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Wives, families of U.S. Senior Open players get VIP treatment
By Clara Kilbourn
The Hutchinson News
Golf wife and geologist Lillian Kearney linked her west Texas gas and oil geology knowledge to Kansas salt on Wednesday.
“It’s fascinating,” said Kearney, the wife of Bob Kearney. She compared the 650-foot mine depth to the near-sea level of her home location. “I’m jazzed.”
Kearney, of Houston, toured the Hutchinson Salt Mine and Underground Vaults and Storage as part of a VIP guest itinerary arranged for wives and families of 2006 U.S. Senior Open players.
Nancy Inman, wife of U.S. Senior Open player Joe Inman, looks at movie reels Wednesday morning at the Hutchinson Salt Mine and Underground Vaults and Storage. Wives of 2006 U.S. Senior Open players were able to tour the site as part of a guest itinerary made available to them. By Catrina Rawson
Joan Fiedler of Camarillo, Calif., and her son, Brett, 13, arrived in town late Tuesday and joined the tour for their first VIP outing. Fiedler’s husband, Jon, a club pro, qualified for the competition on points. He turned the required age of 50 two weeks ago.
Fiedler’s never been to Kansas, but she’s been a Jayhawk fan since sixth grade. Willis Naismith of Lawrence, her teacher that year, touted the Sunflower State.
“Because of him, I’m a Jayhawk fan,” she said.
After UVS President and Tour Director Lee Spence talked about the mine’s output of road salt, Fiedler added a personal observation.
“I’m from California, and I didn’t even know they put salt on the roads,” she said.
The U.S. Open means an opportunity for her son to “see Dad and another part of the country,” Fiedler said.
For sisters Rose Nelson Lietzke and Soozi Nelson Pate, known familiarly as “the Nelson sisters,” this week’s an opportunity to spend quality time together as well as socialize with other golf couples, like longtime friends Andy and Debbie Bean of Lakeland, Fla.
The Nelson girls trace their story back to the days when Jerry and Soozi Pate were headed to Hawaii on vacation and took Rose along as a baby sitter. During that trip, she met her future husband, golfer Bruce Lietzke, now of Dallas.
Golfer Jerry Pate of Pensacola, Fla., who had an afternoon practice tee time, joined his wife and sister-in-law on the morning tour.
“This is work,” he said, nodding toward the two women.
For Lynn Gockenbach of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., and her husband, Keith, a retired chemical engineer and business executive, golf has become his second career and her “vacation.”
A former school psychiatrist, she once caddied for her husband. Wives of golfers “get used to” the ups and downs their husbands experience, Gockenbach said.
“But it’s his game,” she said. “Not mine.”
The group of family members visited the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center on Tuesday. On Thursday, they’ll be out on the course and will follow the competition closely, Gockenbach said.
Kearney’s husband, Bob, a last-minute entry who’s playing as an amateur, just turned 50 last Saturday.
While salt isn’t her brand of geology, Kearney said she’ll return to Hutchinson with family members for another trip down into the mine after the Reno County Salt Museum opens.