By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Chris Petefish is having the time of his life.
Okay, so maybe casual Georgia Tech Golf fans can’t necessarily see the exuberance simply by looking at him.
They shouldn’t feel bad — neither can his head coach, Bruce Heppler. “He’s pretty even keel. I can’t really tell when he’s excited or when he’s not,” said Heppler, with a laugh, as the freshman took some healthy whacks with his driver only a few yards away during the team’s Tuesday morning practice. “I think he’s just excited about playing. This is what he came here for, to play in the postseason. I think he’d be happy doing it anywhere, really.”
As long as that anywhere was Georgia Tech.
Petefish, a Danville, Calif., native, who was the No. 2 player in Arizona as a junior then won back-to-back Arizona Interscholastic Association DIII State Championships (2012 and `13), got plenty of feelers, but had his mind set on Atlanta.
He immediately started taking classes the summer he finished high school then delayed the start of his college golf career by taking off his first spring, so as to get comfortably ahead on academics.
That comfort in college life in turn allowed him to be more comfortable when he hit the course and he showed himself to be a very quick study. Petefish finished his first full season with a 72.00 stroke average in eight matches, third-lowest on the team behind nationally decorated seniors Anders Albertson and Ollie Schniederjans. He earned his first top-10 finish with a ninth-place finish at the Seminole Invitational — he tied with fellow freshman James Clark at -5. He then finished with an even-par 216 at ACCs, good for 23rd, third on the team, and tied for 14th, with Albertson, in his first NCAA Regional, two weeks, back in California, in San Diego (a little less than 500 miles from his hometown).
Petefish, who will celebrate his 20th birthday on May 31 by participating in the third round of this weekend’s NCAA Championships at The Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Fla., took a few minutes to talk with The Good Word about how being one level more experienced in the NCAA Championships, being in the presence of a pair of future PGA Tour players Anders Albertson and Ollie Schniederjans, and being in a group against one of his suitors during recruiting.
No. 1. THE GOOD WORD: You have that first experience of NCAA play under your belt. How will that make you better for this week’s Championships?
Chris Petefish: I think it really prepares you because that was the first time really that our season was on the line. So I think it was good for everyone. I think we’re in a good position for the finals.
2. TGW: Was it nice going back to California for the NCAA Regional?
PETEFISH: It really was. Both my parents were there. I could have had some friends that I know go to college there but most of them were either getting out of school or in finals. But it was good to go back, at least to Southern California. That was a nice treat. Both my parents are coming [to this weekend’s championships]. So that will be really good.
3. TGW: Tech has three underclassmen (Petefish, James Clark and sophomore Vincent Whaley) playing alongside behind seniors Albertson and Schniederjans. How have Anders and Ollie helped you and the other young guys?
PETEFISH: They’re just really good leaders. I’ve been here a year and a half now. Just watching them, following them around for a year and a half you understand what you need to do to be successful around here and their leadership has really been huge for us. We’re all learning a lot. When you’re playing with the No. 1 amateur (Schniederjans held that rank throughout the summer of 2014) and the Byron Nelson [Award] winner (Albertson) you just learn a lot on and off the course — how their work ethic is, how they approach different things. It’s been really good to watch.
4. TGW: Does playing against this level of competition intimidate you at all or are you over that?
PETEFISH: I think I’ve played a lot of big events so you just can’t listen to the hype. You’ve just got to focus on what you need to do to play well on this golf course and let the chips fall. I think mentally I’ve improved a lot. I’m a lot more composed, a lot more I guess you could say resilient. I’ve learned a lot in that way. My short game, I feel really good about my putting and I feel like I’ve learned a lot of things about my swing, which I needed to go through. Overall it’s been a really positive year.
5. TGW: Does being grouped with Stanford (Tech also plays against Oklahoma) give you extra incentive this week?
PETEFISH: (laughs) They did (try to recruit me). I chose here instead. It worked out so….I guess it will be a little bit of a motivating factor, a little extra, but you’ve just got to focus on what you’ve got to do.