It is hard to decide which is the better story coming from the NCAA championship.
Is it Turk Pettit winning the NCAA individual championship, becoming the second Tiger golfer to win the national title?
Or is it Clemson’s retiring coach Larry Penley adding one more highlight to his Hall of Fame career by coaching another NCAA Champion?
When Penley signed the recruiting class of 2017 he told his assistant coach Jordan Byrd they would be special.
Special enough that Penley put aside any retirement plans so he could see the class through their senior year.
Pettit, Kyle Cottam and Colby Patton have lived up to Penley’s expectation.
The three special golfers helped Penley set the all-time record for wins by an ACC golf coach.
And in his last tournament Pettit helped him go out with another win.
Pettit showed he had the game to play the incredibly difficult Grayhawk course when he shot a 2-under par 68 in the opening round.
Pettit moved up from fifth to second b y the end of the second round after shooting a 3-under par 67.
“He is one of the few players in this field who hits such a high iron shot he can hold these greens. He is playing very smart, hitting irons off the tee when necessary and picking and choosing when to hit his driver,” said his coach after the second round.
Pettit held on to second place when he shot a third round 2-under par 68. He would start the final round 2-shots behind Bo Jin from Oklahoma State.
Pettit played the back nine first in his final round. While most golfers considered the back nine more difficult Pettit made the turn at 2-under par and took the lead over Jin.
“I thought the back nine played easier,” said Pettit. I got off to a good start and put it on cruise control,” he said.
While Pettit birdied, Jin bogeyed two holes on his first nine.
Pettit got to 9-under par and a two shot lead by the end of his first nine holes.
Penley joined Pettit for his last nine holes knowing something his golfer didn’t.
“It was nerve wracking. Turk isn’t a scoreboard watcher but I am,” said Penley who knew Pettit was leading.
Pettit bogeyed his 10th and 12th hole while Jin had a bogey and a birdie to tie Pettit after each had played their 12th hole.
With the two leaders playing on opposite nines they would each run off a string of six pars to remain even.
“I managed my game. I aimed for the center of the green and two-putted. I knew pars were really good today,” said Pettit.
Both golfers missed birdie opportunities. Jin missed his best chance to take the lead when a short birdie putt on 17 rolled over the edge of the cup.
Pettit had a testy up and down on his final hole, but he rolled in a five-footer to finish at even par and then found out for the first time he was tied for the lead.
“I never knew I had the lead or was tied for the lead until I finished. I am the type of player who doesn’t want to know. Coach Penley was with me the last nine holes and he never told me. When you look at scoreboards you start thinking about winning and it takes your mind off your game,” he said.
Jin still had to play the toughest hole on the course, number 18.
Pettit had parred the hole, but Jin didn’t and that was the difference. The Oklahoma State golfer missed a short par putt.
“Watching him play the last hole my heart was beating faster than it did all day. You hate to see a guy miss, but you love to win,” said Pettit.
Pettit finished the final round with an even par 70 and a 273 7-under par total.
“I came in wanting to play the best I could play and it was good enough this week,” he said.
Pettit had the option to return for an extra year, but decided to end his college career and could not have gone out on a higher note.
“There is no ceiling for Turk. The bar is raised higher because he does it himself. I know I’m going to be watching him on Sundays a lot,” offered his coach.
As Pettit goes out a winner so does his coach.
In his final year the Penley led Tigers won four tournaments including the 10th ACC Tournament title under his direction.
He ends his time at Clemson having taken the Tigers to 37 NCAA tournaments in his 38 seasons, including 30 trips to the National Tournament.
Penley would not allow himself to consider the end because he wanted the focus of his team to be on the task ahead, but now that the season is over he can look back at his Hall of Fame career.
His 2003 team won the national championship and countless Clemson golfers have had success on the PGA Tour.
“I’m going to sit down and reminisce about the great players and teams we had and have a big smile,” concluded Penley.