After rough start, former Vol Phillip Pettitt Jr. looking forward to News Sentinel Open

Former Tennessee Vol Phillip Pettitt Jr. watches one of his shots at the Tour Neediest Kids Championship in Potomac, Md., in October 2012. (PGA Tour)

2012 Getty Images

Former Tennessee Vol Phillip Pettitt Jr. watches one of his shots at the Tour Neediest Kids Championship in Potomac, Md., in October 2012. (PGA Tour)

Philip Pettitt Jr. has bounced back from an early season slump and riding a wave of confidence heading into next week’s News Sentinel Open presented by Pilot at Fox Den Country Club.

His year on the Tour began with 10 missed cuts out of 14 events, but he’s coming off a run of three made cuts in four stops — including a third-place tie in the Boise Open on July 28.

Now, it’s back to familiar surroundings for Pettitt, who played golf for Tennessee 2004-08. This will be Pettitt’s third time playing the event.

“This year, my attitude going into it, no doubt, I want to win,” Pettitt said. “That’s all I’m shooting for.”

Pettitt, who lives in Murfreesboro, didn’t play in this week’s Tour stop in Springfield, Mo., as he prepares for the stretch run of the season.

After the News Sentinel Open, there are four more events before the tour’s championship Sept. 26-29 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

“I’m taking a week off and practicing and resting up at home and getting ready for Knoxville and the final push,” Pettitt said earlier this week. “We play basically 10 weeks in a row. This was a good week to get some rest.”

His outlook now is a lot better than a few months ago.

It was a most difficult stretch in his pro golf career, which started in 2008 on the Hooters Tour.

“It was definitely, no doubt, the most frustrating and challenging first half of the year I’ve had,” Pettitt said. “I’ve been a pro for five or six years now, and the first half of this year was rough. I had bad stretches and bad spells, but I stuck with it and kept working and grinding and worked my way out of it.”

Pettitt’s recent run of made cuts started with a tie for 30th (July 14) in the Utah Championship.

After missing the cut at the Midwest Classic in Overland, Kan., Pettitt went to Boise, where he held the lead after 54 holes. He finished 22-under par and missed a playoff by one stroke — but still earned $40,300.

His tie for third matched his best finish.

“I got off to a good start (in Boise),” he said. “I was very comfortable all week. Of course, I wanted to win it. I wanted it bad. But I came up one shot short, but it was a great week. The money I earned, and where I am on the money list is huge. Now I’m officially locked into the playoffs, so now all I’m basically looking forward to is Knoxville and the playoffs, so I’m looking at getting my PGA Tour card that way.”

After a 27th-place tie in last week’s Mylan Classic in Canonsburg, Pa., Pettitt is No. 43 on the Tour’s money list ($85,223).

Pettitt gives some of the credit for the turnaround to his friend and former UT teammate, Cameron Lawrence, who caddied for him earlier in the season during his tough stretch.

“He just said, ‘You’re miserable,’ ” Pettitt said. “He just set me straight and called me out pretty good. He said you need to get back to the Philip I know, happy out there, enjoying it, and being more positive.”

That was how Pettitt climbed his way through four years of the Hooters Tour and onto the Tour last year, when he finished No. 41 on the money list ($135,745).

Pettitt said his personal life is better than ever. He is engaged to marry Laural Vaughn in November.

“This has probably been the happiest I’ve ever been off the golf course this year, but the most pressure I’ve been on the golf course,” Pettitt said. “I’m getting married in a few months. I love it. I can’t wait.

“But it’s just a challenge of trying to balance a lot more than just me and golf. It’s been a learning curve, no question, but I’m learning, I’m battling and I keep getting a little better at it. I’m excited.”

Pettitt tied for 66th in the 2012 News Sentinel Open, and tied for 60th in 2008 when he got a sponsor’s exemption.

He’s looking forward to a big week.

“I still have a lot of friends in town,” Pettitt said. “I’ve been on the road for weeks. I don’t get much support on the road, so I’m excited to come home.”

Dave Link is a freelance contributor.

News Sentinel Open presented by Pilot

At Fox Den Country Club

Sunday: Food City Kids Clinic (3-5 p.m.)

Monday: Summit Medical Pro-Am

Tuesday: South College Shootout featuring Phillip Fulmer and Bruce Pearl (5-7 p.m.)

Wednesday: Calhoun’s Pro-Am

Thursday: News Sentinel Open first round

Friday: News Sentinel Open second round

Saturday: News Sentinel Open third round

Sunday: News Sentinel Open final round


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