2012 Senior PGA Championship Blog #3

Thursday

Thursday, the first day of competition. Ken and I leave for the golf course in the Mercedes S550 at 9:30am, with a tee time at 2:30pm with Blaine McAllister (5 time PGA Tour winner with earnings of $5,227,278.00) and Tim Parun (PGA Teaching Professional at Sail Ho Golf Club inSan Diego,California). The plan was to eat breakfast, practice until 12:00pm, grab a light lunch, take a break, then warm up again at 1:00pm prior to our 2:30pm tee time.

Ken worked his way through his pre-round routine with pitching, chipping, bunker play, putting, then full shots on the range. While Ken warmed up, I picked up the pin sheets and plotted the pin positions in the yardage book and marked the pin sheets for reference (one for Ken and one for me). Ken made the decision that we would calculate yardages from the original yardage on sprinkler heads in the fairway to the middle of the green, taking into account the + or – yardage of the pin relative to the center of the green; this would speed up the process of calculating the appropriate distance and eliminate the worry of slow play.

At 2:20pm, we walked to the #1 tee box; Ken checked in with the starter (Larry Startzel of the PGA, a friend of ours), and I checked in to get my caddie bib (yellow) for the day’s play. When the group in front was out of range, the starter announced the players on the tee box. Ken and I bumped fists, and he stepped to the tee as the third player in the group. Ken ripped his tee ball down the middle of the fairway, and we were underway.Blaine’s caddie Greg (who has been caddying for 35 years) was 64 years old, and since I am 65 years old, we had 129 years between the two of us in just this group!

Ken maneuvered his way through the first six holes of the course with 1 birdie and 2 bogeys, and the winds were 25-35 miles per hour, with gusts even higher. OnHarborShores’s signature hole #7, a 436 yard uphill par four playing straight towardLake Michigan, Ken pushed his drive into a bunker and ended up with a double bogey. He then pushed another drive on #8, resulting in another bogey.

After parring #9, we ended up 4 over par on the front nine, and it took 3 hours and 15 minutes to complete the nine holes! The winds kept howling, and Ken bore down to play holes #10 – #16 with all solid pars. He then made two heroic par putts of 15 feet on #17 for par and 10 feet on #18 for par to complete his back nine in 35, for a round of 75, 4 over par, leaving him tied for 64th place in the field of 156. The pace on the back nine picked up a bit, and we finished at 8:30pm, a total of 6 hours for the round. The cut would be the top 70 players plus ties after tomorrow’s round.

We finally found a restaurant that was open when we arrived about 9:30pm (Red Arrow Roadhouse), and we had dinner while trying not to fall asleep at the table! Our Friday tee time was 9:30am on the tenth tee, so we planned for a 6:30am departure to the golf course. I finally hit the sack around 11:00pm, setting the alarm for 5:30am, and probably took a good 5 seconds to fall fast asleep!

Friday

I actually woke up around 5:00am on Friday morning and got right out of bed. The last thing I needed was to be late for the 6:30am departure. I went down to the motel lobby and grabbed a cup of coffee while I read a book waiting for Ken to come down. He arrived promptly at 6:30am, and we jumped in the Mercedes for the ride to the golf course.

Arriving around 7:00am, we had breakfast before proceeding to the short game area to warm up. It was interesting to note that there were only 8 players under par after day one, and only one player (Jim Carter) broke par during the afternoon round (when Ken played). Eight other players matched par, so there were only 16 players at par or better at the start of round #2. The golf course was the definite winner on day one!

Ken went through his warm up while I marked the pin sheets and kept track of time – we needed to be at the van to be shuttled to the #10 tee by 9:10am, so we showed up at 9:00am to be sure. We were shuttled to the #10 tee where we checked in again a prepared for the opening tee shots. Once again Ken was third up on the tee and once again he ripped his opening tee shot right down the middle! He missed a 20 foot birdie putt on #10, and made an unfortunate bogey on the par-3 #11, when his short par putt broke sharply off. He made routine pars on holes #12 – #14, holing a couple of solid mid-length par putts along the way. On the par-5 15th hole, Ken smoked a drive and had 220 yards over water to the green.

After calculating all the risks/rewards, he decided to hit his 3-hybrid at the green, instead of laying up. The shot came off perfectly, but just a little right – it hit the green and rolled down into a close-cut chipping area just to the rear of the green. His delicate pitch rolled to within 4 feet, but his birdie putt lipped out – still 1 over par. He pushed his drive slightly on #16 and wound up 2 feet into the deep rough, with water guarding the left side of the green. He aimed at the bunker to the right of the green, and the 7-iron just didn’t draw and ended up in the bunker.

The crowd quieted down as Ken addressed his bunker shot, and he got a little too much ball, rolling his shot through the green up against the rough on the other sided of the green about 30 feet from the hole (the crowd groaned). Ken quickly evaluated his next shot, took his putter, and ran that 30 footer straight into the hole (the crowd went wild!) – still 1 over par. On the par-3 #17, Ken hit a 5-iron to within 12 feet of the hole, but the birdie putt slid by on the low side – still 1 over par. With a good drive and 7-iron to #18, Ken 2-putted for par and finished the back nine (his first nine) in 1 over par 36.

We were shuttled to the first tee box, and Ken kept up his streak, parring holes #1 – #4 – still 1 over par. Everyone was calculating the cut to be around +7 or +8 based on day one scores, so Ken was in pretty good shape. On the 5th hole, Ken pushed his drive into the deep rough, had to chop out sideways, laid up to around 100 yards, and hit a beautiful shot to within 8 feet of the pin. Unfortunately, his par putt lipped out, and he went 2 over par for the day and 6 over par for the tournament. He hit a great drive on the 6th hole, leaving him 163 yards into the wind over a huge gulch. His second shot came out heavy and didn’t carry the gulch.

Things were not looking good now. However, he dropped in the fairway with 143 yards left over the gulch laying 3. Unbelievably, his 9-iron 4th shot lipped out for par, and he tapped in for his second bogey in a row. After a good drive on #7, Ken’s second shot came up short and rolled back down the hill 30 yards short of the green. His very delicate wedge came to rest 12 feet from the hole, but his par putt slid by on the low side. Now he was 8 over par with only two holes left. Talk about grabbing the golf course by the throat, Ken ran in a 30 foot birdie putt up a severe slope on the 8th hole and went to the 9th tee (our 18th hole), knowing he need a birdie to have a chance to make the cut.

He ripped his drive down the left side, and we calculated that he had 240 yards left to the front of the green into a right to left crosswind with two yawning bunkers in the middle of the fairway guarding the green and water all along the left side, right up to the edge of the green. Ken made the decision to hit the 3-wood and take on the challenge. He hit it superbly, but pushed it slightly. It came to rest 30 yards to the right of the green on a tight lie in the fairway. His 64 degree wedge came off precisely and rolled to about 5 feet above the hole.

We both studied the putt from all sides, and Ken decided it would break slightly to the left, but not outside the hole. He stepped up and drained it right in the middle to finish his second nine with a 1 over par 37 and a final round score of 73, and a two day total of 6 over par 148.

Everyone in the group and in the scoring area congratulated Ken on his finish and wished him the best on the weekend, assuming he had made the cut. Blaine McAllister finished 3 over par for the two days, and Tim Parun finished 9 over par. We jumped on the shuttle back to the clubhouse, and Ken went into the scoring trailer while I turned in my caddie bib and headed to the clubhouse to get us a table for lunch. As we had lunch, we watched the scores and saw the cut heading to 5 over par with not that many players still on the course.

After lunch, we went to the driving range to hit some balls and watch for the cut on Ken’s Ipad. Unfortunately, at 6:00pm, we saw that the cut fell at five over par, and Ken had missed it by one shot. Ken ended up tied for 73rd place (the cut was to the top 70 plus ties) out of the field of 156. I know he was deeply disappointed, but I was so very proud of the way he hung in there and finished with two hard-earned birdies. He finished tied for 5th among the 43 PGA Club Professionals in the field (only 4 PGA Club Professionals made the cut).

Considering that Ken earned his way into the field by finishing second in the 2011 Senior Professional National Championship that had a field of 114 PGA Professionals who had to qualify from all 41 PGA Sections, this was quite an accomplishment! We changed our flights back home and leftSouth Bend,Indianaat 7:00am on Saturday to return toFlorida, where I caught up on some needed sleep Saturday and Sunday, before returning to work at The College of Golf on Tuesday.

This is the second year in a row that I was honored to caddie for Ken in the Senior PGA Championship, the oldest Senior major Championship in the world. I can’t thank him enough, as he prepares for the PGA Professional National Championship in a couple of weeks in California and the PGA Senior National Professional Championship later in the year. If you haven’t had a chance to see players of Ken’s caliber play up close and personal, you are missing one of the great highlights in the world of competitive golf. To see the final results of the 2012 Senior PGA Championship, please visit www.pgatour.com and select the Champions Tour tab.