Amateurs' hour is here

But despite talk, pros still have an edge

July 28, 2011|By Jeff Shain, Tribune Newspapers

For the record, John Peterson never has played a PGA Tour event.

When he does, the reigning NCAA men's champion might find a little extra scrutiny.

Hey, that's what happens when you draw attention to yourself. And Peterson certainly did that after finishing tied for second at last week's Nationwide Tour stop.

"I didn't win the tournament, but I beat all the pros," the LSU product said after finishing one stroke behind fellow outgoing collegian Harris English (Georgia) at the Nationwide Children's Hospital Invitational in Columbus, Ohio.

Kyle Riefers could have something to say about that, having shared runner-up honors with Peterson. But if Peterson's burst of giddiness had stopped there, it might have been overlooked. It didn't.

"The top guys in college, the top 20 or 30 guys, can beat the top 20, 30 guys on the PGA Tour," Peterson told Golf World magazine.

"Maybe with the exception of two or three guys who are constantly up there, like a Matt Kuchar or Luke Donald … those top 20 college guys will beat those top 20 or 30 PGA Tour guys, if given the opportunity."

You can be sure a few tour pros — not necessarily inside the top 30 — were harboring ideas about a private opportunity.

"Wow. Talk about bold," Ryan Palmer, No. 31 on the FedEx Cup points list, told his Twitter followers. "I say I get 20 of my peers and they get 20 and lets go have some fun!!! Trust me boys, its not that easy!!!"

Certainly, 2011 will go down as a renaissance year for amateur golfers.

Patrick Cantlay, coming off his freshman year at UCLA, has opened eyes with four top-25 finishes in as many PGA Tour starts. That includes a second-round 60 in Hartford, a week after taking U.S. Open low-amateur honors.

Tom Lewis became the first amateur in 35 years to lead a major championship when he held a share of the British Open's first-round lead. Not only does English own a Nationwide Tour win, but Georgia teammate Russell Henley does as well. University of Texas-bound Jordan Speith was in contention at the Byron Nelson Classic.

Peterson, though, might have liked to consult U.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein before going out on that limb. Uihlein, No. 2 in the world amateur rankings behind Cantlay — and eight spots ahead of Peterson — has a top finish of 48th in five PGA Tour starts this year.

Since the Masters, 32 spots in PGA Tour events have gone to amateurs. Beyond Cantlay's four starts, the best finish has been Lewis' tie for 30th at Royal St. George's.

It's worth noting that the 10 NCAA men's titlists to precede Peterson have combined for three PGA Tour wins — two by Troy Matteson, one by Ryan Moore. Only four have earned PGA Tour cards.

Peterson has indicated he'll turn pro after the Walker Cup in September. We'll see what Q-school throws at him.

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