Karnazes on the adventure of a lifetime

We had just teed off on No. 18 at Prairie View Golf Links in Worthington Friday as we hopped in our cart in an attempt to locate our golf balls.

His was in the fairway with a perfect approach to the green. Mine was off to the right, no doubt in trouble.

“What a beautiful finishing hole,” my partner said to me as we approached the crest of the fairway.

After he decided to go around the water which comes between the fairway and the No. 18 green, I found my ball, and hit one of the better shots of the day to the green.

We both bogeyed the hole, ending what has been one of the more memorable rounds of my life.

My partner for the day? Nick Karnazes, or “The Happy Golfer.”

Nick made a quick stop in Worthington on the tail end of his trip of a lifetime.

The Happy Golfer, who resides in San Clemente, Calif. is playing 96 rounds of golf in 96 days in the lower 48 states, and allowed me to tag along Friday afternoon.

At 73 years young, Nick is a very good golfer.

“I used to be a four handicap, but now I’m a 14,” he explained.

Friday, he was much better than a 14.

On a course he had never played, Nick finished with a 40 on each side for a 9-over 80.

“I’m so happy with an 80,” he said. “I’m probably going to go to the next course and shoot a 90.”

The Happy Golfer is playing two 18-hole rounds in each state in 96 days. Playing both his Minnesota rounds Friday, he started at Rose Lake Golf Club in Fairmont with a 7:30 a.m. tee time.

He then packed up and headed to Worthington, hitting the course a little after 1 p.m.

By sure luck, I had heard of Nick’s travels the night before, and decided I would try to see The Happy Golfer, even if it was for a few minutes.

I arrived at the course around the same time was about to hit his first shot. After a quick introduction, an invitation soon followed for me to join him. He already had a cart, so it was just a matter of being able to grab my clubs out of my car and hit the Links.

With virtually no warm-up, I was a little rusty. With 18 holes already under his belt, Nick was coming out swinging.

While neither of us had a great first hole, his game soon picked up.

Mine then followed, and by the time we were on the back nine, we were both playing pretty well.

But not only was the golf great, hearing his stories were even better.

Nick told of his wife, Fran, who he met on a Friday night, and by Saturday, had proposed. They have been married 47 years and renewed their vows five times.

He talked of his children. His son, Dean, had once run 50 marathons in 50 days in 50 states and is the “Ultramarathon Man.” He’s made appearances on many television shows, including the likes of David Letterman. He’s been on numerous magazine covers, and countless other articles and appearances in media outlets.

Nick is just beginning.

At last count, he had been in the newspaper 22 times on his trip, with numerous TV and radio appearances. Someday, he may also be on Letterman or with Jay Leno.

But for now, it’s on to South Dakota, were 36 holes of golf await him.

“I have nine states to finish,” Nick said. “I’ve done 39 states and I have nine more states. I’ve actually finished this state, Minnesota, in one day. I played two rounds, 36 holes. This is the 16th time I’ve played 36 holes. So by playing 36 holes, what that does is allow you to have days off where you don’t have to play at all. Of these 16 times I’ve played 36, I’ve taken seven days off.”

He figures he is about three days ahead of schedule, but he will still finish June 25, when the schedule dictates.

In all, he will travel more than 13,000 miles in his 24-foot Winnebago View. He first began his trip March 22, leaving from San Clemente, Calif.

“I left March 22 at 4:33 from my home in San Clemente, Calif. I drove for seven hours to Kingman, Ariz. and that was my first round,” Nick said. “It was 40 degrees with a 40 mile-per-hour wind, which combined the wind and the cold, it made the wind chill factor of 35. Normally, you don’t hear wind chill. You do in Minnesota and you do big time in Chicago. But in California, you just say the temperature, you never hear the words ‘wind chill’ because you never have a wind chill.

“In San Clemente, the bumper sticker says, ‘Best climate in the world.’ I love the best climate in the world because you play golf every day.”

When winds normally howl through Prairie View, Friday was calm. A slight breeze on a sunny, warm day provided a great day for golf.

“It was fabulous; absolutely beautiful,” Nick said of PVGL. “If you rate them one star, two star, three, four and five, with five being the top, this is a five-star course.”

While he enjoyed his time on the course, he was able to see all aspects of the Links.

On No. 14, he was in a bad spot on the green. On the upper level of the elevated green, Nick had a tough downhill putt.

After Nick, our photographer Brian Korthals and I all took a look at the putt, he finally approached his shot.

“This is so cool,” he said, rolling his ball toward the hole. He missed the putt, but not by much.

This was not a theme of the day. He had 33 putts in 18 holes, and perhaps none better than on No. 11.

Practically laying on the green, Nick had a good read on the putting surface.

“It’s downright embarrassing if you miss a putt after doing that,” Nick said as he arose and picked up his Odyssey putter.

He didn’t need to worry. Nick, who changed putters every time he putts poorly and owns 17, rolled in a beautiful putt as we moved to the next hole.

But Friday wasn’t about the score for either of us. It was about sharing his stories, hearing about his adventures, and most of all, enjoying the course.

“This might be the prettiest course I’ve played on this whole trip,” he said during our round.

Nick picked his courses randomly based on the route he wanted to take. Taking a map out of the U.S. out of “The Mother Ship,” he pointed out where he’s been, and where he’s going. There is a line which cuts the map in half. If the name of the state was written below the line, he played those courses heading East. If it’s above the line, he’ll hit in on the way back home.

So far, The Happy Golfer hasn’t had a negative experience, but that doesn’t mean it’s been all smooth sailing.

“I’ve had to do my laundry on five different occasions,” Nick said. “The first time I did my laundry, I was in hurry and I threw everything in a giant washer instead of the smaller ones. I neglected to think there’s white with reds and the red shirt bled on my white T-shirt. I had a long sleeve T-shirt I liked, it was from one of the races. Two days later I’m wearing the long-sleeve white T-shirt and I’m at a restaurant having a beer and watching sports on TV, and the waitress said to me, ‘Do you do your own laundry?’ It was pink.”

Other than having a few pink clothes, Nick has more stories than could fit into a few hours on the golf course. He told of his experience in Los Alamos, N.M., where there was so much snow on the ground he couldn’t play. A course he was going to play in Mississippi was no longer open in the aftermath of Katrina. He met a 10-year-old boy who only three weeks before, hit a hole-in-one. In Durango, Colo., he was offered elk jerky which his playing partner had shot and cured himself. Recently, in Ohio, Nick helped with a War Veterans golf outing. In all, he has seen and experienced more in the past 69 days than some do in a lifetime.

But that’s what the trip is about for The Happy Golfer. It’s about meeting people and experiencing new things, and for a few hours Friday, I was a part of his special journey.

It was finally time for Nick to leaving Worthington in his rearview mirror and head for the next state. We said our good-byes, and I wished him luck for the remaining part of his trip.

“Eat, Sleep, Drive, Play Golf, Repeat,” he said to me as he climbed into his camper.

And there’s no doubt he will. 

To follow Nick’s journey, visit his Web site, www.callawaygolf.com/96rounds