July 19, 2017
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
– Chris Petefish cleared his head and put it all together again Wednesday, which is the new normal for Georgia Tech’s rising senior golfer as he’s re-mastered the flat stick.
When he fired a four-under par 66 to pull into a first-place tie in the first round of the prestigious Porter Cup near Niagara Falls, N.Y., it was more of the same.
Since fading out of the lineup for the Yellow Jackets last spring, Petefish has played more than half a dozen amateur tournaments to re-build his game.
He’s played mostly fantastic golf over four months, peaking early with a win at the Azalea Invitational Charleston, S.C., in March. Then, on July 6 he paced a 43-man field to become Tech’s first qualifier for next month’s U.S. Amateur Championship winning medalist honors at the Windber Country Club in Salix, Pa.
The key? Petefish has gone retro with his short stroke.
“My putter has been really hot. I think it’s pretty safe to say I was one of the worst putters in college golf,” he said. “I went back to my old putting coach that I grew up with, Laird Small, in Pebble Beach, California. I was pretty much notorious for making every putt I looked at in junior golf.
“I would say I worked with him about 3-4 years when I was young, probably when I was 10 to 14.”
Solid as a Tech sophomore, when he started all 11 events for the Jackets and led the Jackets in the ACC Tournament with a seventh-place finish and a 17th-place showing at the NCAA Regional, Petefish lost his way last season.
Trying to toe the delicate line in athletics where one chooses to work hardest on his/her weaknesses or keeps putting the time in all the way around, he sought to polish his skills beyond the putting greens. All that did was cloud his brain.
Petefish made the travel team for just about half of Tech’s events last season, none over the closing stretch in the spring.
“I just kind of swayed away and focused on my ball striking. It’s better to visualize a shot and just be reactive,” he said. “We are athletes, so the more athletic we can be, the better. It was paralysis by analysis.
“You get so many swing thoughts in your head that you can’t even hit a golf ball. I listened to too many people.”
Golf is funny like that, and sticking a leaf blower in his ear and blowing out all the noise is working for the native of Danville, Calif.
After winning the Azalea Invitational on March 25, when his final round of 67 left him with an eight-under par score of 276 and ahead of the field at the Country Club of Charleston (S.C.), Petefish tied for seventh in the Terra Cotta Invitational at the Naples Country Club (Fla.) April 13-15.
He followed that up by tying for second place at the Monroe Invitational at the Monroe Golf Club in Pittsford, N.Y.
Even Petefish’s worst tournament of the summer was redemptive.
After firing an opening round 75 at the Sunnehanna Amateur on June 14 at the Sunnehanna Country Club in Johnstown, Pa., he rallied to shoot 71-66-65 and tie for 24th.
That bodes well for college golf because the four lowest scores among five golfers count toward the team total each day. So, even if a golfer shoots himself out of a tournament in the first round, he can help the team in latter rounds.
Again, Petefish cleared his head; he didn’t dwell.
“I had a really rough first round, five over par, like third to last place,” he recalled. “I was at least 5 shots off the cut line, so I had to pick myself up, and I found a way to shoot one over in second round and in the third round made pretty much every putt I looked at.”
In the North & South Amateur June 26-30 at Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina, Petefish qualified through two rounds of stroke play for match play, and then won twice, once over 19 holes and then over 20, to reach the quarterfinals.
He lost there, 4 and 3, to eventual champion William Nottingham of Clemson.
Having scouted the Windber Country Club in Salix, Pa., while he earlier was playing nearby Sunnehanna, Petefish decided to try there to qualify for the U.S. Amateur. That was a good decision. Playing two rounds in one day, he went nine-under par 135 to punch his ticket. (Embed link: http://www.tribdem.com/sports/christopher-petefish-takes-top-spot-in-u-s-amateur-qualifier/article_5bea53a6-62c4-11e7-96e6-d363c71a974c.html)
That made him the first of four Jackets to qualify for the national championship, which will be Aug. 14-20 at the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif. Senior Jacob Joiner won a qualifier Monday at the Burningtree Country Club in Decatur, Ala., to qualify. Sophomore Luke Schniederjans won a qualifier Wednesday at the Capital City Club-Crabapple in Milton, where sophomore Andy Ogletree also qualified by tying for third.
“I liked the venue so I decided to go there,” Petefish said of Windber. “I think there were six or seven other players ranked ahead of me. It was pretty much a shootout.”
Although he slid a bit last week in the Players Amateur when his two-over par 286 landed him in a tie for 33rd (as Schniederjans tied for seventh at nine-under 275 and Ogletree tied for 10th at 277), Petefish re-geared for the Porter Cup.
Once he finishes in upstate New York, Petefish will have two more opportunities before teeing it up to try to make Tech’s travel team ahead of the season-opening Carpet Capital Collegiate in early September.
He’ll play at the Western Amateur Aug. 1-5 at the Skokie Country Club in Glencoe, Ill., and the U.S. Amateur near Los Angeles.
Then, the goal will be to help return Georgia Tech to the upper echelon of college golf after a two-year gray period.
With sophomores Schniederjans, Ogletree and Tyler Stafaci, fellow seniors Joiner and James Clark and several more teammates, Petefish has faith.
“There’s no reason why we can’t be one of the best teams in the country,” he said. “The three freshmen have played a lot. A lot of teams have players who have left. I look around and say, ‘Why not us?’ ”