U.S. SENIOR OPEN
Alternate Hunsucker in Field After Cancer Surgery June 26, 2019 | South Bend, Ind. By David Shefter, USGA

Chris Hunsucker will play in the 40th U.S. Senior Open just three weeks after undergoing colon cancer surgery. (USGA/Michael Reaves)

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Chris Hunsucker knows what it’s like to come close.

In 1993, he missed securing a PGA Tour card for the ensuing season by two strokes in the finals of Q-School.

Since turning 50, he nearly qualified for the Staysure Tour (European Senior Tour), and lost in a playoff for a spot in the Senior Open conducted by The R&A. And for the last two years, he’s been a first alternate for the U.S. Senior Open.

But those pale in comparison to what occurred last month following a routine medical procedure. Hunsucker, 54, of San Antonio, Texas, was diagnosed with stage 2 colon cancer.

Eleven days after receiving the news, he remarkably shot a 1-under 71 in a U.S. Senior Open sectional qualifier at The Woodlands Country Club in Spring, Texas, then survived a 2-for-1 playoff to earn first-alternate status. A week later, doctors removed a portion of his colon and 24 lymph nodes. And nearly three weeks removed from surgery, Hunsucker found himself on the grounds of The Warren Golf Course at Notre Dame competing against the world’s best 50-and-over golfers.

Talk about a whirlwind month.

“I’m so excited,” said Hunsucker after his Tuesday practice round. “I feel really good. My energy each day … is getting stronger.”

Yet if it weren’t for his wife, Michelle, Hunsucker might not be here. Last July, his doctor recommended a colonoscopy after being diagnosed with anemia, a condition in which red blood cells don’t carry enough oxygen to the body’s tissues. The condition causes fatigue and Hunsucker now believes the cancer was stealing blood from his system. But instead of taking his doctor’s recommendations, he procrastinated.

“I blew it off,” he admitted.

It wasn’t until their physician called to schedule his wife’s colonoscopy that she secretly scheduled one for her husband. It just might have saved his life.

Fortunately, the cancer was caught before it spread to other areas. No radiation or chemotherapy was required.

Amazingly, Hunsucker managed to play through his qualifier without incident, although it wasn’t easy.

“The last five holes I was either on one knee or lying down,” said Hunsucker. “I was determined to do it. I was hitting the ball well. I was just tired. It’s humid and hot [in Texas]. Overall, the heat just drained me.”

For a man who has endured so many close calls, his break finally came on Sunday. The USGA had informed Hunsucker he was high on the allotment list should an exempt player withdraw. So he drove up to Evansville, Ind., where he has a membership at Victoria National Golf Club, and practiced. The expected call came on Sunday when 2003 champion Peter Jacobsen withdrew.

This will be Hunsucker’s first U.S. Senior Open and first USGA championship. In the early 1990s, the University of North Carolina-Charlotte graduate played what was then called the Nike Tour (now Korn Ferry Tour) for four seasons. He also spent three seasons playing in Asia until marriage and three kids altered his career path. Hunsucker became a golf instructor – he teaches at a pair of driving ranges, Mac Wylie Golf (San Antonio) and Oak Valley Driving Range & Par 3 Course (Helotes) – until he turned 50 and got the competitive itch again. By then, his kids were in junior high and high school so he could sneak away to play Monday qualifiers. Three years ago, he won the Texas State Senior Open.

Now he’s on the biggest stage in senior golf. His wife and daughter, Kyleigh, plan to be on the property in time for Thursday’s first round. His middle child, Carson, who plans to play for the University of Houston in 2020, is serving as his caddie. His oldest child, Croy, couldn’t make the trip because he has orientation at the University of Texas-San Antonio.

Now it’s a matter of pacing himself while adhering to a stricter diet featuring long grains, brown rice and vegetables. On Tuesday, he walked several holes of his practice round to conserve energy while still mapping out a strategy.

When the round concluded, he posed for a photo with Tom Pernice Jr. and his son.

To think, 16 days earlier he was being discharged from a Texas hospital.

Those close calls suddenly don’t look so bad.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

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