Back in 2013, during Scott Limbaugh’s first full summer as Vanderbilt’s head coach, Limbaugh and then-assistant Dusty Smith made a recruiting trip to a junior tournament in Lexington, Kentucky. They had a few players on their radar, so when they arrived, they split up. Limbaugh eventually caught up to a group that included a little Kentuckian from Owensboro, barely over 5 feet tall and 100 pounds soaking wet. The kid had been sitting on a seat attached to his pushcart, waiting out a backup on a par 3, when he got up, pulled an iron from his bag and flagged one.
Limbaugh immediately texted Smith: We’re here watching the wrong people. That kid is the best player here.
That kid was John Augenstein.
Augenstein went on to reach the semifinals of the U.S. Junior Amateur that summer. He later signed with the Commodores and made an instant impact as a freshman, winning two extra-hole matches to lead Vanderbilt to its first SEC title in 2017. The one they call “Flash” – or, as this writer has coined, “Johnny Golf” – continued to establish himself as one of the preeminent match-play competitors in amateur golf, going 8-1 in the format between conference and nationals while also finishing runner-up at the 2019 U.S. Amateur and scoring the winning point for last year’s U.S. Walker Cup team at Royal Liverpool. Last spring as a senior, he was named SEC Player of the Year and an All-American for the fourth time.
In other words, Augenstein left quite the mark on the Vanderbilt program. From “best player here” to one of Vanderbilt’s best ever.
“As a coach, you dream of being able to coach guys like John Augenstein,” said Limbaugh, who on Monday had to say so long to his superstar.
After four and a half seasons in Nashville, Augenstein announced that he has decided to forego the final semester of his extra year of eligibility and turn professional.
“I knew when I committed to Vanderbilt it was going to be a special four years,” Augenstein wrote in a farewell letter to Vandy Nation. “… Vanderbilt golf is made up of a family and I know that I’ll always be a part of that family. Right now, it is time for me to move on. I am so energized to finally start the career I have wanted to my whole life.”
Augenstein is coming off a T-55 finish at the Masters Tournament, which he qualified for via his U.S. Amateur performance at Pinehurst two summers ago. He also competed in this fall’s U.S. Open, though he missed the cut at Winged Foot.
He told GolfChannel.com earlier this month that he would make a decision shortly after the Masters on whether or not he would to return to school this spring. Now, that decision has been made. Augenstein’s announcement comes just days after Georgia Tech grad Andy Ogletree, who edged Augenstein at Pinehurst and again for low-amateur honors at Augusta National, revealed his decision to join the play-for-pay ranks.
“The goal is to get to the PGA Tour as quickly as possible,” Augenstein said back in April, before he opted to come back to Vanderbilt in the fall. “What that means for me, the short answer is I really don’t know. These circumstances are unlike anything we’ve ever seen, and that’s one of the hardest parts. Your whole life you have this plan, you’re going to go to college and after four years you’re going to turn pro and hopefully play on the PGA Tour. I was supposed to play in the Masters, compete for a national championship and, though nothing was certain, get some starts on the PGA Tour and get everything going, just according to plan, and that’s all been taken away for the time being.”
Augenstein has yet to announce his representation, endorsement deals or upcoming exemptions. Before turning pro, he was in position to earn a Korn Ferry Tour card via PGA Tour University, but he had to forfeit that opportunity with this decision. He is expected, however, to receive some PGA Tour sponsor invites once the season resumes next year, and his mix of talent and star factor should get him close to the maximum number of seven exemptions, even if he will be competing with Ogletree, Sahith Theegala and Akshay Bhatia for those coveted spots.
Collin Morikawa, Matthew Wolff and Viktor Hovland have already won in less than two years as pros, including Morikawa at the major level. Augenstein is widely expected to be the next big thing coming out of the college game.
“John is physically and mentally ready and prepared to start this new chapter in his life,” Limbaugh said. “… He truly left Vanderbilt golf better than he found it and gave his heart and soul to our program for four and a half years.”