Trent Peterson’s family surrounded him in a big group hug after he walked off the 18th hole for the second time Sunday.
The amateur defeated professional Justin Smith on the first playoff hole to win his first Minnesota State Open Championship at Bunker Hills Golf Club in Coon Rapids.
But when the 27-year-old Eagan native took the stage to accept his crystal cup, the welling tears and choked-up speech weren’t only because of his accomplishments. In fact, he won the championship with someone else in mind.
Bill Travis, family friend of the Petersons for the past 35 years, died Saturday at age 63 after battling brain cancer for more than a year. The former president of Hazeltine National Golf Club was the general chairman of the 2002 PGA Championship, so Peterson’s victory Sunday was a fitting dedication.
“It was tough,” said Peterson, who finished at 8-under-par 208 after shooting 71 in the final round. “I knew he was on death’s door, but I didn’t think it would happen that quickly.”
Peterson said he managed to focus at the start of the day, but by the back nine, his grief crept in again. He said he thought, “For Billy,” and was able to pull through.
The night before the final, Peterson’s father, Sheldon, said the family had a toast at dinner, saying, “Bill, rest in peace, and Trent, go win that tournament for Bill tomorrow.” His son made sure his winner’s speech made good on that affirmation.
“I started choking up myself a little bit,” Sheldon Peterson said. “I could sense that he was starting to slowly water at the eye, and then I knew that he was going to have trouble getting it out. But good for him for mentioning it, because Bill Travis was a good friend forever.”
Travis’ widow, Ruth, said her husband always had enjoyed mentoring Trent Peterson in golf and knew he would be happy no matter if Peterson won or lost as long as he had fun. She said it was heartwarming to know her husband was in so many thoughts.
While Peterson had extra motivation to win, the former South Dakota State golfer also knew this performance would be an important personal achievement.
“It’s nice to notch this one off the list,” he said. “There are so many big tournaments to win here, and they’re so hard. Minnesota is so deep in the quality of golf here. To take it down against some of the top professionals in Minnesota is a big deal.”
Peterson opened the tourney with a 9-under 63 and was tied at 7 under with Smith, 32, of St. Paul entering Sunday’s final round. A double bogey on No. 6 put him two strokes behind Smith, but Peterson birdied Nos. 8 and 9. He and Smith trailed Donald Constable by one at the turn, but the former Gopher from Minnetonka bogeyed Nos. 16 and 17 to finish a stroke back in third. Smith went ahead of Peterson with a birdie on No. 14, but he gave it back with a bogey one hole later.
Smith said the windy, rainy weather made precision key, which he struggled with on the playoff hole.
“I was relaxed, but I wonder if I was too relaxed,” said Smith, who also shot 71 Sunday. “I was trying to knock it close and make birdie, but maybe I got a bit aggressive.”
Peterson wasn’t the only one in the playoff dealing with personal distractions, but Smith’s big news from the past week was of a happier nature.
“My wife and I found out [Thursday] we’re going to have a little baby girl,” the former Gophers golfer said. “So it’s been an unbelievable week.”