2012 Senior PGA Championship at Harbor Shores Golf Club

Dr. Eric Wilson had the honor of carrying the bag of his good friend Ken Martin, at the 2012 Senior PGA Championship. Read along as he recounts his journey!

The journey begins. I’ve luckily been chosen to carry the bag of my good friend Ken Martin at the 2012 Senior PGA Championship at Harbor Shores Golf Club inBenton Harbor,Michigan, from May 20 – 27. Ken qualified for the Senior PGA Championship by finishing second in the 2011 Senior Professional National Championship at Creighton Farms Golf Club inVirginia, shooting a course record 66 in the second round. I caddied for Ken last year in the 2011 Senior PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky, where he made the cut (Tom Kite did not make the cut), so at least I know what it is like to carry in a major championship. For those of you who haven’t caddied professionally, it is not a “walk in the park.”

Carrying a 40 pound golf bag, maintaining awareness of where everyone in the group is, locating your player’s golf ball after his drive, confirming yardages, repairing divots, tending the flagstick, cleaning your player’s golf ball, and affirming the break on putts are the basic duties, including the all-encompassing three “ups” – show up, keep up, and shut up. It is going to be a great week!

Our trip started with a 4:30am wake-up on Sunday morning; I spent the night with Ken at his home inWellington,Floridaso we could take one car to the airport for the trip. It is absolutely amazing how much a player must pack for a week of competition – clothes for all types of weather, clubs, balls, shoes, umbrella, caps, computer, books, sharpies, energy bars, and most importantly, the necessary paperwork to get into the championship. Arriving at theWest Palm Beachairport, the trip through security was uneventful, and the two flights (one toAtlantawith the connection toSouth Bend,Indiana) were pleasantly smooth. I felt a bit silly when Russ Cochran (PGA Champions Tour Player/winner) sat next to me on the first flight, and I didn’t recognize him. After introductions, he told me how he was coming out of a wrist injury and was hoping for a pain-free week inMichigan. Russ was very friendly and was pleasant to all who recognized him.

The connection in Atlanta was quick, and we were on our way to South Bend. Arriving atSouth Bend, Ken checked in with thePGACourtesyCarCenterand got a Mercedes S550 for the week while I retrieved his luggage (I stuffed everything I needed into a carry-on bag, as all caddies need is shorts, shirts, outerwear, and tennis shoes). The drive from South Bend to Benton Harbor, Michigan was just over an hour and we arrived at the golf course around 12:30pm, after stopping for lunch at a Panera’s along the way.

I checked in at Caddie Central to get my credentials and necessary information and the all-important towel, while Ken unpacked his clubs and got ready to practice/play. We went to the range, where Ken began his warm-up routine. It was amazing how many people knew Ken and introduced themselves as he worked his way to the hitting area. Ken’s swing was smooth and efficient from the first wedge to the final driver. We decided to strike out and play/plan the golf course starting at number 1 around 2:00pm. No one else was on the tee, so we had the course basically to ourselves. It was a study in intensity watching Ken map his way around the course, hitting his tee shots and shots to the green, calculating the “happy place” landing areas and places to avoid off the tee. Once on the green, Ken spent plenty of time charting the breaks, grain, fall-lines, slopes, and landing areas. He calculated yardages and used “DA” as an indication of taking “Dead Aim” at the exact yardage, then using + or – to determine the amount of yards short or long to land to account for backspin or roll-out, based on the club he would hit into the green.

The green complexes are unbelievable in the amount of slope and contour; Nicklaus outdid himself on this layout. The greens have been the discussion point in the caddie area and among the players. If they speed the greens up and firm them up, there are a couple that will become almost unplayable. The routing of the course was spectacular. Nicklaus used over 500 acres of land along the coast ofLake Michigan and the bordering the Paw Paw river to carve out some great golf holes.

The course plays around 6,800 yards, but Nicklaus’s use of water, wetlands, bunkers, and hills make the course play longer than the actual yardage. There are many places that require shuttles to get players/caddies from one green to the next tee box, and the 18th green is literally at least a 5-minute ride to the clubhouse. We finished the front nine around 6:15pm (over 4 hours of playing/mapping/planning) and headed to nuber 10 as a weather front began to move in.

The beautiful 80+ degree day began to turn cooler and clouds rolled in off the lake as we teed off on the par-5 tenth hole. We got through number 11 around 7:00pm and made the decision to go in to avoid the weather and take care of the back nine tomorrow (Monday). We packed the car and headed 20 minutes south to check into our motel in the small town ofSawyerand grab a bite to eat before turning in. We found a nice little restaurant a few minutes from the motel called the SOE Café (no idea what the name stands for). We had a nice, relaxing dinner and talked about the golf course and our plans for tomorrow. We got back to the motel around 9:30pm and decided to meet in the lobby at 7:30am and get to the course around 8:00am for Ken to check in, as player check-in was not open on Sunday. I was worn out from the long day on the course, and after reading a few pages about Titanic Thompson, I fell asleep thinking about the coming week.

The 6:30am wake-up came early Monday morning, and I found some aches and pains that hadn’t been there the day before. Checking the weather, it dropped into the 40’s overnight, and the high for Monday was predicted to be in the 50’s and 60’s with clouds and possible rain. I dressed accordingly (khaki shorts, which are required by the PGA for caddies in the event, rain pants,  long sleeve top, and two wind shirts) and headed down to the lobby for a cup of coffee. Ken came down promptly at 7:30am, and we packed up the Mercedes and struck out for another day of work.

Arriving at the course as planned, Ken went to check in as I checked out the practice area and local weather conditions (which were accurate – it was cold!). Ken returned with all the appropriate credentials, and we went to breakfast in the PGA Players/Family dining area. We sat at the only open table, and when we looked down at our place settings, there were two pieces of paper from local elementary school students wishing the Senior PGA players and caddies good luck for the week with a nice crayon drawing of the student playing in his/her favorite activity. When Ken looked at his paper, the student’s name was Kendra (Ken for short), and the name of the student on my drawing was Eric – talk about coincidence and fate!

After breakfast, we went to the driving range to warm up before heading off to the back nine. While hitting balls, Steve Jones (former US Open Champion) came over to talk with Ken and invited Ken to play a practice round with him. Unfortunately, Steve had played the back nine on Sunday and was going out on the front nine today; Ken stuck with his plan to complete the mapping/planning of the back nine today, so they agreed to get together at another time to play (everybody knows Ken). We headed to the back nine around 10:00am, and finished around 1:15pm, returning to the clubhouse and the PGA Players/Family dining area for lunch (wraps, burgers, salad and a drink). Ken had dropped off his Adams hybrids earlier in the Adams club van to get the shafts changed and lie angles checked, so he went to the Adams trailer to pick them up, while I set his bag up in the short game area.

Returning with his new shafts, Ken found an area around the pitching green to practice his wedge pitches from all sorts of lies, replicating what he might find on the golf course. Steve Jubb, Director of PGA Charities stopped by during Ken’s short game work, and we talked about the Pro-am events on Monday and Tuesday and Steve’s responsibilities during the tournaments and pairings parties. Steve had to leave to go to Notre Dame and the pairings party, so we said our goodbyes and told Steve we would see him back inFloridanext week.

Ken worked his way around the pitching green and onto the putting green, where he went through his putting routine, putting three balls from seven different locations at lengths of 9 feet, 20 feet, and finally 3 feet. As we wrapped up and prepared to grab dinner, Ken recognized Dr. Lanny Johnson rolling a few putts with his signature putter. Ken took me over and introduced me to Dr. Lanny, and we listened to the Dr. tell us about his new grip invention for clubs and putters. The grips, called Synapse Grips, were interesting and his experiments were even more intriguing.

We finally left the putting green around 6:45pm, and found the Greenbush Brewery in Sawyer for dinner, consisting of a local brew and a roast beef sandwich for Ken and a ham and cheese sandwich for me. Last call came at 8:00pm (the sun was still up!), so we left the brewery and got back to the motel around 8:45pm. Another long but fulfilling day on the golf course! Didn’t read much, as I fell asleep very quickly. Ken decided to meet tomorrow morning around 10:00am, as he signed up for a 3:30pm practice round with James Mason, who plays on the Champions Tour. Ken plans on easing into Thursday’s first round by playing 9 holes Tuesday and Wednesday;, and practicing lightly and putting in more short game work that anything else – sounds like a great plan to me.