SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - Turk Pettit had a stellar start to his collegiate career at Clemson, winning a tournament as a freshman and posting five top-10 finishes.
One bad round seemed to put him in a funk. Then his clubs were stolen. The tall, lanky player from Alabama appeared to get back into a groove in 2020, only to have the season snatched away by the pandemic.
Perseverance carried him through - all the way to a national title.
Turk kept his composure on at Grayhawk Golf Club's difficult Raptor Course on Monday, saving par from a difficult spot on his final hole to shoot an even-par 70 in the final round of the NCAA men's championship.
Turk finished at 7-under 273 and watched from across the lake as Oklahoma State freshman Bo Jin missed a tying 10-foot par putt on the 511-yard par-4 18th hole.
"Last tournament I ever play as a college golfer and I ended up winning," Pettit said. "I've only had two wins in college golf, so that's pretty special."
The Raptor Course was set up for a battle of attrition, the hot, windy weather and course conditions - particularly those firm greens - forcing players to often shoot for middle of the greens instead of flag hunting.
Pettit stood up to the test, going toe to toe with Jin - even though they were on opposite sides of the course - with superb ball striking and clutch putts.
His biggest came at the 468-yard par-4 ninth, where he made a 5-foot birdie putt after his approach shot from a fairway bunker came up well short.
Pettit's win was Clemson's first individual national championship since Charles Warren in 1997 and sent Larry Penley out on top after 38 years of coaching.
"We never figured out this golf course," said Penley, who announced this would be his last year before the 2019-20 season. "Turk did. Turk had a game that could play this course."
He still had a fight on his hands on a course that got firmer as the winds blew each afternoon.
Jin, the overnight leader by two, had his chances down the stretch after struggling early.
He drove the 330-yard par-4 17th hole, but his eagle putt was well off and he missed a 15-footer for birdie.
Still tied with Pettit, Jin pulled his tee shot into deep rough left of the 511-yard par-4 18th hole - a converted par 5 - and saw his second shot bound through the green into right rough along the lake. He chunked it out to 10 feet and his putt slid by the right side of the hole, setting off a round of cheers by Clemson fans across the lake.
"There's a lot to take away experience wise," said Jin, who shot a final-round 73 to finish 6 under. "I know what things I need to improve on, but just a great experience to be a freshman in the final group and have a chance to win a championship."
Arizona State's Ryggs Johnston finished third at 5 under after a final-round 69.
Johnston seemed to be out of contention after a double bogey on the long par-4 seventh. The sophomore from from tiny Libby, Montana - population of about 3,000 - surged back into contention with three birdies in four holes, starting on No. 9.
Johnston moved to within a shot of the lead at 6 under with a birdie on the par-4 15th and lipped out a 30-foot putt on the par-3 16th. He landed in a bunker well short on No. 17, hit to about 25 feet and left his birdie putt short.
An errant tee shot into the desert left of the 18th fairway led to a bogey, dropping Johnston two back.
"I was just trying to go out and play the best I could," Johnston said. "I wasn't trying to make it too important to win."
Arizona State surged into the No. 1 seed for the start of Tuesday's match play with a 5-under round to pass Oklahoma State.
The Cowboys led Oklahoma by 12 shots and the Sun Devils by 14, but shot 12 over in the final qualifying round before the field was cut to eight for match play.
"The course has played a little different than we're used and I think there's a little adjustment period, especially on the greens," Johnston said. "I imagine all the teams are getting used to how it's going to play and I think we're looking good."
Arkansas' Tyson Reeder had a hole-in-one on the 188-yard par-3 8th and Oklahoma's Logan McAllister aced the 205-yard fifth.
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