By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium
BENTON HARBOR — A St. Joseph resident was able to spend a relaxing weekend in the sun watching pro golfers tear up the greens at the Senior PGA Championship.
The only difference between Paul Rooker and thousands of others was his vantage point. Rooker walked the course as a caddie for Jerry Pate.
Rooker was able to do so because he knows Pate from college, where both men played for the University of Alabama’s golf team. Rooker attended Alabama from 1973-78, which overlapped with Pate’s collegiate career.
“My first two years at Alabama were his last two,” Rooker said with a twinge of Southern accent. “I was a freshman when he was a junior. My game kind of went south my sophomore year and he went on to become a pro though.”
They’ve kept in touch over the years. However, they’re unable to see each other that much because of Pate’s schedule.
When Rooker first moved to Southwest Michigan 20 years ago from Tuscaloosa, Ala., he was looking for a job and began to caddie at Butler International in Illinois.
Fate did not reunite the two friends until the third time the Senior PGA came to Benton Harbor.
Pate was injured in 2012 and had another obligation in 2014, so this was the first time Pate played the event at Harbor Shores.
“I called him and asked him if he was coming up,” Rooker said. “If he was, I said I would caddie if he needed one. Later on he called me up one day, and asked, ‘All right, you gonna do it?’”
While he has caddied before, Rooker admitted he did some things wrong on the course during the first round. Rooker said the other caddies were kind enough to remind him how the pro caddies handle things.
“There is this etiquette between the caddies you have to figure out on the go,” Rooker said.
When he’s not hauling golf clubs for a friend, Rooker is in the gaming business. He works as a pit manager at the Majestic Star Casino and Hotel in Gary, Ind.
Golf and family
Other than doing the loop with Pate, the best part for Rooker this weekend has been hanging out with his two daughters, who volunteered as standard bearers.
Courtney Rooker, 18, and Cailey Rooker, 15, walked the course with golfers, holding the sign with the players’ names and scores on it.
A lot of First Tee participants like to volunteer as standard bearers because they get experience inside the ropes with the players.
On Friday, Cailey was a standard bearer with her dad’s group, which included Pate, David Eger and John Jacobs. It was Cailey’s first time as a standard bearer.
“It was interesting seeing how the players reacted,” Cailey said. “You are so close to see them react in different ways to their shots. You don’t see that stuff on TV. I always wondered what they say to themselves before they hit a shot.”
Courtney was in the group of golfers in front of her dad and sister, where she walked with Tommy Armour III, Andre Bossert and Clark Spratlin.
“When we play, we have books to look at for yardage, but the players go through such an extent and think out their shot,” Courtney said. “It comes with years of experience with being able to eyeball the yardage. Deciding on what club to hit, they refer to what they found out in the Pro Am and the practice round.”
After the first round on Thursday, Courtney said they met up with the Pate family for a meal.
“It’s kind of (Pate) to let my dad tag along and caddie for him,” Courtney said. “It’s cool he gets to interact with someone he played in college with.”