COLUMBUS, Ohio – John Peterson chuckles when asked if he has any sob stories from his tribulations through the PGA TOUR’s old qualifying process.
“I’ve got angry stories,” the former NCAA champion said contemplatively, drawing laughs from anyone within earshot.
“I can tell you what I did, but you couldn’t publish it. It’s a good story off the record. But no, I don’t have any sob stories.”
Truth is, Peterson never once reached Q-School finals. Never even advanced out of the stage he was playing – part of an exasperating pattern of being left with his nose pressed against the glass separating him from the spoils enjoyed by many peers.
Well, except for a couple of extraordinary occasions.
There was that tie for fourth at last year’s U.S. Open, which not only granted him entry to the Web.com Tour but made him the only man ever to receive a Masters invitation while holding membership on the circuit.
And now with top-5 finishes in the first two stops of the Web.com Tour Finals, Peterson has assured himself a promotion to the PGA TOUR.
OK, so it wasn’t exactly the conventional route. Far from it. “But I’m going to the PGA TOUR,” he said. “And that’s a positive.”
Peterson, in fact, is the only man to stand among the top 10 at each of the first two Finals stops. With $96,000 in earnings, he ranks No. 5 on the money list that will be used to determine entry priority next season.
After a final-round 64 vaulted him to a share of fifth at the Hotel Fitness Championship, he finished one shot out of last Sunday’s Chiquita Classic playoff that was won by Andrew Svoboda.
Go back a little farther, and Peterson has posted just one round over par in his past seven starts. He’s a cumulative 90-under par over those 28 rounds.
“He’s a great ballstriker,” said Hudson Swafford, a friend and former SEC rival in their college days. “He’s kind of had his ups and downs, but he’s a good player, for sure.”
Even with his primary goal realized, though, there was an underlying weariness in Peterson’s voice as he came off the course Sunday. “It was close to being a really special day,” he said.
It marked the second time in three weeks that the former LSU star finished one shot out of a playoff. At the regular season finale in Omaha, he was in position to join the first batch of PGA TOUR achievers when Bronson La’Cassie birdied the final hole of regulation.
Not only did La’Cassie force a playoff he’d eventually win, the birdie bumped Peterson from a share of runner-up to solo third – and out of the top 25 in season earnings.
Wrong side of the glass, again.
“That’s the way golf is,” Peterson said. “You’re going to have some terrible breaks, some good breaks, some bad bounces, some good ones.”
That hardly sounds like the cocksure player who nearly won the Nationwide Children’s Championship as an amateur two years ago. Even after finishing runner-up to fellow amateur Harris English, Peterson took consolation in who finished behind him.
“I didn’t win the tournament, but I beat all the pros,” he said then.
Later, he added: “The top guys in college, the top 20 or 30 guys, can beat the top 20, 30 guys on the PGA TOUR.”
Perhaps the golf gods caught up with that one.
A month later, Peterson was left off the U.S. Walker Cup team despite being the reigning NCAA champion. Then he didn’t make it out of the first stage of PGA TOUR qualifying, sending him to the minitours for 2012.
He juggled minitours and Monday qualifying without much success, at one point questioning how long he could afford to play.
“I think the Walker Cup thing kind of bummed him out for a while,” said Swafford, a Georgia standout while Peterson was at LSU. “He kind of got in his own way for a while after that.”
But there was that one month when everything fell into place. He qualified for the FedEx St. Jude Classic, then flew to Columbus and advanced through a U.S. Open sectional against several PGA TOUR pros. Returning to Memphis, he made the St. Jude cut and pocketed $12,000.
Then it was off to the U.S. Open, where he shot no worse than 72 over four days at Olympic Club and avoided the catastrophes that bedeviled guys like Jim Furyk, Tiger Woods and Graeme McDowell. Peterson finished two shots behind winner Webb Simpson.
“It’s just a crazy game,” Peterson said. “I had no status when I started that Open. I finished fourth and it changed my life.”
Even with his recent good play, though, Peterson still feels a little behind the curve. SEC contemporaries such as English, Russell Henley and Bud Cauley have tasted PGA TOUR success.
Jordan Spieth, who Peterson has known since their junior days competing around the Dallas-Fort Worth area, was just named to the U.S. Presidents Cup team after a stellar rookie season.
“That little kid, he’s beaten me all year,” said Peterson, who exchanged text banter with Spieth after the Presidents Cup rosters were named. “It’s nice to see those guys doing good, but it’s kind of motivated me to step it up a little bit.”
Maybe this will be his week at Ohio State’s Scarlet course, where he turned heads two years ago. “I love that course. It’s one of my favorites,” he said.
A victory would give Peterson the inside track to No. 1 on the Finals money list, which brings fully exempt status for the new PGA TOUR season.
“I’d love to get that fully exempt seed,” he said. “I’m playing so good; I’m going to have my opportunities. Maybe I can win one of the next two and be fully exempt.”
He’s already on the right side of the glass now. All that’s left is to put it as far behind him as possible.