SAN FRANCISCO -– John Peterson’s courtesy car was side-swiped on the U.S. Open’s eve. His fortunes have been much better since.
Peterson, a first-year pro without status on any tour, is at 1-over 141 after the first two rounds at Olympic Club. He was just outside the top-10 when he finished his round, and virtually guaranteed to move up the leaderboard as the day progressed.
“We call it the redneck Lexus,” Peterson said. “The front-left headlight is pointed directly diagonal. It shines in the other lane.”
This is Peterson’s first major. His destination from Olympic Club? The next two stops on the Hooters Tour. He’s unaccustomed to this stage, but that has one benefit.
“I have nothing to lose,” said Peterson, a LSU product who won the NCAA individual title little more than a year ago. “I have a whole lot to gain and nothing to lose.”
Two more good rounds could change his career. He wasn’t thinking about that Friday, though. He was happy with the one benefit he’d already gained. “I don’t have to go to first stage anymore,” he said. Peterson turned pro last year as the world’s No. 7 amateur but failed to advance out of Q-School’s first stage. Making the U.S. Open cut makes him exempt into the second stage of this year’s Q-School, the final one that will offer PGA Tour cards.
There’s a lot of lessons for young pros to learn, and Peterson has received quite the education over the past few days. He played a U.S. Open practice round with David Toms, a fellow LSU alum, Jim Furyk and Jason Dufner, three veterans whose success has come from control and well-executed gameplans.
“I couldn’t have had a better pairing,” Peterson said. “You watch those guys play and you realize pro golf isn’t about bombing it. It’s about managing your game. I didn’t have it today, but I shot even-par.”
He was 2 over after five holes Friday, but made birdies on Nos. 12 and 17 to shoot 70. The first birdie came on a 25-foot putt. The second was a two-putt from 6 feet after reaching the par-5 17th green in two shots.
This is the second consecutive week Peterson has been in good position entering the weekend of a PGA Tour event. He was 12th halfway through 36 holes of last week’s St. Jude Classic, but shot 73-75 on the weekend to fall to 61st. Some reckless decisions made him realize the importance of making pars instead of taking unnecessary risks.
“I really understand how good an even-par round can be,” Peterson said. “Instead, I threw it all away. I was way too aggressive. It was dumb, immature, 23-year-old things I should’ve learned in college but I still hadn’t.”
Peterson qualified for the St. Jude on June 3, the day before his U.S. Open sectional qualifier. The first qualifier was in Tennessee. The latter was in Ohio. Peterson had to leave the St. Jude’s qualifier early – and hope there wasn’t a playoff for which he’d be absent – to catch his Ohio flight.
His success this week comes in an event conducted by the U.S. Golf Association, the same organization that last year decided not to select him for the Walker Cup team, in spite of victories at the NCAA Championship, Jones Cup and a runner-up finish at the Nationwide Tour stop in Columbus.
It was at that Nationwide Tour stop where Peterson was criticized for implying that the top 30 college players could beat the world’s top 30 professionals. It’s believed those comments were one reason he was left off the Walker Cup team. At least for two days, he’s living up to his words.