Charlie Reiter has been chalking up plenty of personal firsts in his golf career in the last 12 months. Next month the Palm Desert High School senior will do something even he wasn’t expecting yet – playing in his first PGA Tour event.
“Just like bewildered,” Reiter said of the news that the PGA Tour’s CareerBuilder Challenge has extended him one of the La Quinta event’s eight sponsor’s exemptions. “I couldn’t believe it.”
The CareerBuilder will be the 18-year-old Reiter’s second start in a professional event in three months. Reiter played in the Emirates Australian Open in Sydney over Thanksgiving weekend, making the cut and finishing tied for 65th. This time, Reiter won’t have to travel halfway around the world to play against top professional players like Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed or Jon Rahm.
Reiter will also be setting a precedent in the CareerBuilder, becoming the first amateur to receive an exemption into the professional division of the tournament in the event’s 59-year history.
“The tournament believes in supporting the local community in any way we can,” said Jeff Sanders, executive director of the CareerBuilder Challenge. “Charlie Reiter is a special player. He’s done some amazing things at a young age, including his performance at the Australian Open. We want to be part of him getting a start in his own backyard.”
Sanders said the tournament had to get approval from the PGA Tour to give a berth in the 156-player professional field to an amateur, and the tour granted the request.
"I just want to thank Jeff Sanders and (the tournament) for getting me in the event, in my hometown, my hometown tournament," Reiter said.
An amateur playing in a PGA Tour event, while not common, is not unheard of. Mickelson, the tournament ambassador for the CareerBuilder Challenge and a World Golf Hall of Famer, won the PGA Tour’s 1991 Northern Telecom Open in Tucson, Ariz. while still playing college golf at Arizona State. Mickelson is the most recent of six amateurs to have won on the PGA Tour.
The week after the CareerBuilder Challenge, University of Oregon sophomore Norman Xiong will compete in the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego on a sponsor’s invitation.
Reiter’s play has drawn comparison to the best golfers who ever played high school golf in the desert, including La Quinta High School’s Anthony Kim, who won the CIF-Southern Section title in 2001 and went on to win three PGA Tour events. As a sophomore in 2016, Reiter won the CIF-SCGA individual title, in essence the high school championship for the southern half of California, then finished fourth in the CIF state tournament. This year Reiter, known for his power off the tee that produces PGA Tour-caliber drives well over 300 yards, led the Palm Desert team to its first appearance in the state team championship.
Reiter, currently ranked 39th among junior boys in the country in the latest Golfweek magazine rankings, also played in the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Junior Amateur national championships in 2017 despite battling a sore back, before playing in the Australian Open. The Australian berth came from Reiter winning a junior tournament in San Diego in December of 2016, so he knew a year in advance he was in that field. This time Reiter has just three weeks to prepare for the CareerBuilder event, Jan. 18-21 at PGA West and La Quinta Country Club.
“It was good kind of getting the feel with it, playing with pros,” Reiter said of his Australian Open start. “It shouldn’t feel any different here, really. It should be really fun with the amateurs up at Bighorn (Golf Club in Palm Desert) who supported me.”
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Reiter said he first heard about the possibility of a CareerBuilder exemption while playing in the recent pro-scratch tournament at The Plantation Country Club in Indio, an annual event that draws some PGA Tour players as well as local pros and top amateurs.
“Chris Evans last year, who worked in the bag round at the Plantation, won that pro-scratch and we gave him an exemption,” Sanders said. “And he put his spot to good use, making $14,000, which helped him in his career.”
Reiter is familiar with the courses at PGA West in the CareerBuilder tournament, the Stadium Course and the Nicklaus Tournament Course, having won his age group in the Golf Channel Amateur Tour when he was 10. He said he doesn’t know much about La Quinta Country Club but can learn about the course in the next three weeks.
Reiter said between now and the tournament he will just work hard on his game.
“Probably just dialing in my game, getting everything to where I’m comfortable to performance at where I should be at,” he said. “It’s going to be a little different. But I just want to keep the same mentality. Just keep it fun, but I want to play well.”