is ready to accept.

“There’s some really good players in college golf, don’t get me wrong,” Howell said. “I don’t want to take anything away from a guy like Beau Hossler (currently ranked No. 1) or whoever, but there is something special about Robby Shelton. You can’t really put your finger on it, but there is something special.”

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