Petrovic Goes Low to Make it a Hartford Happening June 29, 2018 | COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. By Ron Driscoll, USGA

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When you think of traditional men’s college golf powers, Oklahoma State and the University of Houston come to mind – the University of Hartford, not so much.

But on Friday in the 39th U.S. Senior Open, Tim Petrovic fired a championship-best round of 5-under-par 65 to join first-round leader and former college teammate Jerry Kelly near the top of the leader board – also announcing their joint Hartford heritage to the world.

“He’s always been an extremely good player,” said Kelly of Petrovic, 51, with whom he played three years for the Hawks. Speaking of the journey he and his friend took to the PGA Tour, Kelly added, “It’s easier to make it once you get out here than it is to actually get out here. It took me until I was 28, and it just took him a hair longer. Once he got there, he knew he could do it – especially after watching me.”

Petrovic had seen Kelly top the leader board on Thursday, as the fellow 51-year-old took a two-stroke lead with an opening 66. Kelly followed up with a 69 on Friday, and he leads Petrovic by two after Petrovic’s 72-65 start.

“I drove the ball better today,” said Petrovic. “If you’re playing out of the rough and you’re hitting long approach shots in the rough, it’s going to be a long day.”

Petrovic had a steady start to his second round, parring nine of his first 10 holes. Then he inserted himself into the conversation by playing his final eight holes of the day in 6 under – making birdies on Nos. 2, 3, 5, 6, 7 and 9.

“I actually missed about a 6-footer on 1,” said Petrovic, who got into this championship with a round of 67 at a sectional qualifier in Ankeny, Iowa. “A couple of long putts there on 5 and 6 got me going. I just needed one 15-footer to go in. And once I made one of those, I was kind of off and running.”

As Kelly noted, neither player’s career was off and running out of Hartford. Petrovic stalled for more than a decade, playing on mini-tours. He reeled off some of the names: Australian Tour, Canadian Tour, Moonlight Tour, Teardrop Tour, Tommy Armour Tour.

“To be able to have the career I did from where I came from, it’s pretty much an uphill climb,” said Petrovic, who at times sold cell phones, delivered pizzas and worked for a local YMCA to pay the bills. “But I never gave up and I always saw the light at the end of the tunnel. There were a couple times I was thinking maybe this isn’t happening, and then something good would happen to keep me going for another few years.”

Petrovic got his PGA Tour card in 2002 at age 34, and he won the 2005 Zurich Classic of New Orleans, one of his 26 career top-10 finishes in 383 PGA Tour starts. He has flourished this season on the PGA Tour Champions, with a pair of runner-up finishes that have him sitting 10th on the season-long Schwab Cup points list.

And perhaps he will be there on Sunday, battling his college teammate from the late 1980s for the Francis D. Ouimet Memorial Trophy.

“That would be fun,” said Petrovic. “We’ll be elbowing each other out there if we get paired together.”

No need to pinch each other. They both know just how difficult the journey has been.

Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.

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