STILLWATER, Okla.—You have to be in the fairway at Karsten Creek. If I had a dime for every time I heard that this week at the NCAA Championship, I'd have almost enough money to takeBoone Pickens' name off the Oklahoma State football stadium. If I didn't know any better, I'd have sworn they renamed the tournament the NCAA Be In The Fairway Or Go Home Championship.
Sure enough, though, that's exactly what LSU's John Peterson did. Hitting all 14 fairways, and 16 of 18 greens, the senior from Fort Worth shot a competitive collegiate course-record 65 during the second round Wednesday to jump T-47 to first place individually, posting a five-under 139 total for 36 holes.
Peterson's performance was remarkable not just for its six birdie and an eagle but for the difference in play compare to the previous day. Over his first nine holes of competition, he shot a miserable 42, making four bogeys and a double bogey.
"I just didn't want to post anything over 75," Peterson said. "I was just doing stupid things and paying for them because you can't do stupid things out here and play well."
Indeed, despite the gaudy numbers, Peterson wasn't hitting the ball badly; he'd wind up hitting 12 of 14 fairways but made bogeys from the fairway. Eventually he settled down, making five birdies (and one more bogey) on his back nine to salvaged a 74, Tiger coach Chuck Winstead following his All-American candidate from the 11th hole on and helping him get into the clubhouse without causing too much more damage.
"He has a lot of self-determination," Winstead said. "More than anything else I was there to tell him to trust himself, believe in himself. I told him before he teed off he was hitting the golf ball as straight as anyone, which is a fact. This golf course, golf courses like this, suit John Peterson because of what you have to do."
When he returned to the course, Peterson was ready for action. Starting on the 10th tee, he birdied the 12th from three feet, holed a flop-shot near the green for an eagle on the 14th, then made birdies on 16 and 18 to turn in 31. A bogey on the first hole was his only blemish as he made a 40-foot birdie putt on the fourth hole, a birdie on the fifth and then a kick in birdie on the ninth hole after hitting a gap wedge from 116 yards to inches.
"This would be my best round in college I would say so far," said Peterson, who came into the event with a 71.64 average having finished no worse than T-15 in eright starts this spring, including a playoff loss at the SEC Championship. "I had some low ones but not on this stage."
Peterson has some positive memories to fall back on as he prepares for the final round. In February he won the Jones Cup, a prestigious amateur event that helped solidify in his mind a plan to wait to turn pro until after the summer in hopes of making the U.S. Walker Cup team.
"It really has been driving him, which is a good thing," said Winstead. "It's good to have a goal like that and be working toward something along those lines."
Trailing Peterson by one stroke entering the final 18 is first-round leader James White of Georgia Tech. After shooting a five-under 67 to start the tournament, the junior from Acworth, Ga., posted a one-over 73. Truth be told, the score could have been a lot worse, considering White lost two balls off the tee and had to pitch out of the rough on two other holes because of wayward drives.
Asked the difference in his play from the previous day, White admitted to a little fatigue. "I'm absolutely exhausted right now," White said. "You know on every tee box your score for that hole is determined pretty much on whether you hit fairway or not. You're not going to make birdie from the rough, not on the par 4s. I'm just mentally exhausted."
Three players sit two strokes back of Peterson, UCLA's Patrick Cantlay and Illinois' Luke Guthrie each shooting second-round 69s to get into contention while Georgia's Harris English followed up a 70 with a 71. Three off the lead are Michigan's Lion Kim, UCLA'sGregor Main, Texas A&M's Cameron Peck, California'sMichael Weaver and Oklahoma State's Peter Uihlein, the lone Cowboy to post a sub-par score over the first two days.
Uihlein appeared as if he would be the one posting a record round, not Peterson, when the U.S. Amateur champion opened with a eagle on the first hole and birdies on the second, fourth and sixth. However, Uihlein stumbled coming in, making bogeys on the 10th, 14th and 17th before a home hole birdie gave him a 69.
"You can try to force some things and it will bite you in the butt real quick," Uihlein said. "You've got to stay patient and take what the course gives you."
Provided you hit it in the fairway.