For Michael Putnam, PGA Tour stops have become family outings

As if trying to earn a spot at his fourth professional golf major wasn’t enough motivation, Tacoma’s Michael Putnam had extra incentive to advance at U.S. Open sectional qualifying last week.

His son.

Jantzen Michael Putnam is only 71/2 months old, but he has been traveling around to each PGA Tour stop with his parents, Michael and Kristina.

If Michael Putnam had not earned a place in the U.S. Open, which starts Thursday at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., he would have returned to his new home in University Place.

Since his wife and son were scheduled to attend a bridal shower this weekend in Boise, Putnam would have spent Father’s Day weekend – his first as a papa – alone watching the tournament.

“I remember being in college (at Pepperdine), and my dad telling me the best gift I could give him was spending Father’s Day at the U.S. Open,” Putnam said. “Now that I have a son, Father’s Day means more than just another day on the calendar.”

Since the 28-year-old will be in the Open field this week, he will have his family with him.

When he was a PGA Tour rookie in 2007, the Putnams were in their first year as a married couple. Wherever the golfer went – whether it was the PGA Tour, or the developmental Nationwide Tour the past three seasons – so, too, went Kristina.

“Those first four years I got used to watching 18 holes a day. I never missed a shot,” Kristina said. “So at the end of my pregnancy (last fall) when it was difficult to get around, it was hard for me not to be there.”

When Putnam won the Utah Championship last September on the Nationwide Tour, essentially clinching his PGA Tour card for 2011, he and Kristina began looking into what it would take for a family of three to be full-time travelers this season.

“The best thing about Michael, he was raised in such a great home, so he knows great family tradition and values,” said Mark Lovelady, Putnam’s former basketball coach at Life Christian Academy and close friend.

“And he values the same thing with his wife and his son. He doesn’t want to go through life without them enjoying what he is doing.”

Even if that means overcoming the occasional travel headache.

Putnam’s first tournament this season was the Sony Open in Hawaii, which require a long flight.

“That was a debacle,” he said with a hearty laugh. “I have traveled a lot, but I did not realize how much work it took getting a kid through (airport) security. That whole table at the gate – which is 20 feet long and should be enough for five or six people – we took it all up ourselves.”

Admittedly, Putnam said, if the rest of the early season schedule had required more air travel, Kristina and Jantzen likely would have missed some events. But since the next five PGA Tour stops were in California or Arizona, the family made the trips up and down the West Coast by truck – with him driving.

“That was our experimental run,” he said.

And he quickly learned what life would be like as a young father.

“We have learned how to prioritize our time,” Putnam said. “I learned the lights are turned out (for bedtime) at 8:30, and that the lights turn on every three hours.”

Since March, when the tour schedule moved to the East Coast, the Putnams have been frequent fliers. They lodge in hotels, even sometimes renting houses with other PGA Tour families.

One of the perks the PGA Tour provides is child day care at the tournaments – which is offered Wednesday through Sunday at hotels, churches or somewhere on-site. The fee is $10 for four hours, and $15 for six hours.

“It is probably the most awesome program,” Putnam said. “And once the children can walk at 2 or 3 years old, they go on field trips to zoos and aquariums. And it is usually the same care-takers every week, so you get to know them.”

The reprieve allows the golfers’ wives, including Kristina, to take a little break to watch some golf, take a nap or run a few errands.

“I get to watch Michael play again, and encourage him,” Kristina said. “And if I need to go to Target, or to the grocery store to get more baby food, to do that without Jantzen, I can do that five times faster.”

The tour season is a grind. Putnam estimates he is on the road 35 weeks out of the year. But everywhere he goes, his family is close. He even has a couple of family photos attached to his golf bag.

And last week at the FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis, Tenn., as Putnam walked to the 18th green in the second round, he saw Jantzen watching him play for the first time.

The result?

“One hole,” Putnam said. “Birdie.”

Todd Milles: 253-597-8442