Chad Sorensen, PGA, Healing Through Competition at KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship
By Bob Denney, PGA Historian Emeritus
Chad Sorensen was cooling down after his first round in a major championship Thursday at Southern Hills Country Club, when U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Steve Stricker passed by.
Such intersections with golfers who Sorensen admires are commonplace when you’re inside the ropes at the 2021 KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship.
For the 52-year-old PGA Head Professional at Buena Vista Golf Course in Taft, California, the Stricker sighting brought back instant memories. Sorensen used to mark “WWSSD” on his golf ball to honor his favorite golfer.
“‘What Would Steve Stricker Do’ was my swing thought when I was hitting wedges,” said Sorensen, who posted a first-round 6-over-par 76. “I didn’t switch the marking until four years ago. I stuck a sleeve of golf balls in Steve’s locker this week, hoping that he might sign them for me.”
Nearly four years ago, on July 20, 2017, Sorensen’s world—and how he marked his golf ball—changed forever. That’s when his wife, Raeleen, 51, and daughter Raegan, 19, were killed in Bakersfield, California, by a head-on collision with a drunk driver.
“I tried to put my daughter’s name on the ball, but I found out each time I saw it in the fairway I broke down,” said Sorensen. “I just have an ‘18’ on the ball now. That’s the same date as my daughter’s birthday (April), my wife’s birthday (October) and my wedding anniversary date (November).”
Sorensen made a “bucket list” of goals to honor his late wife and daughter. Earning a berth into a major was one, having tied for 14th last fall in the Senior PGA Professional Championship. This week’s experience carries extra significance with son Clayson, 21, serving as caddie.
“My son and I talked about how we might not hold it together once we finish a round on 18,” said Sorensen. “Making the cut would be something else, and is probably out of reach, but we were just trying to come here and enjoy ourselves. My daughter used to say, ‘Dad, you’ve got 18 holes, don’t worry about it. You’ve got 18 holes to play.’”
Also standing in his way, Sorensen hasn’t played a competitive round since January. The coach of both the men’s and women’s golf teams at Taft College, he’s had to oversee 26 events since mid-January, as the teams schedules ran concurrently due to the pandemic.
“My son has actually played for me on the men’s team an extra year due to COVID,” said Sorensen. “It’s been fun, and he’s the No. 1 player on my team. We travel in vans all around California, and he is now caddying for me. He’s kept me on the tightrope pretty good.”
Clayson, on his way to pursuing a career in the tech industry, works for his father in the golf shop at Buena Vista Golf Course and will transfer to California State University, Bakersfield next year.
Chad has a new partner, Launa Morton, who was in the gallery Thursday. Her daughter was friends with Sorensen’s late daughter, and Morton used to be in a “bunco” game group with Sorensen’s late wife. A friend suggested that Chad call Launa, and they began dating a couple of years ago.
“I told my son that I think I’m going to ask Launa Morton out, and he said, ‘Dad, if you end up with her, I’m good with that.’
“‘Oh man,’ I thought, ‘does that make it easier?!’ Launa’s amazing and nothing but positive in my life.”
Chad and older brother Alan, a PGA General Manager, are co-owners of Sorensen Brothers Inc., a golf course management firm that operates two courses in Kern County -- Buena Vista and North Kern Golf Course.
“We’re like Jekyll and Hyde, two different individuals, but we balance each other out extremely well,” said Chad. “He’s more of the guy that has the ideas and makes things look good, and I’m the guy who grinds it out and makes sure the mowers are going. He tries to increase the income, and I’m the guy who tries to control the costs.
“As we’ve gotten older, we have gotten closer. He has been through a divorce, and I‘ve been through what I’ve gone through. We talk to each other on the phone each day. He called me this morning and said, ‘You belong out there. You’re good enough, just play your game.’”
Alan Sorensen said Thursday that a friendly brother rivalry has carried over into Southern California PGA Section events.
“He’s always been a good player,” said Alan. “When he qualified for the L.A. (Nissan) Open a few years ago, we were playing at the Section qualifier at Hacienda Country Club. It used to be two spots to go, but now it’s one. We started on opposite nines that day. When we passed each other on the course, I was 2-under at the time, and he was 1-over. I thought I had a great chance to win. He ended up birdieing five holes on the back side and finished first. I was a stroke back in second. So, I had to caddie for him.”
With playing in a major off his “bucket list,” Chad says there’s still one entry he’s anxious to cross off.
“That would be Clayson having kids,” said Chad. “My daughter was pretty much engaged before her death. She and her boyfriend were going to have a big family.”
As father and son walk the Southern Hills fairways, Chad said he has come to grips with his healing process.
“I didn’t know how long it would take, and now I know it’s never going to be over,” he said. “You break down sometimes, and other times you have happy memories. Sometimes you go down a whirlpool, and all of a sudden you are in the depths of despair and just look at pictures, hear songs that take you back.
“But being here (at the Championship) is a big one. When COVID hit, they cancelled the (2020 KitchenAid Senior PGA) Championship and all the exemptions were thrown out. We had to qualify all over again (at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Florida last fall). Well, I made it before, and made it through again. I’m two-for-two, but I got to play one.”
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