Last summer, it seemed like Chris Petefish was on the verge of meeting and possibly exceeding the expectations he carried with him to Georgia Tech after being ranked among the top 30 junior golfers in the country.
After being left off the Yellow Jackets postseason starting lineup at the end of his junior year last spring, Petefish won two amateur tournaments and finished second in two others before the start of his senior year.
But his inconsistent play in college events continued, and he played in two team events and two events as an individual in the fall after again being bumped from the starting lineup.
With his college career winding down, it appears Petefish has recaptured his form from the summer, and may indeed finish with a flurry.
He shot a 3-under-par 69 Sunday in the final round of the General Hackler Championship at The Dunes Golf and Beach Club to capture his first collegiate title with a two-shot win at 7-under 209 and help the Yellow Jackets capture the team title.
“I had an incredible summer and then I didn’t play as great in the fall,” Petefish said. “But now I’m kind of back to where I was last summer in terms of my game and confidence. It feels really good to get my first college win and it feels great to win as a team more importantly.
“. . . It has been a long time coming. I’m a graduating senior in a couple months so it feels really great. It’s has been a lot of work to this moment.”
Georgia Tech, ranked eighth in the country in both GolfStat and the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings, earned its third win of the year and first in three events this spring following finishes of fifth and fourth. The Yellow Jackets finished five shots ahead of runner-up Texas A&M at 16-under-par.
A trio of 3-under 69s Sunday from Petefish, freshman Noah Norton of California and Andy Ogletree of Little Rock, Miss., helped the Yellow Jackets hold off Texas A&M.
“We had a couple leads that we let get away since we’ve won, so it was nice to finally close from the lead,” Georgia Tech coach Bruce Heppler said.
The tournament featured eight teams ranked in the top 50 in the nation by Golfstat, including the No. 2 Aggies and No. 12 LSU, which finished fifth behind Virginia and Kentucky. Host Coastal Carolina finished last in the 15-team field, which also had 14 teams in the top 100.
Georgia Tech, which has won eight Atlantic Coast Conference titles in the last 12 years and has reached match play at the NCAA Championship four times in the last eight years, played in the Hackler for the first time this week.
“Without really knowing what was going to be here, it’s an incredible place,” Heppler said. “It’s really a treasure. And it’s a great golf course. We had to play very well to win here. There are no flukes here. So I feel good about our team that we won on a really hard golf course.”
Petefish won by two shots over both freshman teammate and fellow Californian Noah Norton and Virginia’s Andrew Orischak, who tied The Dunes Club competitive course record of 65 Sunday that is shared by a number of players including Ben Crenshaw and Jay Sigel. After not playing in Georgia Tech’s first event of the spring, Petefish had to earn his way back into the starting lineup, and he tied for seventh nearly three weeks ago in the Puerto Rico Classic.
“We challenged him a couple weeks ago with qualifying and he won it, and he went and played well in Puerto Rico and he goes and jumps in there and wins a tournament,” Heppler said. “We’ve got a really good team here, so if you’re the sixth guy or fifth guy you’re still pretty good right now and that’s just how you have to look at it. Going forward you just kind of start thinking you belong and hopefully he’ll go into the postseason in the way we need him to, because the ACC’s are coming.”
Petefish had three career top-10 finishes and a stroke average of about 73 through his junior year. After being left off last year’s postseason roster, he won both the Azalea Amateur in Charleston and a U.S. Amateur qualifier, and finished second in both the Monroe Invitational and Porter Cup.
“I didn’t lose confidence. I turned that personal disappointment into the best stretch of golf in my life last summer,” said Petefish, who was ranked 178th among college golfers by Golfstat entering the week. “I think that just shows how deep our team is. It’s a lot more special to be on a team that is winning than to play every time and be in eighth or ninth going into the last round and have no pressure. It’s great to have a lot of teammates help push you.”
Coastal had a subpar performance in its home tournament, as junior Luis Ruiz was the only Chanticleer to finish in the top 65 individually, tying for 26th with a 2-over 75-73-70 – 218. Senior Morgan Deneen struggled to a tie for 81st at 236.
“Overall as a team it was a disappointing performance,” CCU coach Jim Garren said. “You don’t ever want to finish last ever, and you definitely don’t want to do it at home. With that being said, we played some of the best teams in the country. I think our eyes are open a little bit. I think we were definitely nervous [Saturday].
“We need to get better at shaking some things off and fighting off adversity. We’re not very tough at all. We’re not where we need to be in that regard. But that falls on me. I’ve got to get these guys tougher. This has been an issue in the last couple events and I need to figure out how to get that done.”