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Tim Petrovic navigates injury, perfectionism to revive PGA TOUR Champions season

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Tim Petrovic navigates injury, perfectionism to revive PGA TOUR Champions season

    Written by Bob McClellan

    The day after he turned 57, Tim Petrovic turned around his 2023 season.

    He said there was no panic when he arrived in Calgary earlier in August for the PGA TOUR Champions Shaw Charity Classic. No, his results so far this year hadn’t been great, but he never felt like he was hitting it poorly. He felt like he was hitting it in practice sessions as well as he maybe ever had. It just hadn’t translated to the course.

    Petrovic already had made a call to a sports psychologist two weeks before the Shaw Charity Classic. He’d had only one top-25 finish on the season to date – a tie for fourth at the Principal Charity Classic in Des Moines, Iowa, at the beginning of June.

    He said the psychologist told him something he never expected to hear.

    “He told me a couple of things that clicked and took a little weight off my back,” Petrovic said Tuesday while driving his RV to St. Louis, Missouri, for next week’s Ascension Charity Classic. “He told me I was trying to be too perfect. He just told me you have to give yourself permission to play badly.

    “That’s not what I thought he was gonna tell me,” added Petrovic, who’s planning to drop his RV in St. Louis, fly home to Austin, Texas, and fly back to St. Louis next week. “He was just saying, ‘Don’t try to control the whole situation. You’re a good player. It’s gonna work itself out. You’ll play your way through it.’”

    Petrovic celebrated his birthday, which is Aug. 16, the day before the Shaw Charity Classic began and promptly went out and shot his lowest round of the year by three strokes, posting an 8-under 62. It gave him the first-round lead, and it was a lead he wouldn’t relinquish until late on Sunday.

    Tim Petrovic's approach rolls in close at Shaw Charity

    Petrovic, who has yet to win in 145 Champions Tour starts, admits he didn’t finish the Shaw Charity Classic like he intended. He ended up in a tie for second behind eventual champion Ken Duke, who picked up his first Champions Tour win in 100 starts. Still, it was Petrovic’s best finish since the 2022 Chubb Classic, and it gave him a huge boost of confidence. He carried the belief over to last week at The Ally Challenge outside Detroit.

    Petrovic fired a final-round 66 at Warwick Hills Golf & Country Club to move from off the pace into a tie for third. It meant that since the beginning of June, he now had three top-five finishes and had rocketed from 70th in the Charles Schwab Cup Money standings to a tidy 32nd. The top 36 in the standings advance to play in the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix, which Petrovic hasn’t missed since 2017.

    “Petro,” as he’s commonly known by his Champions Tour peers, has never had a season like 2023. He’s usually more consistent. He had managed at least a top-25 finish in half of his tournaments from 2018 through 2022. This year, his three top-five finishes are his only top-25s through 19 events.

    Petrovic mostly blames a “tennis elbow” for his woes. He said it started before the U.S. Senior Open and that he aggravated it at The Senior Open Championship because of the high, thick rough. He labeled it the only serious injury he’s had to deal with since turning 50.

    He’s been on the mend since. He also picked up a new caddie before the Boeing Classic outside Seattle, which was the tournament right before the Shaw Charity Classic. Kyle Kolenda is a veteran caddie who’s worked for several pros on the PGA TOUR and PGA TOUR Champions.

    “Sometimes a new caddie, a new dynamic, can change things around,” Petrovic said. “I was bouncing around among a few caddies, but I think I have a guy I’m gonna keep for the rest of the year.

    “I said I’d give him two or three events and we’ll go from there. He’s learning me and I’m learning him. He got to see some good golf. He said he enjoyed staying out of the way and just watching the show. It’s important for a caddie to know when to say something and when not to say something. That’s been a big part of it.”

    Petrovic isn’t sure what it will take to win, only that he’s eager to get one under his belt. But he said he still was happy for Duke.

    “We’re good friends,” Petrovic said. “We had a lot of fun chit-chatting during the round, but nobody said anything the last two holes. That was business time, and we knew one of us was gonna win it.

    “It came down to a layup (on the par-5 18th). I laid it up in the rough and left myself in a tough spot. There was a 1-in-50 chance to get it close. I played it left just to give myself a chance. Thirty feet is better than not having a chance at it or hitting it in the water or the bunker.”

    Petrovic said it came down to execution. He didn’t do what he needed to do, while Duke laid up perfectly and hit a wedge below the hole to 6 feet. When Petrovic missed his long birdie putt, Duke knew his putt was for the win.

    Ken Duke's emotion-filled closing birdie to win at Shaw Charity

    “What I was thinking, … I told him after. … I really like the guy,” Petrovic said. “If he makes the putt, I’m gonna be happy for him. If we have a playoff, great. If he makes it, great. I gave him a big hug, and I was really happy for him.”

    Petrovic isn’t quite sure what it will take for him to get his first win, only that he’ll keep trying and believing it will happen.

    “I feel really settled,” Petrovic said. “A buddy of mine said that the announcers said during the telecast (at the Shaw) that I looked really comfortable over the putter. That was a good observation.

    “I wasn’t backing off shots. I backed off maybe only one or two the past two weeks. You’re not hearing the baby cry or the Port-a-Potty door slam or whatever. If you can just stay calm and you have a game plan, it’s just gonna happen.”

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