May 21, 2013

Former Paschal teammates ready for Colonial debuts

Franklin Corpening and John Peterson have dreamed of this opportunity since childhood

Franklin Corpening has envisioned the scene so many times, he expects to be comfortable if his lifelong dream turns into reality.

In it, the plot never changes. The Fort Worth native and former TCU golfer is walking up the final fairway at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, where friends and family members are part of a huge Sunday gallery. They are waiting to see if Corpening, a Paschal High School graduate, can make the pivotal stroke of tournament week.

“I’m facing the putt to win or to get me in a playoff,” Corpening said. “It’s always at Colonial. It’s always on the 18th hole. Every time I walk up that fairway, there’s always that thought in my head.”

John Peterson, a fellow Fort Worth native and Paschal graduate who played college golf at LSU, understands the feeling.

“In my mind, I’ve probably had 5,000 putts to win Colonial on the 18th hole,” Peterson said. “I’ve had them every time I’ve played there.”

For the first time, the two golfers who grew up playing the course as Colonial members will compete as professionals in Fort Worth’s annual PGA Tour stop. The former teammates on Paschal’s 2004 golf team have tee times in Thursday’s opening round, with high expectations in mind and huge galleries expected for both.

Both golfers are competing this week on sponsor’s exemptions and coming off strong Sunday finishes at the BMW Charity Pro-Am on the Tour. Corpening, 28, finished 21-under par and tied for third, his best career finish on the developmental circuit. Peterson, 24, posted a 15-under total and tied for 23rd.

For Corpening, who will compete as a Champions’ Choice invitee at Colonial, the tournament will mark his debut as a PGA Tour competitor. Peterson has competed in multiple tour events, including a tie for fourth in last year’s U.S. Open. He also finished 60th last month in his Masters debut, as well as eighth at this year’s Zurich Classic in New Orleans.

The opportunity to showcase two homegrown talents intrigues Colonial tournament chairman Bobby Patton.

“I think it’s real exciting just because you have a personal relationship with them,” Patton said. “That’s going to be real exciting for a lot of people.”

The Colonial appearance also could serve as a launching pad to an extended stay on the PGA Tour. Neither player has exempt status this season. But either could lock up a PGA Tour card for next season by using a big payday in Fort Worth as the start of a significant jump in the FedEx Cup standings. A victory would mean a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour.

Because of both players’ comfort levels at Colonial, each envisions sinking the putt on the 72nd hole that he has dreamed about since childhood and slipping into a plaid jacket.

“There’s no reason not to be in contention,” Corpening said. “I’m playing well. I believe I can handle the pressure. I know I belong out there.”

Peterson said: “I can win if I play well. I feel super comfortable. I know where to hit it and where not to hit it. … It doesn’t matter if you’re 24 or 34. I think I can win any time. If you don’t think you can win, you shouldn’t show up.”

The two have been showing up at Colonial since their days as junior golfers. Corpening learned the game by taking lessons from the late Roland Harper, Colonial’s longtime head golf professional, as well as current club pro Dow Finsterwald Jr. Corpening remains a Colonial member, lives less than a mile from the course and practices there regularly.

A former member of his church and junior high choirs, Corpening relaxes while driving to tournaments by singing country-and-western tunes. He said he “would love to try” to be a contestant on American Idol if he can work it into his golf schedule.

Peterson’s family held a Colonial membership throughout the brunt of his time as a junior golfer. But Peterson, who did not take golf lessons at the club, no longer is a Colonial member and lives in Baton Rouge, La. His pro-am round Monday marked his first 18-hole journey at the course since 2011. An avid hunter, Peterson joked that his biggest concern heading into Thursday’s opening round rests with the on-course demeanor of his rooting section.

“A lot of people have reached out through social media, people that I haven’t seen in a while, saying, ‘Good luck. I’ll be there pulling for you,’” Peterson said. “I just hope they don’t get too rowdy and bother other people. I’ve always been friends with rowdy people.”

Although they clearly have different personalities, there is a lot of shared history between the Colonial rookies from Paschal. They played casual rounds together as junior golfers and competed in the Colonial junior club championship. Eventually, they were teammates at Paschal under coach Trampas Wilson, now the coach at Mansfield High School.

Corpening, who already had accepted a scholarship offer to TCU, was the senior star of that 2004 team that won a district championship. Peterson was a 15-year-old freshman who played in every varsity match.

What did they see in each other’s game that season?

“He obviously has a great golf swing,” Corpening said of Peterson. “I knew when he was in high school that, if he would stick to it, he’d be out here one day. We definitely have a connection. I’m happy to have two Paschal kids in the tournament.”

Peterson, as the younger player, always viewed Corpening as a measuring stick for his own game. It was a practice encouraged by Wilson, who led the Panthers to a Class 5A state title in 2006 (Peterson’s junior year) and also coached former TCU standout Adam Rubinson during his tenure at Paschal.

“I knew all about Franklin. I got compared to Franklin a lot when I was at Paschal,” Peterson said. “When coach Wilson was there, he would compare Franklin to Adam Rubinson. Once Franklin left, I got compared to Franklin. Now, [current coaches] compare guys to me. It’s nice to have that to shoot at.”

Peterson said one of the highlights of his high school career came in the 2004 regional tournament in Lubbock. The team did not advance to the state tournament but Peterson posted a lower score than Corpening in the event, boosting his confidence significantly.

“That told me I could play at the next level because he was going to TCU,” Peterson said. “It’s cool that Franklin and I are going to play in Colonial the same year. I saw him for the first time in about four or five years when we were at the same [ Tour] event in Chile. We’ve gotten to be friends again.”

Peterson received his sponsor’s exemption to Colonial early in the 2013 season, based largely on his strong showing at the 2012 U.S. Open and his $327,091 in earnings in nine tour events last season. Corpening had to wait until he was voted into the field, along with Dallas teen phenom Jordan Spieth, by past Colonial winners as one of two Champions’ Choice invitees identified as promising newcomers worthy of making their debuts in Fort Worth.

Colleyville resident Ryan Palmer, a touring pro and regular playing partner with Corpening in practice rounds at Colonial, lobbied past champions to vote for Corpening on this year’s ballot. Corpening expressed gratitude to Palmer, 36, and Palmer’s caddie James Edmondson, a former Paschal golfer who has won multiple Colonial club championships, with helping him adjust to life as a professional golfer.

“I attribute a lot of my getting out here to them,” said Corpening, who had Edmondson on his bag, with Palmer’s blessing, when he earned his Tour card at last year’s PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament. “Ryan means so much to me. He’s been my mentor. I’ve talked with Ryan a number of times about how to handle myself.”

Palmer, a former Texas A&M golfer, said he spent “a couple of years” lobbying past champions on Corpening’s behalf and that he expects his friend to have a successful Colonial debut on his home course.

“He kind of reminds me a little bit of me and how I made it through the ranks, playing the mini-tours,” Palmer said. “I put a lot of effort into talking to guys to get him that champions’ pick. I think he deserves it. He’s a long-ball hitter. When he gets his putter going, he can really go low. He’s got the game.”

So does Peterson. Both Colonial rookies expressed plans to take a more aggressive approach during tournament week than peers because of their familiarity with the course.

“They play a lot of irons and 3-woods off the tee,” Corpening said of touring pros. “I’ve always been a long, straight hitter and I know the lines to take with my driver. I’ll be hitting driver pretty much everywhere ... I definitely want to be in my familiar spots on the course with everything else going on this week.”

Peterson said: “I’ll pull driver more than most guys. … If you get too conservative, you don’t make your best swings.”

Peterson said it would not be out of the question for he and Corpening to play for some personal stakes this week, in addition to their pursuit of a plaid jacket. And he’s definitely fired up about his first trip to No. 13, Colonial’s party hole with its celebrated caddie races.

“We’re all gamblers. That happens out here,” Peterson said. “I’m definitely going to be gambling on my caddie in the caddie races.”

Based on their shared course knowledge, Corpening and Peterson also project as pretty good bets to post some of the strongest performances among this year’s crop of Colonial rookies.

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