How is this former college golf superstar settling in to life as a LIV Golf member?

NASHVILLE — Across professional golf’s great divide, there’s Caleb Surratt. Barely age 20, supremely gifted and LIV-ing it up in a fashion unimaginable just a few years ago.

In that world before LIV Golf, Surratt would have just finished his sophomore season at Tennessee. He’d be well on his way to the most accomplished men’s golf career in Vols history, having been an All-American and the SEC’s individual champion and freshman of the year in 2023. At the time, Surratt was one of the world’s best amateur players.

And that’s why he’s no longer an amateur.

In January, Surratt signed with LIV Golf, accepting an offer to leave school at 19 and turn pro. As a part of Jon Rahm’s LIV team, he’ll chip and putt for good ol’ Legion XIII during the June 21-23 LIV Golf event at The Grove.

Surratt was at the course Monday, teeing it up there for the first time to help promote the Nashville area’s new LIV event.

“What every young player wants, right, is a place to play professional golf?” Surratt told me beforehand. “It’s not too often that you’re given an opportunity like this as a top college player. So to be able to receive that, it was a no-brainer for me, and I’m very thankful for it.”

As a leading figure in a tantalizing generation of up-and-coming talent in golf (and, of late, in SEC golf), Surratt thrived on last year’s victorious U.S. Walker Cup team alongside other future stars like Alabama’s Nick Dunlap and Vanderbilt’s Gordon Sargent.

While Sargent announced in April that he’d return to Vanderbilt for his senior season, thus putting off joining the PGA Tour for a year, Dunlap abruptly turned pro after a stunning victory in January as an amateur at the PGA Tour’s American Express.

Barely a week later, Surratt joined his friend Dunlap in turning pro. Though, Surratt said, the timing of the two “was just a coincidence.”

Caleb Surratt tees off on the 11th tee on the Nicklaus Tournament Course during the first-round of The American Express in La Quinta, Calif., on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023.
Am Ex Golf Caleb Surratt4775a

“I can honestly say that in December I had no idea this was going to happen,” Surratt said of the LIV deal. “… I was focused on college golf. I was focused on what it was going to look like a few years down the road when I would turn pro. When the opportunity came, it was just too good to be true. I wasn’t expecting it. It came out of nowhere.”

By late January, there were rumbles about Surratt and LIV. They’d been fueled in part by the fact that during Dunlap’s American Express win, LIV’s Phil Mickelson tweeted about “the youngest and most talented group of players I’ve seen.” Lefty named a group including Dunlap, Sargent and Surratt, saying it’ll “be a force for decades.”

Once it happened, there was a lot to unpack with Surratt’s move to LIV. Amid such a testy climate in golf, Surratt’s move was a meaningful precedent. The PGA and LIV Tours have talked about reconciliation, but it doesn’t appear close to happening anytime soon.

This showed that LIV was willing to take golf’s battleground deep into the college ranks, plucking a top teenage talent and preempting his PGA Tour push before it could begin.

It made sense, at least in the short term, for Surratt to immediately cash in on his pro potential with a guaranteed windfall rather than perhaps having to grind through the Korn Ferry Tour or Q-School in the future.

Starting LIV so soon, however, has had its difficulties.

At an event earlier this year, English golfer Tyrrell Hatton had to help Surratt check in to a hotel, because Surratt wasn’t old enough to secure the room. It’s a situation that still gets a smile out of the youngster.

“I’ve had to deal with a lot that I didn’t know I’d have to deal with,” he said.

While sides have been drawn and golfers in recent years have been criticized for leaving the PGA Tour to join LIV’s dark side, Surratt’s move wasn’t the same. He didn’t leave one tour for another. He left college.

And in a lot of ways, he’s still a starry-eyed college kid. While a North Carolina native, he still lives in Knoxville. Has no plans to leave. Has a girlfriend there. Hangs out with his same friends.

It’s just every so often, he’ll get to go and tee it up with golfers like Rahm, Hatton, Mickelson, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau.

“Those are guys that you look up to all your life,” Surratt said. “You read Phil Mickelson’s ‘how-to’ short game books. … For a really long time, I couldn’t stop thinking about how cool this is and I was kind of shocked by the moment and phased by it.

“Now I’m trying to tell myself that I belong to be out there.”

Reach Tennessean sports columnist Gentry Estes at and on the X platform (formerly known as Twitter) @Gentry_Estes.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek