Competing in any U.S. Open can be an exacting and draining event. But former LSU golfer and Baton Rouge resident John Peterson has several experiences to draw on that for him can take the edge off the tangled rough and deep bunkers of Merion Golf Club.
There will be tight fairways, which place a premium on driving like his home course of Colonial Country Club back in Fort Worth or the Olympic Club in San Francisco where he tied for fourth in last year’s U.S. Open.
And there is rain and humidity aplenty to remind him of South Louisiana in the summer. Merion, just outside Philadelphia in Ardmore, Pa., has been drenched with several inches of rain that will keep it from playing anything like firm and fast Olympic.
“It’s definitely going to be wet all week,” Peterson said. “It’s going to be a real challenge for the grounds crew.”
Peterson’s finish in last year’s U.S. Open earned him his first-ever invitation to the Masters Tournament this past April and a repeat invitation to this week’s championship.
Peterson captured fan and media attention and vaulted into contention after a hole-in-one on the par-3 13th hole during Saturday’s third round, staying on the leaderboard the rest of the way.
The Masters appearance didn’t go nearly as well. Peterson did make the cut but never found his comfort zone on Augusta National’s treacherous greens and finished 60th, one spot above last place.
The 2011 NCAA champion is hoping for a repeat invitation to Augusta, one that would be automatic with another top-four U.S. Open finish.
Bolstered by last year’s performance, Peterson likes his chances.
“My preparation has been good and I’m in much better shape,” he said. “Chuck (Winstead, LSU’s golf coach) and I put in a good week at the University Club.”
To simulate the target golf that will be Merion’s rough-choked fairways, Peterson said he and Winstead went out to the U-Club’s No. 4 practice hole and drove stakes in the fairway 15 to 20 yards apart for Peterson to hit between.
Though not one of the tour’s longest players, Peterson figures he will be teeing off with plenty of fairway woods and irons on Merion’s 6,996-yard, par-70 layout because of the importance of keeping the ball in the fairway.
“It’ll be better to be in the fairway 220 yards out than in the rough at 150,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how far you hit it.”
Before the course was deluged with rain this week that threatened to swamp the 11th hole — and test the USGA’s backup plan to use two holes from Merion’s West Course if it did — Peterson figured even par would win.
Now he thinks the winning score will be 3- or 4-under par because of the soft conditions.
“Last year you couldn’t get to a front pin,” he said. “If you had a front pin you might hit it four or five steps on and it would bounce 25 feet long. Not you can get at those front pins.
“It’s definitely going to be easier but the rough will be harder. But it’ll be a shot a day easier overall.”
Peterson is scheduled to tee off at 7:28 a.m. CDT Thursday on No. 11 (because the 11th is closer to the clubhouse than the 10th players will start a round there) with Scott Stallings and Robert Karlsson.
Former LSU All-American and 2001 PGA champion David Toms tees off No. 1 at 11:30 a.m. CDT with 2011 British Open winner Darren Clarke and two-time Masters winner Jose Maria Olazabal.
Toms also tied for fourth at last year’s U.S. Open and tied for 13th at this year’s Masters, his best finish in 2013. He narrowly missed earning an invite to the 2014 Masters which went to the top-12 finishers.
Portions of Thursday and Friday’s rounds will be shown on ESPN starting at 8 a.m. CDT with NBC taking over from 2-4 p.m. before the telecast goes back to ESPN at 4. Coverage is also available at www.USOpen.com.