When Austin Greaser arrived at the University of North Carolina in fall 2019, the landscape for college golfers looked demonstrably different than it does today. At the time, college athletes weren’t allowed to make money off their name, image and likeness, nor could they work with agents to assist them in such endeavors. But in the last two-plus years, NCAA and USGA restrictions on such things have been lifted.
Still, as the golf world gets used to the changes, there was still something unusual to the announcement that the 22-year-old Tar Heel senior made on Tuesday, revealing that he had signed an agreement to work with Excel Sports Management to represent him moving forward—despite still having one semester to go as a college and amateur golfer career.
Greaser, a two-time All-American who played in the Masters (MC) and the U.S. Open (T-61) this year after finishing runner-up at the 2021 U.S. Amateur, said he’s not looking so much for Excel to help line up more NIL deals between now and the NCAA Championship in May (he currently has one arrangement with TaylorMade). Rather, he is looking for the company, overseen by Mark Steinberg with Lance Young working as his principle manager, to help him work out off-the-course details to prepare for the next step: professional golf.
“I wanted to put myself around a group of guys that is out there doing what I want to do and being very successful at it,” says Greaser. Excel’s golf roster including Tiger Woods, Justin Thomas, Matt Fitzpatrick and Collin Morikawa among others. “I think in that way I can really further my game and get better and better and hopefully learn a lot from those guys and get to be around them maybe a little bit more. I think that’s kind of one of the reasons I chose to go with Excel. Just the experience and the talent within this group is a lot. There is a lot here, and it’s pretty special.”
By taking this step in November, Greaser hopes to be able to focus more on the short-term task at hand: finishing his college career by bringing a national title to Chapel Hill and improving his prospects in the PGA Tour University ranking in order to earn a place to play come next summer.
The Tar Heels proved one of the top teams during the fall semester, winning four out of five events to rise to No. 5 in the most recent Bushnell Golf Golfweek Coaches’ poll. Greaser missed the first tournament of the fall while playing for the U.S. at the World Amateur Team Championship, but returned to post two top-fives and finish no worse than T-20 while carding a 70.75 stroke average.
“I mean we have a really, really baller team this year,” Greaser says, with teammates David Ford, Ryan Burnett, Dylan Menante and Peter Fountain all also sporting sub-72 stroke averages in the fall. “Everybody works really hard and everybody is really, really good.”
Meanwhile, the Vandalia, Ohio, native is No. 2 on the PGA Tour University rankings as the winter break approaches. PGA Tour U is another development that’s taken place since Greaser entered college. In its third year, the program rewards college seniors who have stayed in school by giving them a path to PGA Tour affiliated tours.
Currently the top five on the PGA Tour U ranking earn membership on the Korn Ferry Tour immediately after the NCAA Championship. Those ranked Nos. 6-10 earn conditional status and those ranked Nos. 11-20 earn eligibility on PGA Tour Canada or PGA Tour Latinoamerica. However, the PGA Tour Policy Board is set to discuss next week a change to the program that would give the top ranked players membership on to the PGA Tour come June. Those familiar with the discussions believe the change will be approved and in place for the 2023 season.
“The fact we have a path now from college to Korn Ferry or PGA Tour, or both, is unbelievable,” Greaser says. “Before you could win every college event and you still have to climb the ranks like everybody else. … So in that manner I’m extremely grateful for it and it’s obviously given myself and others playing for it an opportunity that wasn’t here just a few years ago, and have got to take an advantage of it.”
Another option available to Greaser that wasn’t around when he started school: LIV Golf. James Piot, who defeated Greaser in the U.S. Amateur final at Oakmont in 2021 signed with the controversial Saudi-backed circuit for its inaugural season last summer, as did a pair of college All-Americans in Eugenio Lopez-Chacarra and David Puig. In just his fifth LIV start, Lopez-Chacarra pulled out a victory in Bangkok and earned $4 million.
Greaser sees the money that’s available on the LIV circuit, but says that he has not been approached by LIV officials and doesn’t have interest. “I think I have mixed feelings about it but at the end of the day my focus is on the PGA Tour. I feel like it’s always been there,” Greaser says. “I’m in a good spot in this PGA Tour U system. I think if I can play how I want to play in the spring that will get me where my focus is, which is the PGA Tour.”
In turn, Greaser’s attention now turns to working on his game—he’s among the longest hitters in college golf and compliments it with an impressive short game—and finishing up his class work to graduate with a degree in sports administration in the spring. Along, of course, with enjoying his last semester of college golf.
“I going to do my best to enjoy my time here at UNC,” Greaser says. “I can’t believe it’s already over. I just want to enjoy the team, the special bond I have here with the guys and the time I’m getting to spend with them that I realistically probably will never get to spend with them again.”