John Peterson has laid down a very clear gauntlet for himself: He has to earn $310,000 in his next three PGA Tour starts in order to regain his full status (or 105 FedEx Cup points to secure partial status), or he retires and starts a new career in real estate development in Ft. Worth, Texas.
It really is that simple.
However, Peterson complicated matters on Thursday at Quail Hollow Club when he took the first-round lead at the 2018 Wells Fargo Championship. Of course, in the era of seven-figure first-place checks, the LSU product finishing off the job in Charlotte would mean he not only fulfilled his major medical extension but that he would be exempt through the end of the 2019-2020 season.
That would throw a wrench into the plans of a man who seems practically hellbent on playing his way out of professional golf. Peterson became a dad on October 13 last year, welcoming his baby boy, Luke, into the world. He wants to be a dad, have time at home and spend those important moments with his family -- not grinding on a range and worrying about FedEx Cup points and booking travel and living out of a suitcase. That's admirable.
Asked Thursday about his play-or-retire decision, Peterson sounded like a guy who was happy with being a PGA Tour player but not happy being a pro.
"Don't get me wrong, I don't hate it out here," he said. "They treat you great every week. You have nothing to worry about. I like it a lot out here. I'm just -- you know, I just kind of want to be a dad and like be around my kid and my family more often -- even though, yeah, they're here this week, but they can't come every week. 35 weeks on the road a year or so? It's just not for me."
He added, "I want to be a dad more than I am now. We want to have more kids and we want to be around them more and be better parents."
Peterson made his choice after hand surgery in 2016 to repair a bone issue. He said it took him seven months just to be able to hit a ball again, and even then, he quickly realized he had lost 5-6 mph with his driver. That's like losing 15-18 yards on the field with every tee shot. He's adjusted, but the game isn't the same. Why put himself through all that just to get back to the PGA Tour when you have a wife and a little boy back at home?
Peterson's potential partners in Texas no doubt think he's nuts, and he confirmed as much Thursday. Most people, on the surface, would figure life on the PGA Tour is a dream. Pros play for a ton of money, get amazing luxury vehicles to drive for free each week, stay in upscale hotels and don't want for much. They also rarely get to just spend time with their families. Their marriages and relationships with their children can suffer. When money gets tight because of poor performance or being unable to work, it can be incredibly stressful coming off the game's highs.
So, if you're a John Peterson fan, and you ostensibly root for your athletes to succeed -- by their measure of it, not yours -- then are you rooting for him to come up short? This guy was can't miss in 2011. He was No. 2 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. He nearly won his first start as a pro. He finished fourth in the 2012 US Open. He led the Web.com Tour Finals money list in its first year. The guy has the game to contend and win. But if his heart's not totally in it, then what's the point? Life isn't about going through the motions.
Of course, Peterson wouldn't be upset if he won or finished highly enough to lock up his full status this week. He's just not going to be torn up if he doesn't get there.
"Either way is fine with me," he said. "I've got everything in place for both sides of it, so I'm not going to be bothered if I make it. Obviously I would never be bothered to win a golf tournament out here."
In concept, that could make Peterson more dangerous. Provided he doesn't enter some kind of self-destructive mode at some point over the next three days, he could find himself with a realistic chance on Sunday to win. If he wins, Peterson could get in the Masters, The Players, the PGA Championship. He could also truly set his own schedule. With a win and multi-season exemption in hand, what would stop John Peterson from playing the bare minimum -- 15 -- events to keep his playing privileges? Play when he wants for a few more years and spend the rest of his time with his wife and son. He could even side hustle on real estate development. Or the PGA Tour could be his side hustle. He could have it all.
"If I don't make it, I'm not playing golf anymore," he said. "So I'm kind of freewheeling it out here. I don't really have a ton to lose, just kind of playing golf."