Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Justin Peters: Chasing the PGA Tour

I’ve decided to add a new feature here, Chasing the PGA Tour. Last month I watched aspiring PGA Tour pro Justin Peters play in the Booz Allen Classic. Justin remains committed to his PGA Tour dream. He doesn't have any status, even on the Nationwide Tour, so he has to take on what's called a "prequalifier". These tournaments are held so that players must prove they are worthy of even entering the Monday qualifier. So far Justin has passed done well in those but he's struggled in the Monday qualifiers. He did shoot 65 at Little Bennett to make the Booz Allen field. That was his second PGA Tour event.

Here is a recap of Justin’s attempt to Monday qualify for the John Deere Classic, written by Mark (Moose) Farnham, one of the The Golf Channel's Big Break I contestants, who caddied for Justin. As Justin progresses, I’ll post whatever updates I get. Here is Moose’s recap:

Justin came into the John Deere Classic Qualifier playing some solid golf, and we went into the Pinnacle CC with some optimism. He shot a 69 on the first practice round... and on Sunday, shot a 66 with a bogey he more or less intentionally made just to try and un-jinx himself by making a risky attempt on a drive instead of the easy route for a par.

Heading into Monday, we knew that the previous year... a 69 got into a play-off and 68 was safe. We were figuring on a 67 being the right number. We were paired with a pro he had played with from Florida named Tom Foley, and a local guy from St. Louis just trying to figure out if he had the game to be a pro. Ours was the 3rd tee time.

After a par on the opening par 5, JP made a good birdie on the par 3 2nd hole, but in a harbinger of things to come, the local pro lost a ball... and we spent 5 minutes looking for it, and this sort of thing more less kept happening throughout the day and would keep a good rhythm from forming. A poor drive on 3 forced an amazing recovery that could have led to another birdie, but a putt left just short... and -1 thru 3. Tee ball on 4 was crushed, and just like 3 was a block, and this one found a tiny 1 foot wide hazard and unplayable lie under a rock. Going back 50yds, a great recovery shot left a 12' putt for a par saver and again just on the lip... so back to even.

We never manage to birdie the Par-5s, despite being 220 on one, and although he finally got it to -3 with 5 to play, it was just never to be. A blocked tee shot on 17 left him an impossible recovery, but somehow he still had a chance at a par saver from 25 feet that he nearly made. So back to -2 and a par at the par 3 18th, and we knew our day was done.

-2 on a bad day... -5 got in... it was tough to take, because it was his driver that let him down, and the days prior he never even had a bad drive. Every single one was center cut.

Next up for Justin? Either Milwaukee or BC Open. Life chasing the Mondays... preparing for Q-School, and knowing he is getting closer with every step. He's 29 now, about the average age for a Rookie on the PGA tour.

I had fun caddying for him and after the qualifier, Justin did something really cool for me. We went over to the Deere and using his PGA Tour credential from the Booz Allen, we got into the grounds and parked in the players lot. From there, we walked straight onto the range... and here's the thing. You guys on here (The discussion board has its naysayers) can give him whatever grief you want, but to his peers (PGA Tour quality players), he belongs. Guys like Jason Gore and Tag Ridings struck up a conversation with him and wanted to know how he was playing, and were telling him that he belonged out there and that it was only a matter of time. Guy after guy said the same thing to him. Tour winners. It was pretty cool.

Highlight for me? As his "caddy" we went over into the Tour vans where they build the player's clubs, and where Sonartec was making some fairway woods for him (the reason why we came over to the course). When we finished we go over to the putting green, which is sacred ground, and off limits to schmoes like me... except today.

We talked to one of the manufacturers who makes Justin's putters, and Justin continues to talk to various tour players... and JP introduces me to everyone (some even admit to watching the show. Next thing you know, I am getting fitted for a new putter... right on the green at a PGA event. Putting next to me is Zach Johnson, Jason Gore, and last year's winner Sean O'Hair. Michelle Wie has made the smart move and run like heck away from the Moose and is nowhere to be seen. Shockingly, I manage to start making putts... and while the media are trying to figure out who the fat stowaway is on the putting green, I end up with a new putter, some great memories, and my one (and only!) time inside the ropes at a PGA Tour Event. ;)

Only thing bittersweet was driving away, and giving a wave to Justin Rose as he was parked next to me, and stopping to say hello to Justin's friend Mike Sposa... and knowing that Justin should have qualified for this event. Knowing that he has enough game to be out there, and that he just needs to keep focused and keep playing and have a great fall and great Q school, and then the Monday qualifier will just be some fun memories for him...

I'm rooting for JP to make it. He's definitely got the game to play out there on the PGA Tour. A long road awaits though as the PGA Tour Qualifying School is very grueling and so few make it each year.

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