LSU golf programs enjoy successful year

Dave Moormann

Can it be that LSU is becoming a golf school?

Surely, at least for this year, it’s not a baseball one. For only the third time since 1988, LSU failed to make the NCAA Tournament. That caused great dismay throughout the athletic department, but no matter how much Coach Paul Mainieri and athletic director Joe Alleva protested, it couldn’t change the facts.

At 13-17, LSU tied for last in the Southeastern Conference Western Division, where no team had a winning record.

Although LSU didn’t even reach the SEC Tournament, it still had a shot at postseason play had Georgia made an early exit. Instead, Georgia advanced far into the tournament and made the NCAAs with a 31-30 overall record.

That gave Georgia the upperhand on the Tigers, who were 36-20 overall but failed to win against the right teams at the right time. It didn’t help that LSU played the majority of its early schedule at home, where it’s much easier to win than it is away from Alex Box Stadium.

But that’s neither here nor there. The real story rests with LSU’s golf programs, which produced this year’s NCAA men’s and women’s individual champions. A week after freshman Austin Ernst won the women’s crown, senior All-American John Peterson claimed the men’s top honor. Thus, LSU became the first school  to sweep both titles at the NCAA Championships.

Peterson’s three-round total of 5-under par 211 included a competitive course record of 7-under par 65 in the second round at Karsteen Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.

“It makes me extremely glad that I came to LSU,” Peterson, a product of Fort Worth, said in an LSU news release. “When I was coming out of high school, I was a pretty good player, but I wasn't a great player by any means. We weren’t even that good when we got here four years ago….This senior class (has) really pushed ourselves toward this point. It’s been an unbelievable time for us, and we know this program is only going to get better.”

If the past two weeks are any indication, both golf teams are on the upswing. Peterson set an incredibly high standard in becoming the first LSU player in 70 years, and only  the third ever, to win the men’s championship. Ernst was the first LSU woman to do so, which landed her in Sports Illustrated’s Faces in the Crowd.

It wasn’t easy, as Peterson vaulted to the lead in the second round before withstanding both the mental pressure and the challenge of UCLA freshman Patrick Cantlay to post a one-shot victory.

“We went back to the hotel after the (second) round,” Peterson said. “I just tried to keep my mind off of it as much as I could. But I had to charge up my phone because I was hitting refresh so many times.”

Peterson certainly seemed refreshed, himself, on the 17th and 18th holes as he closed out his collegiate career with a pair of birdies. For the tournament, he shot 13-under par on the back nine. Coach Chuck Winstead couldn’t say enough about Peterson and LSU’s other three seniors.

“They’ve done things for their time here to restore this program to where it should be,” Winstead said. “I’m proud of each and every one of them.”

For all that, LSU always will be a football school when it comes to sports. That was apparent in an answer Peterson gave shortly after his victory.

“I'm probably most excited about getting to walk out to the 50-yard line in Tiger Stadium one night next year at a football game,” he said. “If they let me do that, I want to walk out there in front of 90,000 people with Chuck and Shane (Warren, an assistant coach) and these guys who’ve helped me.”

The least LSU can do is allow Peterson and Ernst to receive the recognition they so richly deserve.