For as long as he can remember, Ryan Peterson's barometer on the golf course has always been Joey Cummings, his former high school teammate at Duluth (Minn.) East, his frequent playing partner at Ridgeview Country Club in Duluth and his current college teammate at UW-Superior.
And nothing stirs up a hornets nest quicker than when the two Yellowjackets compare scorecards.
"Joey and I hate losing to each other," Peterson wrote Saturday in a text message to Wisconsin.Golf. "And I don’t say that lightly. We joked around after a few tournaments this fall saying 'I don’t care if I shot 100, but Joey better shoot 101.'”
Indeed, Peterson emerged from the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference Championship at Pebble Creek Golf Club in Becker, Minn., as the runaway medalist after a 4-under-par 68 in the final round gave him a 54-hole total of 5-under 211 (14 shots ahead of runner-up Brady Raph of Minnesota-Morris). But Peterson admitted that Cummings, who finished third at 11-over 227 after a closing 78, inspired him to reach new personal heights.
"I found myself asking Coach (Paul) Eberhardt how Joey was playing throughout the week," Peterson wrote. "At times, knowing where Joey was made me make shot decisions to one-up him, which helped me take my mind off of a bogey or double bogey. Our competitions together are always a fun battle and will continue into the national tournament."
That was the frosting on the cake for Peterson and Cummings, who are poised to graduate this spring with degrees in Finance and Transportation and Logistics Management, respectively. They will get one more tournament together — the NCAA Division III Championship in little over a week in Wheeling, W.Va. — before they go their separate ways and venture into the real world.
Their 1-3 finish helped UW-Superior win the UMAC team championship for the third year in a row and earn the conference's automatic berth to the NCAA Championship, which was where the program would have ended the 2019-20 season until COVID-19 canceled all NCAA spring championships. The Yellowjackets also counted a 75 from junior Sam Albrecht and an 81 freshman Cody Stanisch in their final-round 302 that gave them a winning total of 48-over 912 — 63 strokes ahead of the University of Northwestern (Minn.).
"Three of the five guys would have went for us last year and one (Cummings) added a double major so he could come back and be a part of getting back," Eberhardt wrote via text to Wisconsin.Golf. "(I'm) very happy for our guys to get another opportunity to get the experience of an NCAA."
Peterson, who played the No. 2 position for Superior, clearly wanted it as much as anybody.
He played his front nine in even-par 36 after a birdie at No. 2 and a bogey at No. 8 in between pars on the other seven holes. But then Peterson kicked it up a few notches on the back nine, adding a birdie at No. 11 before rattling off three birdies in a row starting at No. 15 and parring No. 18 to close out a 4-under 32 on the inward nine.
"Going into this week my game has felt very good," Peterson wrote. "I had more confidence in my swing than I have had in a long time. Last year, I posted three consecutive even-par 72s in the conference tournament and was told that nobody has finished a UMAC tournament under par. Knowing that coming into today at 1-under. I wanted to make sure I played steady enough to stay there.
"Early in the round, I was kind of scrambling around. But once I made a solid par (3) on (No.) 6, I started to find my game and got more confidence from there."
That spelled trouble for Cummings, who started the day six shots behind his teammate and was 10 strokes back by the time he made the turn.
"They are like brothers in a lot of ways," Eberhardt wrote. "Sometimes, they can get on each other's nerves, but for the most part they root for each other and the competition between them makes them both better. Ryan said he was not going to let Joey beat him at conference.
"They are both great guys and I am very fortunate to have them in my lineup."
Eberhardt joked that he is still trying to lobby the duo to consider one more year on campus with all NCAA athletes eligible for another year of extra eligibility due to COVID.
"I am selfishly trying to convince them for another run because of the new NCAA legislation, but both are ready to move on and it will be a sweet opportunity for them to go out that way," Eberhardt said of the NCAA Championship, where the Yellowjackets finished 38th out of 42 teams in 2019. "We have a couple of other good younger players in our program that should help us stay competitive. We will without a doubt miss Joey and Ryan, but I think they have set the stage for us continue to keep program strong."