Petefish prevails in playoff to win AZ Stroke Play

Pardon Christopher Petefish if he looked more relieved than jubilant in the aftermath of his big victory in the AZ Stroke Play Championship on Sunday. Golf at the highest level will do that to you on occasion, especially when you’re just 17 years old and learning the ropes.Petefish, a lanky junior who plays golf for Scottsdale Christian Academy, blew a three-shot lead on the final hole then emerged victorious from a three-hole, sudden-death playoff over Cory Bacon. Petefish, who had trailed Bacon by one shot entering the final round on the Champions Course at the TPC Scottsdale, closed with a 4-over-par 74 for a winning total of 2-over 282. Petefish’s bogey on the third playoff hole was good enough, as Bacon needed two shots to get out of a bunker there en route a triple-bogey 7 – the same score that that Petefish had absorbed on the 72nd hole to create OT. Bacon, 23, a recent graduate of the Colorado School of Mines who works as a club designer at PING, carded a 75.In defense of Petefish and Bacon, only three players among the 65 who had made the rather hefty cut of 13-over 153 managed to break par on the final day, as firm greens and tough pin positions sent scores soaring. One of that trio in the red was Tyler Kertson, a senior at Brophy Prep, who shot the days’s best round, a 67 that earned the Santa Clara University-bound recruit third place at 3 over. Peter Koo, a home-schooled teen-ager from Chandler who captured the 2011 AZ State Stroke Play, was among three players tied for fourth at 6 over after a 72. Air Force Major Andy Aduddell, the 2012 Arizona Golf Association Player of the Year, tied for seventh at 7 over following a 74. Petefish’s victory marked the seventh time in seven years that the tournament, which features the state’s best amateurs, was won by either a high school are college player. But it broke a streak of six years in a row that that either a current student or alum of Chandler’s Hamilton High School was the winner.“I’m just thankful that I won the playoff,” said Petefish, who has verbally committed to play golf for Georgia Tech beginning in 2014-15. “Obviously, if it hadn’t worked out that way I’d have been kicking myself.”No kidding. Petefish got off to a shaky start, trailed Bacon by three shots at the turn, and then turned it on over the back nine as Bacon started to back up. That began immediately on the tenacious 10th hole, a par 5 turned par 4 for the tournament, where Bacon made double bogey and Petefish ran in a 15-foot putt to save par. One hole later, when Petefish holed a birdie from 20 feet and Bacon bogeyed, both players were suddenly at even par for the tournament. Two holes later, Petefish grabbed the lead when Bacon three-putted for bogey at the always-tough par-3 13th hole.That lead grew to five shots at the 14th, where Bacon made another triple bogey and Petefish holed a 10-foot birdie for a four-shot swing. But Bacon hung in there with birdies at the 15th and 17th holes to battle back within three shots of the lead. And when Petefish fanned a 3-wood into a desert bush at the dangerous, water-guarded 18th, played and then failed to get up and down from an almost impossible greenside bunker shot, the stage was set for sudden death.“I didn’t have my ‘A game’ on the back nine, but I was proud of myself for hanging in there and getting into the playoff,” said Bacon, a native Californian who was playing in just his second AGA event after finishing tied for 29th at the AZ Publinks Championship at Aguila Golf Course in March.“I’ve never won a golf tournament in my life, so my expectations were not all that great coming in. I had hoped to be in contention, and I achieved that goal. I guess that’s the positive I take from this.”Petefish, who tied for 16th in the Publinks and more recently was the runner-up in the AJGA Heather Farr Classic at Longbow Golf Club, called the win a steppingstone.“For sure, it’s the biggest tournament I’ve ever won,” said Petefish, who was out-driven by Bacon most of the day but managed to stay on top with a fearless putting stroke, including a 15-foot, downhill save on the first playoff hole to keep his hopes alive.
“(The final round) was kind of a roller-coaster. I started out with bogeys on two of the first four holes, then made a few putts (for birdie) to hang in there before I got it going on the back nine. When I was up by five (shots) with four (holes) to play I was feeling pretty good, but (Bacon) came on strong with birdies on two of the last four holes, and then I probably selected the wrong club off the tee at the 18th, which led to the (triple bogey). “In hindsight, I should have hit 4-iron and laid up, even if that meant making bogey, because I still would have won (by two shots). But you learn from your mistakes, and I’m just happy that it all worked out and I won the tournament.”Even though there was a lot of relief that hung heavily over Petefish’s celebration, the youngster said he’s “excited to be playing so well.” Especially since he’ll be defending his title in the Division 3 high school state championship in two weeks.“This really gives me a lot of confidence,” he said in what might turn out to be a huge understatement for Christopher Petefish. Yes, youth was served again at this AGA major, and extends a odd streak of either a high school player of collegian winning this title dating back almost 10 years. Who was the last “veteran” to get the job done at the AZ Stroke Play? That would be four-time champ Ken Kellaney way back in 2004.