BENTON HARBOR, Mich. - Bemidji natives Bill and Sarah Israelson were watching their children Andrew and Emily play in a golf tournament Saturday when Bill's cell phone rang.
On the other end of the line was a representative of the PGA.
Israelson had participated in a qualifying tournament for the 73rd Senior PGA Championship tournament, which begins Thursday at Harbor Shores Golf Course in Benton Harbor. During that tournament Israelson finished in a tie for 36th place, a placement that was high enough to give him alternate status for the Senior PGA.
"At first I thought I would make it as an alternate but the longer things went the more it looked like I was going to come up short," he said. "I needed a little help to get in and then all of a sudden people started to drop out."
Israelson monitored the field but as of last weekend he wasn't sure that enough golfers would withdraw. But when the phone ran on Saturday he learned that Tom Watson had injured his wrist and could not play. And Watson's misfortune meant that Israelson would be playing in the Senior PGA.
"It is really nice getting in," Israelson said. "When you have the opportunity to play in a tournament like this, it's icing on your career cake."
Israelson hasn't been playing much golf this spring because he is busy serving as an assistant coach for the Staples-Motley boys and girls teams.
"I'm semi-prepared to play in a tournament like this," Israelson said. "It's one thing to play with your buddies and another to play in a PGA championship tournament. But to get into the field is very nice and it will be a fun experience."
Also in the field is Tom Lehman. When Lehman learned that Israelson was in the tournament, he invited Bill and Sarah to stay at the place he and his wife are renting for the tournament.
The Israelsons quickly accepted the invitation. Shortly after that they also learned that Bill would be paired with Lehman and Olin Browne for the first two rounds.
"Tom and I have played against and with each other during the Birchmont, the Vandersluis, the Resorters and all around the world," Israelson said. "Things couldn't have worked out any better."
Israelson, Lehman and Browne will open their tournament 12:20 p.m. CDT Thursday. The group will begin its second round at 7:10 a.m. CDT on Friday.
Following the group will be Sarah Israelson, who took time off from her family practice physician duties to join her husband.
"Bill was extremely excited to get that call from the PGA and then I wondered what I should do," Sarah said. "But, like I told my mom, you only live once and I'm going along.
"When Bill played in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in 1982 I didn't go and I've always regretted that," Sarah continued. "This time I am going."
Israelson's immediate goal is to make the cut and to do that he'll have to control the tee shot.
"Keeping my driver in play is my No. 1 priority," Israelson said. "The fairways here are forgiving but the greens are a real test.
"I just want to play as well as I can and get my game up to speed as quickly as possible," Israelson continued. "I needed a little help to get here but I'm in the tournament and it's going to be fun."