Nov. 29, 2011
BY JOHN PAINTER
Philip Pettitt has paid the dues. He's followed a plan and now he's ready for his biggest test in golf.
Wednesday, the former Tennessee Volunteer tees it up with more than 150 others at the PGA Tour's Final Stage Qualifying Tournament -- Q-School -- at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif. Pettitt faces 108 holes of golf over six days carrying the hopes of landing full membership on the 2012 PGA Tour.
"Really, my whole year was geared around this week," Pettitt said. "I told my coaching staff in February that this was it, and making it through Q-School has always been my goal. I wanted to peak around this time and I geared my schedule for that. I won twice this year and was very determined all summer."
Pettitt did win twice this summer on the NGA Hooters Tour, but he also won two weeks ago at his Second Stage Q-School event in Brooksville, Fla., advancing with ease into the finals. Pettitt opened with a 63 at Southern Hills Plantation Club and led wire-to-wire, winning by six strokes with a four-round score of 17 under par.
"My win earlier this year in McCormick (S.C.) helped me out at second stage because I led all four rounds back in May as well," Pettitt said. "The whole time I kept telling myself, `Let's try to separate ourselves from the field. Let's try to win by as many as we can.' We're not going to play stupid but we're going to keep attacking.
"Leading all week is tough, though. It's tough to lead every single day just because of the mindset of it."
The Murfreesboro native has improved all three years on the NGA Hooters Tour, finishing 10th as Rookie of the Year in 2009 and then eighth in 2010.
"I'm progressing and that's the goal," Pettitt said. "This was my third full year and the good news is I've gotten a little better each year. Hands down this was my best season.
"I wanted to play as much as I could and I was fresh all year. That's why I had such a good year because I was always fresh and very into what I was doing. Every day I just wanted to get a little bit better. It sounds like a cliché, but if you can get just a little better every day that's all you can do."
Pettitt, 26, is a believer in the NGA Hooters Tour and the progression it takes to make it to the major leagues of professional golf, the PGA Tour.
"Everybody works their way up and it's like I'm in triple-A," he said. "The competition's stiff, and your first year here you've got to learn how to make the cut, you've got to learn how to play in contention. And, hopefully, you win. There's no doubt that winning on the Hooters Tour teaches you so much."
Bradley this year became just the third golfer in history to win a major title in his first try when he captured the PGA Championship in Atlanta, and Stallings won at the Greenbrier Classic in West Virginia to also earn his major tournament debut at the PGA Championship.
"That just proves if you can win on the Hooters Tour, you can win anywhere," Pettitt said. "The Hooters Tour has a great résumé, a great history of players. Every guy you see on TV from the PGA Tour, besides Tiger (Woods) and Phil Mickelson, they all came from the Hooters Tour.
"It's a great level. It's maybe not quite as deep as the PGA Tour, obviously, or the Nationwide Tour, but the average golfer really doesn't understand how much those top guys bounce back and forth between tours. The alumni prove that the Hooters Tour works, their format works."
Pettitt worked his way to victories this year at the Savannah Lakes Village Classic in South Carolina and the ComSouth Classic in Hawkinsville, Ga.
Pettitt led wire-to-wire at the South Carolina event, but he couldn't claim the trophy until emerging from a five-man playoff.
"That was crazy," he said. "We all parred the first hole and I kept telling myself to keep attacking, keep attacking. The only thing I really remember was I made about a 7-footer to win the tournament."
"I was four shots back going into the last round and just played unbelievably," he said. "I remember in that one I made six birdies in a row."
Now the 26-year-old is looking for six solid rounds in a row starting Wednesday at PGA West, where Pettitt has never played. Pettitt knows that the week's top 25 finishers earn PGA Tour cards, with the next 50 players earning spots on the Nationwide Tour.
"I've never been out to the desert," he said. "I've played in California but never have been to those golf courses. But the whole year my mindset was, `I am going to make it through Q-School; I'm going to do it.' Even back in March and April, all I was thinking about was Q-School. I'm very excited for this week."
Pettitt says he couldn't have made it close to his current career status without the support he has received from his UT family. While playing for the Vols from 2004-08, Pettitt helped Tennessee to a pair of top-20 national finishes in 2005 and 2007.
"I've got a long way to go in my career, but there's no doubt I wouldn't be where I am today without those four years and without Coach Kelson and everybody at the university," Pettitt said of his former head coach and staff. "Jim Kelson and Joe Whitney (UT's director of mental training), those are my two guys. They've helped me out so much."