‘Crunchy Pete’ Persolja describes Keith Mitchell’s clutch Northern Trust finish
OWINGS MILLS, Maryland — Keith Mitchell and his caddie Pete Persolja aka “Crunchy Pete” experienced some of the FedEx Cup Playoffs’ early drama Monday when Mitchell finished birdie-birdie-birdie to catapult himself to a T-8 finish and into this week’s BMW Championship, going from 101st to 63rd when all was said and done at the rain-delayed Northern Trust.
Mitchell teetered near the projected 70th mark for much of the week, and Monday had no shortage of drama until the very end.
“(Pete) and I pretty much knew that 12 under was going to have a chance and we probably needed some help from some other people. Fortunately we knew 13 was it, and it was the number,” Mitchell, who finished at 13 under, said Tuesday at the BMW. “So when I had the putt on 18, I figured if I made that putt, there was no doubt I was in.”
Persolja felt relief once that final birdie putt dropped after a hard fought round during the midst of an up and down season.
“It felt so great,” Persolja said. “The season has been a roller-coaster ride of good finish, then a bunch of missed cuts in a row. To come back with a solo fifth at Minneapolis after five missed cuts in a row (July), then finishing great yesterday, it’s just been awesome.”
Persolja credits a mindset focused on staying in the moment to the clutch finish on Monday.
“All week long I just tried to stay in the moment, never tried to look too far ahead and obviously never tried to look back, so when it came down to those last three holes, he wasn’t hitting it great off the tee but he did hit a clutch 3-wood on 16,” Persolja said.
Persolja, as always, tries to keep things light on the course, especially after Mitchell set up an eagle chip on the drivable par 4.
“We always have a running joke. If he chips in, I’m buying him lunch, dinner, beers. He went and chipped in three times that week, so I owe him dinner and a couple beers turned into a bottle of wine,” Persolja laughed.
“On 16, once again, we’re staying in the moment and he asked me, ‘what’s this for?’ I kind of joked around and said, ‘I’m gonna change it up. You’ve already got a full meal and a bottle of wine, I’m going to invite our buddy to dinner and I’m gonna pay for it too,’ and he’s like, ‘That’s an awful decision but I’m still gonna chip in.’ He hit a good chip, it kind of stuck a little, but left himself a six-footer and he made it.”
Persolja said Mitchell had struggled off the tee all day, and the drive on 17 was no different when he blocked it right into some wispy rough.
“But as we walked off the tee, I wanted to make sure he didn’t think too much about the shot he just blocked,” Persolja said. “I just said, ‘let’s just get lucky and get a good lie and make the most of it.’ According to stats, we were in ‘parts unknown’ (in a native area 140 yards from the hole). We had a pretty wispy thin lie. He hit a gap wedge 10 to 12 feet over the pin and stayed in the moment to make that putt.”
Persolja felt keenly aware of where Mitchell stood for the finish, though on the last hole he didn’t bring it up.
“We talked about it coming up 17, and we both agreed that 13 under was going to get the job done and 12 under was probably in our favor, but I didn’t say anything about nothing (on 18),” Persolja said.
Sometimes you’ve got to know when to let your player do his thing.
“He knew what he had to do on 18,” Persolja said. “To be honest, it was a downhill putt dropping about a foot in elevation from about 12 feet and, knowing him, of course it hit the back of the cup. That just felt so awesome.”
Mitchell, after driving three hours south Sunday night with Persolja to Baltimore and arriving at 10 p.m., now faces a Caves Valley course this week he’s never played before.
Neither have most of his peers. Should be fun to watch.