That’s the distance from Ann Arbor to Wagga Wagga, Australia, the rural hometown of Charlie Pilon. Pilon, now entering his senior season on the Michigan men’s golf team, found his love for the sport at a young age, a passion that would eventually take him across an ocean to compete against some of the best golfers in the world.
“When I was four or five, my dad got me a little plastic set of clubs, and I would whack plastic balls around the house,” Pilon said. “I started traveling for events at the age of seven or eight, driving five hours both ways to Sydney with my family.”
Pilon quickly built up a reputation as one of the best amateur golfers in Australia, ranking third in the Australian Boys Ranking and 117th in the men’s rankings. He competed in multiple events as an amateur in Australia and won back-to-back 16-17 age division titles, becoming the first to do so since former world number one Jason Day. His success garnered interest from various universities in the United States, but Pilon eventually chose Michigan for its strong golf program and prestigious academics.
“I moved to Queensland for boarding school when I was 14, so I was good at being by myself for long periods of time,” Pilon said. “The transition to America on the other side of the world for college wasn’t too bad.”
The golf team has always had foreign athletes, ranging from Australia to Italy. As a freshman, Pilon found his niche on the team with the help of the athletes around him. Now, in his senior year, he looks to replicate that leadership.
“The guys we’ve had come in as freshmen are a great bunch of guys,” Pilon said. “They’ve really molded really well with the team.”
The prominence of golf in the U.S. played a big part in Pilon’s decision to come to the U.S for college. Since joining the Wolverines. He has built off the success he experienced in Australia, being named to the All-Big Ten Tournament Team in 2019. Pilon has also found more opportunities to compete in big tournaments against quality competition in the U.S.
“A lot of guys on the tour right now came through the college system, so it was a great opportunity to compete with some of the best amateurs in the world and get a degree at the same time,” Pilon said. “There’s great events all around the country all the time. We definitely have a handful of great events in Australia, but America just has a ton of them, so you’ve always got something to play.”
With the upcoming season still an unknown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team continues to prepare while following new guidelines. While in team facilities, golfers must wear masks, in addition to participating in mandatory weekly testing. Even with these new restrictions, the team practices with the intent that they will be playing a full season in the spring.
The team aspect of college golf, which is a rather individual sport, is something that Pilon values highly.
“Team golf is really cool,” said Pilon. “That was one of the things that kind of attracted me to play college golf. Golf is a bit of a lonely sport, but being on a team makes it more enjoyable everyday.”
Now, as Pilon looks to the season ahead and his career beyond college golf, he hopes to follow the path of many top collegiate golfers by joining the professional tour.
“I’m hoping to stay in the states and turn pro to try and make a living out of it,” Pilon said. “I’ll go back to Australia and train a little there. Then I’ll try and go to the Asian circuit and onward to either America or Europe.”
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