If golf had a draft like other sports, John Peterson would have been a lottery pick last year. But golf doesn’t work like that, not even close.
What you did as an amateur means almost nothing at the next level, and the next level is a long way from the highest level. No one has to explain that to Peterson.
The 2011 NCAA individual champion while at LSU has a list of accolades that include the Arnold Palmer Award and All-American status. But less than a year into his pro career, the reality of professional struggles hit Peterson right in the face.
All that changed Sunday when Peterson finished tied for fourth in the US Open. The performance included a hole-in-one on the Olympic Club's 199-yard 13th hole during Saturday's third round.
The top-8 finish exempted him into the Masters as well as into the 2013 US Open. Almost as important, the top-10 finish earned him a spot into the Travelers Championship this week at Hartford, Conn., without using a precious exemption as a non-exempt player on the PGA Tour.
The road to this point may not be long by comparison, but it has had its pitfalls.
"I went the entire month of April without making a penny," Peterson said. "I was missing cuts or missing Monday qualifiers by a shot ... it was tough. I was just getting really aggravated with the game and decided to take a week off."
But things changed a few weeks before, when Peterson qualified for the Fed Ex St. Jude Classic on a Sunday and the US Open on a Monday.
This should have been the first great step in his career if only he could take advantage of the opportunity. But that Saturday at Fed Ex after he shot 65 on Friday, his grandmother died. His family implored him to play through the weekend and he did, finishing 61st, although his thoughts were elsewhere.
Something changed when he arrived on the grounds at the Olympic Club the next week. On Tuesday, he played a practice round with fellow LSU alum David Toms, 2003 US Open Champion Jim Furyk and Jason Dufner, a two-time winner on Tour this year. Oddly enough, at week's end, all four finished tied for fourth at Olympic.
For Toms, Furyk and Dufner, it may have been just another week, just another major championship with a six-figure check. And while all, including Peterson, are somewhat disappointed that they let one slip away, only Peterson changed his life Sunday.
"The only time I was nervous all day was on the one-foot putt on 18, because I knew that was the one that would get me into the Masters," an exhausted Peterson said from Hartford on Monday afternoon.
He watched the scoreboards all day Sunday and knew the situation. Conventional sports psychology may disagree with that method, but Peterson isn't worried about conventional wisdom. He is concerned about becoming the next great player in the game. He has the game and the confidence to do it, but there are no guarantees.
Peterson needs to make a little more than $100,000 in prize money to become a special temporary member of the PGA Tour for the rest of the year. He says he has four more sponsors exemptions to get that done, although the way that he is playing it could happen this week.
As a special temporary member, Peterson will be eligible to receive exemptions into PGA Tour events for the rest of the season. Of course, those are up to the individual tournament hosts. Last year, Bud Cauley became the first player since Ryan Moore to earn his card through exemptions. Prior to that, Tiger Woods was the last to take that unlikely and difficult path to the Tour.
But no matter how it works out, some of the most important work has been done for Peterson.
"I probably wouldn’t have gotten another exemption if last week hadn't happened," he said. "Now I think that I might get a chance."
The reality of what has transpired hasn't really sunk in for Peterson.
"I guess I don't see the significance of what I have accomplished so far," he said.
In this case, the significance will be based on what he does with the opportunities that he has created. A week ago Peterson was a man without a home in professional golf. Sometime this fall he will get an envelope in the mail with a return address for Augusta National.
Whether that envelope arrives in the mailbox of an exempt PGA Tour player is unclear. But it will arrive, and he will be in the field at the Masters next year.
Peterson has never lacked confidence and on occasion has said more than he should. But these days, his clubs are doing the talking. They screamed loud enough last week for all the golf world to hear.