Mac Petty still can’t believe how close he’ll be to some of his idols this week.
Wabash College’s 64-year-old golf coach has the prime opportunity of a lifetime when he’ll work as a hole captain at this week’s U.S. Senior Open at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Ind.
With the chance to see Tom Watson; Tom Kite; Greg Norman; Mark O’Meara; Hale Irwin and many more, he’s going to watch some of the legends of his era up close.
For Petty, it’s some treat.
"These are people from my era. I’m really excited about seeing them," Petty said. "I’m excited about Hale Irwin. I really enjoy his golf . . . The seniors don’t excite the [college] players as much as the younger guys do. They don’t understand how much they can learn from these guys. Boy, they can still hit the ball. Their accuracy is phenomenal."
Petty, along with first-year Southmont High School girls golf coach Ken Cushman and Montgomery County residents Mike Hallas and Chuck Fielder will work this weekend’s U.S. Senior Open at Crooked Stick Golf Club.
Petty will serve as an area captain – overseeing the third, fourth and fifth holes – and work gallery control.
Cushman, Hallas and Fiedler will work as hole marshals.
They make sure the fan gallery stays quiet while golfers are at the teeboxes.
They also watch the flight of the ball and signal to people on the fairways or greens what direction the ball is headed.
Other marshals mark the balls on the fairway and make sure they don’t go out of bounds.
Petty found out about the volunteer opportunity through his friend Joe Luigs during a round of golf in April.
A United States Golf Association (USGA) official, Luigs lives on the first hole at Crooked Stick and told Petty the U.S. Senior Open was looking for volunteer workers.
Petty had been interested in helping at the LPGA women’s Solheim Cup in Carmel last year but didn’t sign up soon enough.
So he made sure to register for the Senior Open.
This experience not only gives Petty the chance to watch some of the greats from his era play but to gather lesson ideas and plans for his team.
When professional players play a practice round, they hit a couple of balls out of the teeboxes, on the fairways and out of the bunkers.
They’ll also hit the ball off the putting green from different spots and angles.
In fact, Petty has even seen caddies who put down little disks the size of the hole on the green and have their golfer putt to that disk and take notes about the hole.
By watching the pros, Petty can pick up new practice or tournament ideas.
It’s led him to make small yardage booklets for Little Giants’ golfers so they can keep notes on distances and greens – especially come tournament time.
"Our last tournament, I gave the guys booklets like that," said Petty, who’s coached Wabash for the last five years. "They didn’t get to play the course but they went around and did hitting and took a look at greens. The guys, each day, got better
But Petty is impressed even more by the way these seniors hit off the driving range.
That’s where he picks up tons of training ideas and techniques players can use to improve their swing.
"The most fascinating thing is going to the driving range and watching players hit balls, to sit and watch what they do in preparation for their tournament. It’s really interesting," Petty said. "You’ll see pro golfers put down one or two clubs to make sure their alignment is correct. They put clubs on the ground to make sure their alignment is correct. They hit different clubs different lengths."
Cushman, Fielder and Hallas play golf together.
They’ll serve as marshals on hole No. 2.
But it’s Cushman who got them involved.
Back when the seniors played at Broadmoor Country Club in Indianapolis in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he volunteered as a hole marshal for three years out there.
Cushman enjoyed his experience and was reminded of it when he checked out the Indiana Golf Association Web site earlier this year.
He went online, saw some information about the U.S. Senior Open needing volunteers and signed up for a couple of committees.
Besides working as a hole marshal, he also serves on the construction committee.
"It’s a great experience where you meet really neat people," Cushman said. "You make sure the gallery is quiet, help identify a ball spot if it’s out of bounds and help get the crowd back so [golfers] can get up there and hit the ball. It’s just an opportunity to be inside the ropes."
Soon after, Cushman recruited his two golfing buddies – Hallas and Fiedler – to join him.
A Southmont School Corporation school board member, Hallas has never done anything like this before.
He’s watched professional golfers play practice rounds at Valhalla Golf Club in Kentucky and attended the Western Open (now known as the BMW Championship) three times.
Like Petty, he’s excited about seeing golfers from his era.
"One of the amazing things I like is watch guys hit balls on the practice range, to see how they hit the ball and how effortlessly they swing," Hallas said. "Golf is different than other sports. You can get close to [the golfers]."