By Sean Martin, Golfweek
SAN FRANCISCO – John Peterson’s mother, Jan, made an ace with her first swing. “She hit one shot in her life, and it went in,” her son said. He had to wait longer for his first ‘1’ but it couldn’t have come at a better time.
Peterson, who started Saturday in the U.S. Open’s second-to-last group, had four bogeys and no birdies in his first 12 holes. He was quickly falling down the leaderboard.
Then he came to Olympic’s par-3 13th and holed a 7-iron from 180 yards. “When it went in, man, I don’t know what I did. I want to watch the replay,” he said. “I hope y’all have a replay so I can see it again. But I went nuts. I know that. I tried chest bump my caddie and I missed, and I think I hit his head. But it was really, really cool. First one ever. Being in the U.S. Open on the weekend was awesome.”
He finished with a 2-over 72 Saturday to finish tied for eighth at 3-over 213, four shots behind co-leaders Graeme McDowell and Jim Furyk. Peterson made bogey two holes after his ace, but birdied the par-5 17th after hitting a 105-yard wedge shot to 5 feet. A 20-foot birdie putt on the final hole hung on the lip but never fell.
“I hit it really well; I controlled it really well; I just didn’t score that well,” Peterson said. “If that ball doesn’t go in for 1, I shoot 74, and I lose a lot of ground. But it went in, so it was an all-right round.”
The ace will provide a lifetime of memories, no matter what happens Sunday. “That’s something he’ll remember,” playing partner David Toms said. “He’ll remember that forever.” Another good round will have plenty of additional benefits, though. Peterson, a first-year pro, has no tour status after missing out at Q-School’s first stage. He had to go through local and sectional qualifying to earn his Open spot; he shot 63 in local qualifying.
The 2011 NCAA champion is signed up for the next two Hooters Tour events. He may be able to avoid the mini-tour if he can climb up the tightly-packed leaderboard at Olympic. Doing so will help him earn valuable PGA Tour sponsor exemptions.
He’s on pace for the biggest check of his career. A top-10 finish would earn him an exemption for next year’s U.S. Open. The top eight finishers are expected to be invited to the 2013 Masters. He’s exempt to the second stage of PGA Tour Q-School for making the Open cut, though a high finish here could help him secure some sort of status before then. He has earned just $32,570 in four Tour starts this season; a tie for 55th is his best showing.
Peterson played Saturday with Toms, his mentor and fellow LSU alumnus. Toms made an ace in the third round of his only major victory, the 2001 PGA Championship. Peterson will tee off at 2:10 p.m. Sunday with two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen.
“I was surprisingly very comfortable out there, from the first tee shot through to the end,” Peterson said. “I was pretty comfortable. I felt like I belonged. I felt like my game’s in shape to play well. I just didn’t putt very good.”
He can’t count on another ace. But a few made putts could help Peterson complete his dream run.