How Michael Putnam got an edge for the US Open by carrying his brother’s golf bag

Michael Putnam reacts after making a putt on the third hole during the first round of the U.S. Open golf tournament Thursday.
Michael Putnam reacts after making a putt on the third hole during the first round of the U.S. Open golf tournament Thursday. AP

There is a local caddie right in the hunt at the 117th U.S. Open at Erin Hills.

OK, University Place’s Michael Putnam is not really a bag carrier. He just happened to play one in 2011 for his younger brother, Andrew, at the 2011 U.S. Amateur.

Where was that USGA championship played?

Erin Hills.

“You learn a lot caddying, because you are not just watching your own player, but other players’ shots, and how they are reacting,” Putnam said. “When you are a player, you are just looking at your shots.”

Earlier in the summer of 2011, Putnam was on a driving range in Raleigh, N.C. when he felt a sharp pain run through his left wrist.

He continued playing tournaments on the PGA Tour, including a tied-for-12th effort at the John Deere Classic.

But his hand continued to ache. And in August, he had a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test done on it. He learned he had fractured his lunate bone, ending his season after surgery.

Bored and sitting at home with a black cast up to his elbow, Putnam asked his sibling if he wanted help at the U.S. Amateur.

“I was a good caddie – I took notes,” Putnam said. “We all stayed in the same room. I slept on the floor. I lived the life of a good caddie.”

Together, they walked five rounds. Andrew Putnam was eventually eliminated in the round of 32 by eventual winner Kelly Kraft.

So this week, when Putnam arrived as one of the 156 golfers in this U.S. Open field, he recognized most of the holes. The biggest difference was that the fescue rough had all sprouted up.

“It makes me feel more comfortable walking around this place,” Putnam said. “I’ve seen it more than most guys in the field.”

And he certainly played like it for much of his opening round Thursday.

Putnam reached the 632-yard 18th hole in two shots with a 3-wood, and two-putted from 30 feet for a birdie to close out his first nine holes.

Then on the first hole, another long par 5, he got on the green again in two shots, leading to another birdie.

At the second hole, a short par 4 measuring 330 yards, Putnam went for the green off the tee. He nearly got there, just coming up short. But his pitch shot took two hops and nearly disappeared in the hole, leaving him a tap-in birdie to move to 3-under.

“The wind was down, the course was soft and the greens were perfect,” Putnam said. “I was able to take advantage of it.”

An hour later, the winds kicked up to 15 mph. The course began drying out. And Putnam made some mistakes, including a double bogey at No. 8 where he had to lay up after his drive landed in tall grass.

He finished with a 1-over-par 73, his second-best opening round ever at a U.S. Open behind his 70 at Chambers Bay in 2015.

“We hadn’t seen this exact wind this week (in practice rounds),” Putnam said. “The greens sped up 2 feet in a matter of 30 minutes. From that point on, it was hard to play aggressive golf.

“But I played pretty well today. It just got away from me, and 1-over was probably the worst (score) it could be.”