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Catching his breath

August 23, 2015
ROSS THEDE , Reinbeck Courier

With sweat pouring down his face and a big gulp of air anxious to exhale, Austin Peters pounded his drive 296 yards left of the center cut of the first fairway.

One successful shot into his professional debut, the Reinbeck native finally breathed.

He hastily learned, however, that there is no time to relax on the PGA Tour.

Peters, a 2005 Gladbrook-Reinbeck High School graduate, played one of his worst rounds of competitive golf over the opening 18 holes in the 97th PGA Championship on Thursday at Whistling Straits Golf Course near Sheboygan, Wis., shooting a 10-over-par 82 to rank 152nd out of 156 players.

The PGA Professional at Wood Ranch Golf Club in Simi Valley., Calif., Peters carded eight pars, no birdies, a double bogey, a triple bogey and an eagle three on the 563-yard par-5 11th hole.

But not until he reinforced his attempt at a comeback with a thinly hit pitching wedge through the green off the 12th tee box did Peters officially submit. Even though he got up-and-down for par - the only time he pulled that off Thursday - too much damage already had been done.

"Blading it kind of took the confidence out of my sails," Peters said.

He then bogeyed 13, doubled 14 and bogeyed 15 and 16, finishing in with a 42-40-82. Peters stood next-to-last from the morning session.

"I kind of felt like after that I got stabbed and I was trying to stop the bleeding and I just could not stop the bleeding," he said. "After 11 I got the mindset I could go from there, but I couldn't get it going and I had already bled too much.

"I tried to keep a smile on as much as I could but I knew it was falling apart at the seams."

Peters' playing partners, Thomas Bjorn and Charles Howell III, shot 3-under and 2-under, respectively. For a time during the morning session, the 44-year-old Bjorn led the tournament at 5-under.

"He was doing really good, and I was trying to feed off his energy," Peters said. "He had birdie looks at a lot of holes. The ball really does funnel to (the cup) if you hit the shots."

Peters, 28, hit nine of 14 fairways in regulation but only seven of 18 greens. His average drive (278 yards) was right at the tournament standard for the first round (279), but the putter came up empty time after time. Only once did Peters sink a putt from beyond 4 feet, 8 inches (according to and that was when he buried a 9-footer for eagle on the 11th hole.

"A couple iron shots missed for me a little bit, but the putts just weren't falling for me today," Peters said. "Whether I had bad lines, I thought I had the speed, it was just one of those days. Basically everything that could have went wrong did."

Peters played relatively steady golf on the front nine, getting off the first teebox in great form despite the nerves.

"That first tee shot I was sweating bullets," he said. "First time on the PGA Tour and they announce my name on the first tee. I hit one right down the middle, nice and smooth, I got on the first tee and I can finally breathe before I pass out.

"I hit a nice little wedge, 130 yards, bladed it a bit to the back of the green and I wasn't able to make it up-and-down. No big deal. I still had that mindset I could make a few birdies and get right back in this, it just never happened."

Peters parred the par-5 second hole, his 8-foot birdie putt just sliding by the cup. He ran into some trouble on the third hole, missing the green short of the pin in a tiny pot bunker he couldn't even stand in. He blasted out and over the green, plugging the ball in another sand trap before narrowly getting his ball out of the pit. He chipped on and two-putted for a triple-bogey 6, jumping his three-hole total to 4-over par.

"It felt good going off (the first tee), but things just weren't clicking," Peters said. "Little mistakes turned into big mistakes. You can't save yourself from a mistake out here, and I'm notoriously known as the unluckiest golfer in the world.

"I've always been an aggressive player, and today I didn't play as aggressively as I usually do. If you're not aggressive at these holes you're in trouble. You just have to man up and go for it. That's why these guys out here are the best in the world, they're used to having that small margin for error."

Peters parred four of the remaining six holes on the front side, shooting 42 on the par-36 track. Making the turn no worse for the wear, Peters quickly erased a lot of his struggles with pars on 10 and 12 and an eagle on the 11th.

He drove the ball 312 yards into the skinny, snaking fairway and followed it with a 5-iron from 238 yards to about 9 feet. As Bjorn waited for a ruling when his approach rolled onto a drain cover, Peters sunk his putt for eagle.

"As we were sitting there waiting and talking, I said to someone 'I wonder if they'll just let me get out a pool stick and knock this one in,'" Peters said, a la Kevin Costner in 'Tin Cup'. "It just was not going the way we wanted it to all day."

Revived by his first under-par hole, Peters quickly lost control of his driver and missed two of the next three fairways off the tee. He ballooned from 4- to 9-over in a four-hole stretch and bogeyed the 18th as well to finish with a 40 on the back side.

"I had a good little following, they announced my name as we're walking up 18 and I got a good little holler from the crowd," he said. "Probably 20 or so from Reinbeck and around. I appreciate them all coming up, thanked them very much.

"I was happy to put on a show, hope I can put on a better show tomorrow."

Peters currently sets nine shots off the projected cut. Only 70 of the 156 players advance to play Saturday and Sunday, so Friday is a make-or-break day for the former third-place state finisher from Gladbrook-Reinbeck.

He will have to be the best golfer on the course today, and Thursday's statistics don't favor him. Eighteen of the low 23 rounds (2-under or better) came from the morning session, including overall leader Dustin Johnson (-6).

Peters, Bjorn and Howell are back on the course at 12:20 p.m. today, teeing off on No. 10.

"I know everybody's proud of me getting here, but for me being a competitor like I am ... To basically take myself out of (making the cut) is ... Don't get me wrong, I'm going to come back fighting. By all means, I'm going to try to do everything I can, but it stings to be where I'm at.

"I need to attack, and that's still the gameplan. Tomorrow we're going after the pin, and hopefully that's a gameplan that'll work."



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