published Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

NCAA king making pro debut in Classic

John Peterson noticed that the Bear Trace at Harrison Bay is loaded with deer, which got his mind momentarily wandering from his Children's Hospital Classic qualifier Monday.

It's doe season back in Texas.

The reigning NCAA medalist is not hunting deer this week. He'll be trying to shoot birdies in his first professional golf tournament.

His debut comes at the urging of a roommate and two weeks before his previously planned professional debut at PGA Tour qualifying school.

"I was getting bored -- heck, I haven't played in a tournament since the U.S. Am -- and I figured I could sign up for this and let it ride," said Peterson, who finished in the top 10 of the NCAA championship at The Honors Course last year and beat UTC senior Stephan Jaeger in 19 holes to reach the Sweet 16 of the U.S. Amateur in August.

"It's a lot different feeling as a pro than an amateur," Peterson said. "You have to pay a caddie, my high school teammate, and it's different but I like it."

This is not Peterson's fist Nationwide Tour event. He led this year's Children's Hospital Invitational in Columbus, Ohio, by one stroke over former Baylor School star and fellow amateur Harris English heading to the 72nd hole.

Peterson bogeyed and English birdied, resulting in English having the opportunity to join the Nationwide Tour this year and have full status for next year.

"I think about it sometimes," Peterson said. "But it did open some doors for me."

Ready to repeat

Defending champion Scott Gardiner spent Tuesday morning in a pro-am at Chattanooga Golf and Country Club.

That's fine. He knows Black Creek Club well already, since this is his seventh visit to the Scenic City.

"It's always great to get back here, and it's always been a good place for me," Gardiner said. "It's extra special to come back after winning last year."

He beat Joe Affrunti and David Branshaw in a playoff last year. Gardiner could use a repeat championship since he is 84th on the money list.

"It's been a little slow of late," Gardiner said. "I've made quite a few cuts, but the finishes haven't been as good. I took last week off to be fresh and make a good defense of my title."

A little different

Former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga golfer Jonathan Hodge earned a sponsor's exemption into the Classic in 2008.

He earned his way in this year through a Monday qualifier. He is older, wiser, more experienced and ready for the next phase of his professional career.

"I feel like I'm calmer because I don't have to worry about missing school and this is my second year playing pro golf," Hodge said. "This is my first Nationwide event as a pro, and it's nice to get that under me."

about David Uchiyama...

David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...

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