Gene Sauers’ U.S. Senior Open win stirs memories for Kevin Carey

 Kevin Carey wasn’t assigned any crystal-ball stuff that day in 1980. No, sir. He was merely told by coach Maxie Boles to assess the present-day stuff.

       “Coach asked me to play 18 with this kid he was recruiting, so I did,” said Carey, who was in his second and final year at Alexander City Junior College in Alabama. “When we were done, coach says, ‘Well, how is he?’ I told him, ‘Sign this kid real quick.’ ”
       The “kid” was Gene Sauers. Boles did sign him. And time has proven that Carey was a pretty good judge of golf talent. Not that those in the Massachusetts golf community need be told that, given that Carey has been one of the area’s most outstanding amateur golfers for parts of four decades.
       But with the 2017 U.S. Senior Open at Salem Country Club just five months away, Carey’s recollection is notable because the guy who’ll be defending his title in Peabody will be none other than Sauers.
       “He could play,” said Carey, who was back home on Cape Cod by the time Sauers actually played for Alexander City (now called Central Alabama Community College). Remember, it was 1980 and pots of gold weren’t at the end of every PGA Tour tournament, so Carey was focused on a dependable job (UPS provided that) and raising a family.
       That one Alexander City teammate (John Huston) went on to win seven PGA Tour tournaments has always thrilled Carey. Now comes some second-career inspiration from Sauers, 54, who truthfully feels blessed to be alive.
    He quit the PGA Tour at 43 in 2005 and labored for years with what was diagnosed a rheumatoid arthritis. Then in 2011 Sauers discovered that the diagnosis was wrong; he had Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, a rare and painful skin disease.
       Told his chances of survival were only 25 percent, “I could only see a small white light at the end of a tunnel,” Sauers said.
       Years removed from college, Carey attended the 1986 Bank of Boston Classic at Pleasant Valley and was there when Sauers won. “I followed him, and I’m not sure how the hell he recognized me, but he did,” Carey said. “He stopped and gave me a high five.”
      They haven’t seen each other since, but Carey has followed Sauers’ story with great interest. He’s thrilled for “the kid” he once scouted, so to speak, and wouldn’t mind the chance at teeing it up with him at Salem CC.
      Unfortunately, that’s a tall order, given that Carey, 61, will have to get through a sectional qualifier May 24. But he is cognizant of the incredible odds that Sauers overcame just to be alive, so Carey understands that when it’s golf, you never know.
Tickets are on sale for the 2017 U.S. Senior Open, which will be played June 26 – July 2, and can be purchased online .
By: Jim McCabe 
Jim McCabe is a freelance golf writer who previously covered golf at the Boston Globe and Golfweek magazine and Follow him on Twitter .