AVONDALE, La. – No format strikes fear in proud PGA Tour players like alternate shot, so the idea of two slumping pros teaming up on a hazard-ridden course?
No one of sound mind would sign up for that.
And yet John Peterson and Cody Gribble have approached this Zurich Classic with short memories, with the nonchalance of a member-member and the belief in each other that can only be earned after nearly 20 years of friendship.
For anyone else, there’d be reasons to fret here at TPC Louisiana: Playing on a major medical extension, Peterson has only four events remaining to make more than $300,000. If he doesn’t, he’s putting away his clubs – for good. His partner, Gribble, won in his rookie season but doesn’t have a top-10 since, is statistically one of the worst players on Tour this season and enters this week with seven consecutive missed cuts.
But there they are, near the top of the leaderboard, only three shots back, after shooting 68 in alternate shot – the format that’s supposed to expose those who are struggling.
“It’s a relaxed atmosphere,” Peterson explained afterward. “It’s a really hard format, but it can be a lot harder if you barely know the guy. If you barely know the guy and hit a bad shot, you’re gonna feel way worse than if you’re gonna go drink beers with him after the round no matter what.”
Peterson and Gribble have known each other since they were 10, growing up in the Fort Worth area. For two decades, they’ve hunted and fished and never taken themselves too seriously. When asked if they had any fun memories from their amateur golf days, Gribble wondered aloud if they’d roomed together for the Porter Cup. “If we did,” Peterson said, “then I wouldn’t remember it.” Their walk-up song on the first tee Saturday is George Michael’s “Careless Whisper,” if only because it was the most ridiculous song Peterson could think of. (Their backup choice: “Hakuna Matata.”) Their idea of a perfect day isn’t spent on the course – it’s on Gribble’s land in West Texas, with a bow and a beer.
“I love golf, and I love what I do,” Gribble said, “but I love being away from it at the same time. That’s something we have a lot in common.”
And it’s the mindset they’ve needed to navigate the travails of pro golf.
A former NCAA champion, Peterson’s career has been derailed by a wrist injury. He’s been pain-free for the past eight months but “just haven’t played like it.” He’s also felt the pull of home more than ever. He got married a few years ago. He and his wife welcomed a baby boy late last year, and he’s rarely slept more than a few hours each night.
“I enjoy my time at home much more than I do my time out here,” he said. “It’s not frustrating for me to miss a cut. It’s obviously frustrating because you’re not getting paid or feeling the competitive juices, but I love being at home.”
The clock is ticking on his career. Including this week, he has only four more events to earn 239 FedExCup points or $332,712. Not that he’s concerned. He’s already planning for life after golf, lining up a gig with some buddies in Fort Worth to get into commercial real estate and business development.
“We’re gonna see how it all pans out,” he said.
Gribble, meanwhile, is trying to work his way out of a miserable slump. He ranks 182nd in driving accuracy and 201st in strokes gained: tee to green, but because he’s exempt through next season after his win at the 2016 Sanderson Farms, he at least has time to figure it out.
“It’s been slow,” he said. “Really slow. … I don’t think anybody is shocked that I’m a streaky player, but you just have to believe that if you put in the work, it’s going to pay off.”
Gribble and Peterson, who have combined for no top-10s in the past 18 months, set two rules for this week: 1.) Have a blast, which for them is never a problem; and 2.) No apologies.
They thought they had a smart game plan, with Peterson taking the even holes, but no one could have expected them to follow their opening 66 with a 4-under round Friday in the tricky alternate-shot format.
“We’re extremely happy,” Peterson said.
Interestingly, the top of the leaderboard is littered with players who arrived in New Orleans in poor form.
Leader Michael Kim (who is teaming with Andrew Putnam) doesn’t have a top-20 in the past 15 months.
Daniel Summerhays (with Tony Finau) has banked only $53,000 this season.
Nate Lashley and Rob Oppenheim are Nos. 161 and 163, respectively, in the FedExCup.
Chad Campbell and Matt Jones each described their seasons as “pretty poor” and “terrible” – they’ve combined to miss as many cuts (13) as they’ve made – and yet they’re also in the mix here.
“Maybe just being with him, knowing he’s confident in me, maybe gives each of us more confidence,” Campbell said.
And perhaps that’s at work with Peterson and Gribble, too.
After their rounds Friday, they were asked whether this format was just what they needed.
“To break our current hot streak?” Gribble said, laughing. “We’ll tell you on Sunday.”
“Yeah,” Peterson said, jumping in, “let’s wait a couple of days. We’re only halfway done.”
Then they headed off for the clubhouse, for lunch and the post-round beers they had promised, no matter what happened.