For the first time in 70 years, a member of the LSU men’s golf program was crowned individual medalist of the NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Championships, as senior All-American John Peterson wrapped up a heralded collegiate career with a national championship after firing a 54-hole score of 5-under par 211 at Karsten Creek Golf Club.
Peterson followed a competitive course record of 7-under 65 in Wednesday’s second round with his even-par 72 on Thursday en route to a dramatic one-shot victory over UCLA freshman Patrick Cantlay.
Peterson joins LSU’s past greats Fred Haas, Jr. (1937) and Earl Stewart (1941) as an NCAA champion, as he is the team’s top finisher at the NCAA Championships since Perry Moss tied for fourth place in 1991.
The LSU golf program made history with Peterson’s victory Thursday as it became the first school during the history of the NCAA Championships sweeping the men’s and women’s individual crowns in the same season. Lady Tiger freshman Austin Ernst took home the NCAA women’s crown nearly two weeks ago at the event hosted by Texas A&M at The Traditions Golf Club in College Station.
“This is an unbelievable feeling. I can’t really describe it. It hasn’t sunk in for me yet,” Peterson said after his victory. “I’m probably most excited about getting to walk out to the 50-yard line in Tiger Stadium one night next year at a football game. If they let me do that, I want to walk out there in front of 90,000 people with Chuck (Winstead) and Shane (Warren) and these guys who’ve helped me.
“I’m just so proud of this team and how far we’ve come these last four years. I know we would have liked to play better as a team this week, but we’ve had a great season.”
After wrapping up his round at approximately 1:30 p.m. CDT with a one-shot lead over Georgia Tech star James White and a two-shot advantage over the contending trio of Cantlay, Harris English of Georgia and Luke Guthrie of Illinois, Peterson endured many anxious moments in the clubhouse, while watching those contenders try to match his number in the afternoon round at Karsten Creek.
After White made bogey on the par-three third hole to drop to 3-under par for the championship, no one at the top of the leaderboard would pull to within one shot of Peterson again until the final group approached the par-five 18th hole when Cantlay stood over a 16-foot eagle putt trailing Peterson by two at 3-under.
Cantlay, who birdied the par-four 17th hole to draw to within two shots of Peterson’s lead, fired a 4-iron to within 16 feet of the flag on the 18th green to give himself as left-to-right putt back up the hill for his eagle attempt. The UCLA freshman burned the right side of the cup before holing out with a birdie and ending a single stroke behind Peterson on the leaderboard with a score of 4-under 212 for three rounds.
Five golfers finished four shots back in a tie for third place at 1-under 215, while White was five back in a tie for eighth place at even-par 216 and English tied for 10th place at 1-over par 217.
There’s no doubt that the championship was won on the back nine, which Peterson played at 13-under par for the tournament after playing the front nine at a combined 8-over par during his three rounds.
“We went back to the hotel after the round,” Peterson said. “I just tried to keep my mind off of it, as much as I could. But I had to charge up my phone because I was hitting refresh so many times. I probably won’t be able to even go to sleep tonight. I’m feeling so many different things right now.”
Despite teeing off at 8:10 a.m. CDT as part of the very first wave of the day with a one-stroke lead for the first 36 holes, Thursday’s final round proved to be anything but a smooth ride to the finish for Peterson as his national title hopes appeared dashed after turning with a 4-over 40 on his front nine.
As the only championship contender on the course in the morning round, Peterson then found himself in a tie for 10th place as he headed to the back nine with a score of 1-under for the championship.
But as he had done throughout his collegiate career, Peterson stormed back to retake the lead thanks to his near perfect back nine in which he carded four birdies with no bogeys for a 4-under par 32. After crawling back to 3-under par with birdies at the par-three 11th hole and par-five 14th hole, Peterson went out in style in his final round as an LSU Tiger with back-to-back birdies at the par-four 17th and par-five 18th holes.
On the 17th hole, Peterson fired a 4-iron into the wind from 180 yards to within seven feet of the cup as he finished with a birdie. He then followed by hitting his second shot on the par-five 18th hole over the green, with the ball coming to rest in the long rough. He then took a full-swing flop shot that rolled five feet past the hole for yet another birdie opportunity. Peterson’s putt circled all 360 degrees of the cup before falling for a birdie 4, eliciting an emotional fist pump from the Tiger senior as he regained the overall lead.
All Peterson could do at that point was just sit and wait as the rest of those trailing him on the leaderboard prepared to begin their rounds. It would be another six hours before Peterson learned his fate with Cantlay rolling his eagle putt wide right of the cup on the 54th and final hole of medal play.
Peterson was actually on the driving range warming up for a potential playoff with Cantlay when he heard the news that the putt was missed and he had finally won his national championship.
A playoff for the NCAA title would have been a fitting end to Peterson’s senior season after competing in three already this spring. Peterson defeated teen phenom Jordan Speith to take home the Jones Cup before the start of the spring collegiate season in February. He also dropped a pair of playoffs to Florida standout Andres Echavarria for the SEC individual title and teammate Andrew Loupe for a spot in the PGA Tour’s Zurich Classic in April leading up to NCAA postseason play.
“I knew he (Patrick Cantlay) was going to make that putt and we would be going to a playoff. That is how this season has been for me this year,” Peterson said. “It’s funny how that seems to happen to me this year in the biggest tournaments. I was a little bit relieved when he missed his putt. It was a great feeling.”
By winning this year’s NCAA individual crown, Peterson caps one of the most prolific golf careers for an LSU Tiger as the fifth three-time All-American in program history, joining a list that includes the likes of Eddie Merrins, B.R. McLendon, Rob McNamara and David Toms.
Peterson led the way for the No. 9-ranked and No. 10-seeded Tigers throughout the week as LSU earned a 21st-place finish in the final team standings with a 54-hole team score of 41-over par 905.
The Tigers improved upon their 24th-place finish at the NCAA Championships a season ago with their top finish in the tournament since an 18th-finish in 1997.
Junior Sang Yi carded his lowest score of the tournament on Thursday with a 2-under par 70. Yi posted a total of four birdies to go along with just two bogeys to climb into a tie for 88th place in the final standings with a 54-hole score of 13-over 229. He posted rounds of 76 on Tuesday and 83 on Wednesday.
The Tigers also counted totals of 9-over par 81 by senior Ken Looper and 10-over par 82 by junior Austin Gutgsell as part of its team score of 17-over 305. Looper finished in a tie for 125th place at 21-over 237 on the week, while Gutgsell followed one shot back in 128th place at 22-over 238.
Senior All-American Andrew Loupe shot 90 on Thursday to finish the event in a tie for 141st place overall in the event. Loupe is still certain to earn All-America honors as one of the nation’s top players this year.
“We didn’t drive the ball straight enough this week to be successful as a team on this golf course,” said LSU head coach Chuck Winstead. “But you can’t take away from what this group has done for LSU Golf. I love these guys and wish this week would have gone better for them as a group. They’ve done things for their time here to restore this program to where it should be. I’m proud of each and every one of them.”
Peterson also talked about his fellow seniors and the recognition they have helped bring back to one of the most storied programs in all of college golf during their four years together.
“It makes me extremely glad that I came to LSU,” Peterson said. “When I was coming out of high school, I was a pretty good player, but I wasn’t a great player by any means. We weren’t even that good when we got here four years ago. Andrew and I and the rest of this senior class have really pushed ourselves toward this point. It’s been an unbelievable time for us and we know this program is only going to get better.”
The top eight teams in 54 holes of stroke play this week have earned the right to compete as part of match play in a single-elimination tournament that will decide this year’s NCAA team champion.
UCLA will play as the No. 1 seed in match play after firing a tournament-low 8-over par 872 during three rounds of stroke play. Georgia Tech followed three strokes back in second place in the 30-team field, with a score of 11-over 875. Rounding out the top eight teams in the field this week are Oklahoma State (879), Illinois (879), Georgia (884), Ohio State (887), Augusta State (888) and Duke (889).
Friday’s quarterfinal round will feature No. 1 UCLA against No. 8 Duke, No. 2 Georgia Tech against No. 7 Augusta State, No. 3 Oklahoma State against No. 6 Ohio State and No. 4 Illinois against No. 5 Georgia.
The national semifinals will follow on Saturday with matches scheduled for 10 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. CDT. This year’s national championship match is scheduled for Sunday at noon.