Charlie Zielinski Takes Creighton Golf to New HeightsSep 29, 2022 04:23PM ● By Greg Echlin
Photo by Bill Sitzmann
Compared to the summer of 2013, when record crowds flocked to the first U.S. Senior Open golf championship at Omaha Country Club, the USGA tournament’s return in 2021 seemed rather subdued. Restricted numbers of attendees, volunteers, and social distancing due to the COVID pandemic all contributed to an atmosphere of quiet and restraint…even for golf.
But that didn’t stop Charlie Zielinski, a burgeoning Creighton University golfer, from absorbing the experience of a big-time, nationally televised golf championship as a caddy on his favorite golf course. A member of the OCC summer caddy program, Zielinski was “on the bag” for Buck Brittain, a district court judge who moonlights as an upper-tier amateur golfer from the heart of scenic Appalachia in Tazewell, Virginia.
Brittain missed the cut in the four-round championship for golfers age 50 and over, shooting a 12-over par 152 total (78 first round, 74 second round) on the par 70 course. Nevertheless, Zielinski was still thrilled to be in the presence of golfers he idolized.
“I saw every single famous golfer who was there. It was just unbelievable,” he said. “Before that, I had only seen them on TV. I was right next to them, so it was really cool.”
Now Zielinski is taking his own game to a different level.
Capping his sophomore season in the spring of 2022 with the Creighton Bluejays, Zielinski finished third in the Big East Tournament on the Mountain View course at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia.
“That’s where he really started making a name for himself,” said Bluejays men’s golf coach Judd Cornell, who was hired before the 2019-20 season, just before Zielinski stepped on campus as a freshman from Skutt High School.
“He’s probably going to be the favorite for the Big East Player of the Year,” Cornell said.
The following summer, Zielinski capitalized on that momentum, earning a spot in the field for the USGA’s U.S. Amateur Championship in Paramus, New Jersey. Even though he was runner-up to Elkhorn native Luke Gutschewski in a qualifying round at Beatrice Country Club, he was on his way to the big leagues. Later in July, Zielinski finish fourth in the Nebraska Amateur Championship, won by Shaun Campbell, a New Zealander, and fellow Bluejays teammate after his transfer from the University of Kansas.
While preparing for the U.S. Amateur, Zielinski shot a course record 60 at The Players Club in Omaha, a course designed by golf legend, Arnold Palmer.
“He continues to improve as he understands the game better and as he gets more consistent with his fundamentals,” said Tom Sieckmann, Zielinski’s swing instructor at OCC since the summer between his sophomore and junior years at Skutt. “He’s been one of those guys that even this year, has seen a nice little jump in a lot of parts in his game.”
Zielinski traces his love of the game to when he started hitting balls at Ashland Golf Club, where his parents were members in his early childhood.
“Every time I go out there, I would just love it,” he said. “Even though I didn’t know what I was doing, I would just go tee it up and hit a ball.”
As much as he loves to play the game, Zielinski’s performance as of late has exceeded even his own expectations.
“There’s always that doubt when you’re getting to go play at a college,” he said. “Will I ever get to play? Am I good enough compared to these other guys?”
Zielinski was better able to answer his own creeping doubts in the fall of 2020—his first semester at Creighton—when he was only able to practice with his teammates because the fall competition schedule was wiped out that year by the pandemic.
Once settled in, Zielinski remembered thinking, “‘Okay, I got this. I’m going to be up there. I’m going to be playing.’ Sure enough, the next spring when we had a season, I played all six of our events.”
As an accounting major at Creighton, Zielinski said the balance between schoolwork and the demands of college competition has been delicate.
“The travel can get long; eight-hour drives and flights where you change time zones twice,” he said. “The courses we play are usually a practice round on Sunday, 36 holes on Monday, 18 on Tuesday, then you fly back. It just happens so fast…and the 36 holes on Monday drags you down.”
He added, “It’s hard to score well in college. It’s all about keeping your energy up, keeping your hopes up, and that’s where a lot of people tend to struggle.”
By successfully walking the tightrope of a student-athlete, Zielinski has a chance to become the best men’s golfer in Creighton Bluejay history. And if he doesn’t make it as a pro golfer, he’ll always have that accounting degree to fall back on!
Visit gocreighton.com/sports/mens-golf to follow the Creighton schedule and golf news.
This article originally appeared in the October 2022 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.