The name Joe Neuheisel has popped up a few times recently. We noticed it last year when he was the first alternate hoping to get into the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, and then again earlier this year when he tied for sixth in the George C. Thomas Invitational and then reached the quarterfinals of the California Amateur. We noticed it one more time in the past couple of months as Neuheisel captured the Arizona Amateur and then finished runner-up in the Stocker Cup, nearly winning before a double bogey late in the final round.
It stuck out because it made us all, collectively, feel a bit older. Neuheisel is the 25-year-old son of Rick Neuheisel, the former UCLA Bruins quarterback who earned Rose Bowl MVP in 1984 before becoming a successful college football coach who would again win the Rose Bowl, this time with the Washington Huskies, in 2001. His head coaching career started at the incredibly young age of 34 when he was hired by the Colorado Buffaloes, and he quickly had a pair of 10-win seasons that included a Cotton Bowl victory. A few years after his coaching tenure at Washington, Neuheisel had a tumultuous stint as the head man for his alma mater. In the ensuing years, he has served as a college football analyst for CBS Sports.
Along the way, golf has been a passion for the Neuheisel family – and Joe Neuheisel’s golf journey intersects with his father’s coaching history.
Joe Neuheisel’s grandparents, Dick and Jane Neuheisel, have long owned and operated what Joe describes as “a dinky little nine-hole course” in Tempe, Arizona, called Shalimar Golf Club. The 2,417-yard par-33 course with an island green on its ninth hole is shoehorned into the ever-growing residential area. When Dick and Jane bought the course in 1984, it was little more than dead grass. Jane, who had a background in marketing, took the lead in learning the ins and outs of managing a golf operation that has seen many financial challenges over the years.
“I call it Shal-Augusta,” Joe joked in our recent conversation. “My dad has always been super into golf, and I kind of grew up on that course.”
Although he was exposed to golf at a young age, Neuheisel played a variety of sports growing up and hadn’t really settled on golf as his main athletic passion until a bit of serendipity. He says his dad’s getting the pink slip from UCLA in 2011 was one of the main drivers of the son’s becoming deeply interested in the game.
“After he got fired, he was like, ‘I'm not going to move everybody,’ ” Neuheisel said. “So we were still living in L.A., and he was doing TV in San Francisco for the PAC 12 Network. But when he wasn't in San Francisco, he was playing golf. He was playing at Bel-Air Country Club, and after school in high school, I would literally just go and play with him. Looking back now, had he not been fired, I probably wouldn't have ever played as much as I did.”
Rick Neuheisel is a good player, a low-handicapper who made sure to check out the top courses near his coaching destinations. That golf talent has been passed down to the youngest of his three boys, although Joe took a circuitous route to reach where he is today.
Joe originally planned to walk on to the UCLA golf team, a dream that never came true. He attended TCU as a regular student for one semester and then transferred to UCLA, but the best he could do was being a de facto manager on the team because there were no remaining spots on the squad. He never played for the Bruins.
“I was just asking for even a chance to qualify,” Joe said. “They said no, but I was just hoping to get a chance by playing in local city and county events, just trying to get scores out there.”
Though he didn’t play on the team, Neuheisel chose the route of a typical college kid by joining the Sigma Chi fraternity and focusing on academics for two years. He was still competing as an amateur, but struggled to get into big events.
"My goal with golf has always been to just play against the best players I can play against, so whether it's mid-am or professional golf, there's a way for me to play against the best, and that's all that matters to me.”
However, he got a break when he competed in the Sahalee Players Championship. Tournament director Kevin White gave Neuheisel a tip that Arizona State head golf coach Matt Thurmond was looking for someone to fill out his roster. It turned out that he didn’t have a spot open, but Thurmond did have a friend looking for someone. That friend was Boise State head coach Dan Potter.
Potter gave Neuheisel his shot at college golf, although there was a tough transition period. Winter golf in Idaho requires some extra effort to jab a tee into the firm turf. Neuheisel wasn’t used to hitting long irons and hybrids into par-4s while wearing extra layers.
“I bet you all my buddies at Boise State will tell you that, ‘Oh, yeah, Joe didn't like it here his first semester, and he was quiet and didn’t want to hang out with us,’ ” Neuheisel said. “But then the second semester, I was like, ‘All right, this is my place. This place is awesome.’”
Neuheisel used all four seasons of eligibility, starting in 2018-19 and ending in 2021-22. He had a 73.21 stroke average across 56 rounds, earning nine top-25 finishes but never better than a tie for eighth. Despite being in a northern climate, Boise State has produced its share of top players, including Graham DeLaet and Troy Merritt. More recently, Hugo Townsend had a terrific career for the Broncos before transferring to Ole Miss.
Because of the late start to his college golf career, Neuheisel turned 25 this year and was already of age for mid-am competition once the college season ended. That allowed him to sprinkle in appearances in the Thomas and the Stocker Cup while also playing in other events such as The Amateur Championship in England, the Trans-Miss and the Pacific Coast. He plans to make a run at professional golf, having just failed to get through Korn Ferry Tour Q-School. Next on his list could be Korn Ferry Tour Monday qualifiers.
But if he doesn’t play professional golf, the so-called cocktail tour of mid-am play isn’t a half-bad fallback option. Neuheisel has greatly enjoyed his foray into golf that is still very competitive, but not quite as cut-throat serious as college or professional events.
“It’s so cool because guys who don't play well, they're just going into the grill room and chatting with everyone else, maybe getting a beer or a glass of wine or something like that,” Neuheisel said. “All the people are so much more relaxed. The rounds you play, everyone wants to chat and talk to you.
“When I started playing golf competitively late in high school, I always wanted to be a guy who could do it for a living,” Neuheisel said. “That was my dream, so I'm gonna give it a go. And then we'll see…. My goal with golf has always been to just play against the best players I can play against, so whether it's mid-am or professional golf, there's a way for me to play against the best, and that's all that matters to me.”
Throughout all of this time, Neuheisel said he is very close to his family, a trait that he attributes to their numerous moves as his dad changed coaching jobs. Today, he said he calls his parents every day – “as shameful as that is” – and is close to his brothers, Jerry and Jack. His father caddied for Joe in practice rounds at the U.S. Open (which he ended up not getting into as an alternate), and the two also play together routinely at Phoenix Country Club.
“You can ask anyone at Phoenix Country Club who is addicted to golf, and I'm pretty sure my dad and I would be 1A and 1B for that,” Joe said.
If professional golf doesn’t work out, you can tab Joe Neuheisel for a job where he is talking, actively networking with people. There are some parallels with his dad when it comes to that.
“I'm a chatty guy. I like talking to people,” Joe Neuheisel said. “I’ll do whatever.”
For the moment, what he is doing is playing some outstanding golf.
Top: If his plans for professional golf don't pan out, Joe Neuheisel still will have the option of playing as a mid-amateur.