Congratulations, Don! We'll be rooting for you.
Don Thames is a four-time Men's Club champion.
Don Thames tells the story as he’ll tell it for many years to come. It’s a great story -- how he qualified to play in this month’s U.S. Senior Open in Colorado.
Thames, a Murietan playing in the U.S. Golf Association’s sectional qualifying tournament last week near Turlock, was having a good day with the driver and putter. The irons, not so much.
He came to the 18th tee at Stevinson Ranch at even par -- with a chance to win, he figured -- and played a cautious tee shot. Still, he says, it rolled two inches out of bounds. His playing partner did about the same.
“So we trudged back to the tee,” Thames says, “feeling, really, that we had blown our chance. Because we thought the (winning score) would be one under, maybe two, and we were even par going into the hole."
Still, Thames regrouped, hit a good tee shot and a good approach and was lying four on the par-5 hole.
His wife, Carole, was caddying.
"I had walked across the fairway because we couldn't find any yardages,” she says. “So I had walked all over and I was kind of far from him, probably about 20 yards apart, and he goes, 'It's OK, I think I have a feel for this.'"
He remembers she told him, “You've got to hole this shot to have any chance.”
He was 72 yards from the hole, and he hit a low draw he has hit many times. It looked good. It hit, took a few hops toward the pin and started to roll. “It went in like a putt,” he says.
A spectacular whoop of a finish, but still, with the out-of-bounds tee shot it was only a par, and it left him with an even-par round of 72. Not good enough, Thames thought.
When he reached the scorer’s tent, he was told, “You’re the leader in the clubhouse.” Half of the players were still on the course.
Watching the groups come in behind him, he started to change his mind about someone breaking par. He told Carole, “Today, I’m gonna be in a playoff.”
Ric Burgess of Colusa eventually turned in his own even-par round to match Thames. They would face each other in a playoff.
Walking to the first playoff tee, Thames says he wasn’t nervous.
“I felt like I was playing a $3 nassau with my buddies. ... Don't get me wrong. I've been nervous in certain other tournaments and choked and learned from it. But in this particular case, because of the circumstances, I had so much confidence and I had so much adrenaline and I had such a good swing going that I knew I was going to win."
A few minutes later, after Burgess’ putt lipped out, Thames was standing over a three-foot putt of his own to win the tournament.
“It goes through my mind, ‘OK, Don, this is the three-foot putt that you've been practicing your whole life for at the U.S. Open.’ " He quickly stuffed that counterproductive idea away. "So I went through my routine, stroked the putt into the hole and that was the end of the playoff. I was into the U.S. Open."
He and Carole, their eyes moist at the memory, high-five across the table in the Country Club’s 19th Hole.
They’ve been Murietans for 15 years. Married 21 years, they have two daughters. Thames, 53, is a four-time Men’s Club champion. He's finance manager at Elk Grove Buick Pontiac GMC.
Thames has tried a dozen times over the years to qualify for the Open -- both the "flat-belly" or "Tiger" open, as he calls it, and the Senior Open.
Carole Thames caddies for her husband regularly, but it's not certain she'll do that at the Open.
Friends and family -- number uncertain -- will accompany the Thameses to this year's Open, which will be played at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo. It opens with practice rounds July 28, 29 and 30, followed by four rounds of competition, with a cut after the first two rounds.
The field will include names like Tom Watson, Greg Norman, Hale Irwin and Craig Stadler.
It’s not clear yet who will caddy -- Carole or a longtime friend and caddy of Don’s. Despite all her years of caddying for Don, Carole doesn’t carry the bag. She uses a pull cart, but that won’t be the case at the U.S. Open.
If she does have to watch the tournament from the other side of the ropes, she can console herself with this.
She and Don both tell the story of a friend, Murietan John Mehigan, who called down to Turlock the day of the qualifying tournament to find out who had won. “I dunno,” said the person at the pro shop. “Someone from Sacramento.”
Mehigan, growing excited, tried twice more: What’s the name of the person from Sacramento?
The pro shop worker, exasperated, finally told him, "I don't know, but all I know is his daughter was caddying for him."
Congratulations, Don! We'll be rooting for you.
Prunreridge to Broadmoore, fairways and greens like it has always been. You're a winner! Sonnie
Congrats Don! We will be watching you on TV!
Marilynn Macken and the FATS Asia Bistro Crew