After flood of '14 woes, Peterson keeps head above water

John Peterson has missed nine of his last 12 cuts on the PGA Tour.

Jeff Rude’s “Hate To Be Rude” column appears on Golfweek.com on Wednesday.

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Blame it on a broken copper pipe. When John Peterson’s house in Baton Rouge flooded early this year, the floodgates opened for poor play. The damage-control ordeal left the gifted 25-year-old golfer so distracted on the golf course, he couldn’t hit straight. He might have been seeing red, but not red numbers.

Life, of course, throws us a series of curveballs. And curves rarely come at a good time. In Peterson’s case, his career was on the rise. In his last year at LSU, he won the NCAA Championship and tied for second at a Web.com Tour event. The next year he tied for fourth at the U.S. Open at Olympic Club. And he blasted his way onto the PGA Tour by winning the four-event Web.com Finals last fall.

Then he comes out in 2014 and ties for 20th at the Sony Open and all is beyond well. A few weeks later, though, he’s at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and his telephone rings. A neighbor is on the other end saying, “You’ve got water coming out of your front door.”

So he went home and found 3 inches of standing water throughout the house. Everything, he said, was ruined after that copper pipe in the attic cracked during a winter freeze. Next thing he knew, the house was “gutted down to the studs.”

“A brutal four or five months,” the candid Peterson said. “A humbling year. I’ve never had a low like this. It kind of wears on you.”

His scorecards support that in spades. In his 12 starts since the Sony, Peterson has made just three cuts and finished no better than 61st place. He looks at that record here at his first Players Championship and can’t believe it. He says he never thought he could play so poorly. But he understands why.

“My mind on the golf course was not there at all for three months,” Peterson said.

His clothes ruined by the water damage, he lived out of a suitcase for three months. That suitcase became his new closet. He’d sleep on a friend’s couch, sometimes in another buddy’s guest room.

He’d get done playing a Tour round and would be afraid to check his messages. Then he’d have to call an insurance adjuster. Or call his agent to tell him to send a check here or there.

Welcome to adulthood. These things didn’t happen when he was living at home as a college kid. Or if they did, he didn’t have to worry about them.

“Being an adult is so much different when you’re playing golf,” he said.

When Peterson got the call about the flooding, his first thought was about a buffalo hunting trip. Using a bow, he had killed a 1,600-pound buffalo, then had the hide tanned. It decorated one of his floors. One of his flooded floors.

“It smelled like mildew,” he said.

Fortunately the hide was restored. It took almost two months. It took longer for the house to be fixed. But as of the last couple of weeks, he feels settled again. He’s no longer dealing with damage control. He’s just dealing with restoring his golf game.

Peterson looked at his 2013-14 statistics the other day and might have thought he was watching a horror flick. “It’s really sad,” he said. “I’m last in about everything.”

That’s not quite true. He does rank 190th in strokes-gained putting and 185th in all-around, but he’s 99th in driving accuracy, his best category. Then there’s the unranked mental aspect.

“If they had a confidence stat,” Peterson said good-naturedly, “I would’ve been last in that.”

The irony here is this is a guy who hardly has lacked for confidence over the years. When he tied for second at that Nationwide event in Columbus – a tournament won by fellow amateur Harris English – Peterson attracted attention when saying, “The top guys in college, the top 20 or 30 guys, can beat the top 20, 30 guys on the PGA Tour. ... Those top 20 college guys will beat those top 20 or 30 PGA Tour guys, if given the opportunity.”

Asked about that wild quotation Wednesday on the eve of The Players Championship, Peterson laughed but didn’t back down. “I’m going to stand by what I said,” he went on. “It sounded really stupid at the time, but the guys I mentioned are studs out here.”

Multiple Tour winners such as English, Patrick Reed and Russell Henley. He mentioned others, including Peter Uehlein. He could have mentioned 20-year-old Jordan Spieth.

His quote still doesn’t wash, but his overall point is well taken. Talented kids are coming up in droves, meaning the Tour keeps getting deeper.

Peterson is a part of the young depth. At least, a Peterson with a cleared head is. And he says it’s unclogged again.

He says the lesson is “learning to deal with (messy) situations (because) I didn’t handle it well.” He says he’s ready for a new chapter.

The non-conformist has the words LONG HAIR DON’T CARE inscribed on his sand wedge. But he since has had his longish hair shaved to a close crop. With the dash of facial hair, he resembles the actor Chris O’Donnell.

He has changed a couple of other things. He has a new coach in Mark Blackburn. He has signed off of Twitter. And he has a new outlook. Those bad statistics and the piece of copper pipe he has kept serve as motivation.

“I’m hitting it really good now,” Peterson said. “I know one of these weeks coming up I’m going to do well.”

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