Robby Shelton has already had the type of golfing career of which most players can only dream about, which is not bad for a kid from Wilmer who is still a few weeks away from his 19th birthday.
Shelton first gained notice during his prep days at St. Paul’s Episcopal School. A three-time Class 5A state champion, he won multiple Alabama Junior Golf Association events, claimed the 2012 Junior Players and Junior PGA titles and was a member of the U.S. Junior Ryder Cup squad.
Regarded as the top high school player in America, Shelton picked the University of Alabama to continue his career. All he did was become the best player on the best team in America, as the Crimson Tide won its second straight NCAA title. Not only was he named the SEC’s top freshman, but also its player of the year.
You would think that would be enough for one year, but Shelton was only warming up. He traveled to a qualifying tournament in Memphis seeking one of the 156 competitive spots for the U.S. Open. There he finished 7-under par at Colonial Country Club, good enough for an eighth-place tie and one of the 13 invitations.
With his parents, Robert and Debbie Shelton, and grandmother, Louise Holman watching, he turned in rounds of 78 and 75 at the Pinehurst No. 2 course. His 153 total did not make the final cut, but it did secure his place as one of the top young players in America.
“I honestly expected this to happen one day … playing in the U.S. Open,” Shelton told Lagniappe. “But not by my freshman year. It just all came together perfectly.”
Shelton said his time in North Carolina was memorable.
“It was nice to hang around Steve Stricker. I’m a big fan,” he said. “I got to hit some practice balls next to him. It was something to see him hit a lot of different shots. It just shows I need to work on my game.”
Shelton was the second youngest qualifier at this year’s Open and while he would have liked better scores, Pinehurst lived up to its tough reputation.
“I hit the ball well in the practice rounds, but my putting and chipping let me down,” he said. “The greens were so fast that it was tough to keep the ball on the green. It is amazing that (Martin) Kaymer could shoot 9-under.”
Despite his impressive prep résumé, Shelton credits his time with the Crimson Tide in helping him reach the next level.
“In my head, I knew what I wanted to do. That is why I picked Alabama,” Shelton said. “All my opportunities opened up. I was able to advance my game, by watching all my great teammates day-in and day-out. I picked up things at practice and would try to copy them.”
Shelton picked up medalist honors at two tournaments, while finishing among the top five in nine events. He led the Crimson Tide in scoring average at 70.14 and was ranked second in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index.
In the NCAA stroke-play qualifier, he shot 72-65-68 to tie for third in the individual standings — just one shot out of a playoff. In the team match play section, he trailed in all three matches but managed to rally and pull off a victory.
At the end of May, Shelton was named the Phil Mickelson National Freshman of the Year. The honors continued June 18, as Shelton and Alabama senior Bobby Wyatt — a UMS-Wright graduate — were named to the Golfweek first-team All-America squad. Senior Trey Mullinax was on the second-team while senior Cory Whitsett gained an honorable mention.
You would think that after the excitement of playing in the U.S. Open, Shelton would want to take a break. In fact, he boarded a plane Sunday to represent the U.S. at the 2014 Palmer Cup. Mullinax will join him in the Ryder Cup-style competition against European players June 26-28 at Walton Health Golf Club in Surrey, England.
Also on his schedule is the Southern Amateur in Ooltewan, Tenn. July 16-19; the Western Amateur in Chicago July 28-Aug. 2; and the U.S. Amateur in Duluth, Ga. Aug. 11-17.
“The U.S. Amateur would be a huge step for me,” Shelton said. “If I win that, then you get spots in The Masters and the U.S. Open.”
Even with all his recent success, Shelton said Alabama fans do not have to worry about him leaving school for professional golf, just yet.
“I have to tighten up my wedge game and my putting,” Shelton said. “Coach (Jay Seawell) works us pretty hard, and I am not where I want to be. I’m sure I’ll be here a couple more years.”
For someone who is just 18, that must seem like an eternity.