John Peterson will step onto a very large stage at the Zurich Classic Thursday afternoon. It's a big time PGA event that will attract national sports reporters and thousands of golf fans.
The game's newest star, Bubba Watson, fresh off his win at The Masters, will highlight the field. Television cameras will beam the action into homes and sports bars across the country. And, the winner of this little affair will pocket a cool $1.15 million, a purse just as delicious as the grilled oysters served on the course. It's been quite a journey to get here for Peterson, who just a year ago wasn't much different from your typical LSU student. He enjoyed hanging out with his buddies and frequenting his favorite night spot, Bogie's Bar.
"That's a pretty good estimate," smiled Peterson, "We like to go to Bogie's and have a good time with those guys. We were normal college kids and life is sort of different now. I've now turned pro and have cameras in my face."
The one thing that made the Fort Worth, TX native a little different was his spot on LSU's golf team. He maximized that opportunity to the best of his ability last June, accomplishing a feat the school hadn't seen since the start of World War II. Peterson became LSU's first NCAA individual national champion since Earl Stewart in 1941, with Fred Hass Jr. being the only other man to win the crown in 1937. Peterson fired a 5-under at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, OK to defeat UCLA's Patrick Cantlay by a single stroke.
Cheering from home and alerting Baton Rouge media every step of the way was none other than Bogie's owner, Aaron Saulnier, affectionately known as "Mugsy" by everyone. "Mugsy" had befriended and started promoting Peterson long before his life changing victory. And, while campaigning for an LSU football star is pretty easy, considering the sport owns the town, doing the same for a somewhat unknown golfer was kind of noble.
"He started calling you boys at WAFB. Yeah, he pretty much got my name out there," Peterson laughed.
While the sports team was certainly aware of what was transpiring, "Mugsy" was definitely hammering home the point. He perhaps thought his buddy should've been leading the entire newscast. And, that continued after Peterson won his crown. All you had to do was glance at the large, illuminated Bogie's sign outside the bar. It read:
JOHN PETERSON DRINKS HERE, SO SHOULD YOU
"I got a girlfriend three days after that went up."
While the good times at his favorite watering hole rolled on, that relationship quickly ended in the drink. Peterson jokes long-term relationships simply aren't for him, including Miss Billboard.
"Yeah, I had to drop that a few days later."
But, he isn't breaking things off with the game he loves anytime soon. The 23-year old Peterson has dreams of following in another LSU star's footsteps. David Toms won the Zurich in 2001, topping star Phil Mickelson to booming chants of "L-S-U! L-S-U! L-S-U!" Even before teeing up his first ball, Peterson could still feel the home course advantage.
"I've got plenty of purple, plenty of gold this week at the TPC. I hope the chants are out there. I hope they're loud. I could use all the support I can get," gleamed Peterson.
And, along with all those chants come more "cameras in the face." Tuesday afternoon at a Zurich news conference, Peterson took the podium to a large gathering shortly before the main attraction, Watson.
"They had me in that media room and I've never sat in front of 30 cameras and six people before. There were more cameras there than people," he explained.
Peterson acknowledges the more cameras he sees the more relevant he is in the game. He hopes to make it a common occurrence. And, as he marches into his professional career, Peterson has settled into Baton Rouge to stay. Where did he decide to live? Where else? He bought "Mugsy's" house.
"Yeah, I cut him a check. It was a pretty big check. He should be thanking me. Maybe he should put my name up, you know, on a sign outside the house," Peterson added.
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