Peterson's Open play a welcome distraction for grieving family

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SAN FRANCISCO – Father’s Day celebrations for Bill Peterson were always perfectly satisfying if not jubilant. He and wife Elizabeth would take their four boys to church in Fort Worth, then return home, where he'd grill up a steak before they'd all head over to Colonial Country Club for a late-afternoon nine-hole sixsome.

They were the type of celebrations he at once refers to as both 'nothing special' and 'some of the most special moments.' He tries to explain, but you already know exactly what he means.

In recent years, with the boys all grown up, Bill and Elizabeth would spend Father’s Day at their son David's house, enjoying the Rockwellian revelry of eating barbeque and watching the U.S. Open with their grandkids.

“It’s just a good ol’ family time,” Bill says. “Just loving each other and doing things together and taking some pictures.”

Nothing special. Some of the most special moments.John Peterson

On June 4, the Petersons’ grandson, John – last year’s NCAA champion from Louisiana State University – qualified for the very same tournament they watch as a family every Father's Day. With no status on any major tour, playing in his first U.S. Open would be a huge accomplishment. And it meant this year’s celebration would be different for the Peterson family.

Not that anyone was complaining, of course.

Bill and Elizabeth (pictured right with John) have always been great supporters of John's golf game, furiously refreshing Internet leaderboards when he's competing in tournaments and calling him to offer their praise - win or lose - after his rounds.

For him to reach the U.S. Open field was big news in the Peterson family - until they were struck by devastation.

Not long after John qualified for the tournament, Elizabeth developed an infection. Her health quickly deteriorated in the hospital, and last Saturday she passed away at age 85.

Playing in the FedEx St. Jude Classic at the time, John’s thoughts immediately turned to his grandmother. On Friday, he shot 65 using a ball marked “ELP.” Her initials. It was later placed in her casket, buried with her forever.

He thought about his grandfather, too. About the insignificance of trying to play golf while he was in such pain.

“When you’ve been married to someone for 64 years and all of a sudden she’s not there anymore, it’s really tough on him,” John says. “I couldn’t play that weekend very well. I talked to my granddad. He said, ‘You know what? The last thing that she would want you to do is to be distracted.’ She lived forever. She got sick and died in a week. She’s up in heaven, she’s looking down at me and hopefully I can make her happy.”

Golf has always been an integral part of the Peterson family dynamic. When David moved with wife Jan and their children from Baton Rouge to Fort Worth a decade ago, Bill passed on his Colonial membership to his son, ensuring his grandchildren would enjoy the game on the course he loved so much.

Since then, Bill and David and John would often tee it up together, three generations of Petersons doing what they loved most.

“He would watch me hit balls and we used to play at Colonial when he could still swing,” John says of his grandfather. “Him and me and my dad, I grew up playing with those two guys at Colonial and I owe a lot of my start to him. Giving me the opportunity to play at Colonial was awesome. He basically got me started in the game.”

This week, the game has taken on greater meaning. It’s not just a game - and this is not just a golf tournament.

No, it’s a bonding experience for the Peterson family. A way to keep them together, to keep them celebrating in the wake of such heartache.

It’s a way for Bill to keep from thinking too much about Elizabeth’s death, a way for David to assuage his worries about Bill, a way for John to keep up everyone’s spirits.

And that’s exactly what he’s done so far. With rounds of 71-70-72, the kid with no status on any major tour finds himself in a share of eighth place, just four strokes off the lead entering the final round of the U.S. Open.

The fact that he has a chance to win on Father’s Day makes it even sweeter.

“I’m getting to see my dad’s dream and I’m getting to see my son’s dream at the same time,” David says, fighting back tears. “To see those be fulfilled is pretty cool. John is getting to live his dream and frankly, I’m getting to live my dream, too.”

“He’s told me forever, ‘The best Father’s Day gift for me would be for you to be playing in the U.S. Open on a Sunday,’” John adds. “I’m doing that. I’m fulfilling his dream. I’d love to win, but I’ve got a long way to go. I’d love to do that and give him that trophy, but I just think me being out there and being in contention is good enough for him.”

As John Peterson competes in the final round, his brothers and sister will join Bill at his house, assisting their grandfather with the grieving process. They’ll cry with him, laugh with him, talk with him.

All the while, they'll be huddled around the television, watching one of their own try to win the U.S. Open on Father’s Day.

It will be nothing special. It will be some of the most special moments.