In this era of specialization in sports, you don’t see a lot of Division I college golfers who have a history of playing football. It seems we are in an era where child prodigies are playing one sport year round in an effort to be the next Tiger Woods.
That is why Clemson freshman Turk Pettit is so rare. In addition to winning the 2016 Alabama State Amateur on the golf links, he was the starting quarterback at Lee Scott Academy in Auburn, Ala., for two years. He took the team to the state playoffs twice and was named to the AISA All-Star Game.
He played two different styles of offense, one that allowed him to pass for over 1,000 yards and rush for 360 yards as a junior. As a senior, he was a “wishbone” quarterback who rushed for 760 yards and nine touchdowns. He averaged 8.4 yards per carry and showed his all-around abilities in one game when he had a 51-yard punt return for a score. He also started in the secondary.
With his dual-sport status, Pettit did not get the exposure from a golf standpoint that many juniors receive. He had an agreement with his high school football coach that he put the clubs up on June 24, and they stayed in the closet until after football season.
Fortunately, Clemson head coach Larry Penley and associate head coach Jordan Byrd got to see Pettit before that window closed.
“We first saw Turk when we were recruiting (current Tiger golfer) Kyle Cottam,” said Penley. “I sent Jordan to see Kyle play in the third round of the Southern Junior Amateur in Mississippi. Kyle and Turk were at the top of the leaderboard going into the third round, so they played together.
“Jordan called me after the round and I asked him, ‘So, how does Kyle Cottam look?’
“Jordan replied, ‘He is a very good player, but you should see the guy he played with today’.”
Turk shot a 67 that day and ended up winning the tournament by a couple of shots over Cottam.
“I told Jordan to stay and extra day to see Turk play.”
Penley has always been a fan of multi-sport athletes in his program, so the fact that Pettit put clubs up during football season did not bother him, and he continued to recruit Pettit.
“I came up to Clemson in August and went to preseason football practice,” said Pettit. “One of my best friends at my high school is the nephew of Thad Turnipseed. So, I got to go to football practice that day. It was a great experience.”
Penley remembers it well.
“Thad told Dabo (Swinney) all about Turk, and he took him right on the field and they stood together during practice. Dabo couldn’t have been nicer to him. I was smiling the entire time. I know Turk got a kick out of it.”
Fast forward four months and Clemson defeated Alabama to win the national championship, and the high school football player from Auburn, Ala., decided to come to Clemson. Geography also was in Clemson’s favor in his decision to come to Clemson, because the Pettit family decided to move to Boone, N.C., about the time Turk came to Tigertown.
Pettit had an amazing freshman year, recording a 70.97 stroke average, one of the top-10 marks in Clemson history and third best by a freshman. His freshman year included five top-10 finishes, but all five were top-three finishes. In consecutive tournaments, he finished second at the Puerto Rico Classic, where he led Clemson to the team championship, third at Bandon Dunes, a tournament in Oregon, won the Irish Creek Invitational and finished second at the Clemson Invitational. He was named a first-team freshman All-American by the Golf Coaches Association.
Pettit became the first Tiger with four consecutive top-three tournament finishes since 2001-02, when D.J. Trahan had five in a row. Trahan won the Jack Nicklaus Award that year.
He then helped Clemson to second-place finishes at the ACC Tournament and the NCAA Bryan Regional with even-par scores for 54 holes. He finished the year with 18 under-par rounds, second in Clemson history for a freshman behind Doc Redman’s 22 last year, and 11 rounds in the 60s, tied for the most by a Tiger freshman with Kyle Stanley (2006-07).
It was a record-breaking freshman year for Pettit, something that surprised some on the national college golf scene because he was not on the radar as much as some others because of his limited year-round play.
However, Pettit and Penley both agreed it was the best approach.
“I think it allowed me to have a good freshman year,” said Pettit. “I was fresh coming into the season. The break was always good for me.”
“You see a lot of these juniors come to college and they are burned out by the middle of their freshman year,” said Penley. “Turk had that break and didn’t start back up until Christmas. I was very supportive of it.”
With his football background, Pettit misses playing the game, but he has certainly enjoyed being a fan of the Tigers on Saturdays.
“I miss the camaraderie and the brotherhood of being on a football team,” admitted Pettit. “I am a huge football fan, and it has been great to be at Clemson and going to the games when we don’t have a tournament.
“Football is different than golf in that it is such a team game, with 11 players on the field at the same time. In golf, we are out there alone on the course.”
It is that drive that has helped Pettit during his freshman year.
“There is no doubt Turk benefitted from playing high school football,” added Penley. “He is a better golfer because of his experience as a high school quarterback.”