Livonia — Chris Whitten attended his first Detroit News/Golf Association of Michigan Hole In One Contest on Monday.
And he wasn't there to participate, since he's never had a hole-in-one — though he did come close earlier this summer at Crystal Downs in Frankfort.
Whitten, instead, was watching one whack after another on the par-3 seventh hole at Whispering Willows Golf Course in his new job, as executive director of the GAM.
Whitten, 39, came to the GAM after 13 seasons on the Michigan men's golf team's coaching staff, the first five as an assistant, and the last eight as head coach.
"I mean, I wasn't looking for anything else," Whitten said of how the job came about. "If I kept coaching, I didn't want to coach anywhere else. I want to be in Michigan."
The word came about, back channel, sometime last summer that maybe Whitten might be a good candidate for the job. It kind of took Whitten aback, but after talking it over with his wife, Amy, he felt perhaps a change would be good.
As Michigan golf coach, he estimated spending more than 100 nights a year in a hotel room, whether for tournaments, recruiting or alumni functions.
That's not exactly ideal with two young boys at home, Graham and Lucas.
So he decided to explore the GAM possibility.
"I didn't even know the job was, to be honest," Whitten said. "It's still in golf, but you go from an eight-man team to 55,000 members, and it's my home state. From a family perspective, we thought about the calendar and being in control of the calendar.
"It was going to be good."
Whitten joined the GAM officially in late spring, after the conclusion of the Michigan golf season. Whitten credited Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel with allowing him to finish out the season.
He replaced David Graham, who came to the GAM in 2001 from the business world, not the golf world, and helped turn around an organization on the brink of bankruptcy.
In Whitten, the GAM went back to someone with a golf background. Whitten's father, Buddy Whitten, played in multiple major championships in the 1980s (even finishing tied for 27th at the 1983 PGA Championship) and then had a somewhat successful rookie season on the Champions Tour (then the Senior Tour) in 1997.
Buddy Whitten was the head pro at Blythefield Country Club near Rockford when Chris was growing up, so Chris had access to fine practice facilities. That said, he was a basketball junkie early. He still is. But he never made it past JV.
Meanwhile, he was breaking 100 before he got to high school, was shooting even par by his senior year, and was on to Notre Dame after that.
"I wasn't one of those college players who thought, 'I'll turn pro,'" Whitten said. "I knew if (my dad) couldn't make it and I couldn't beat my dad, it was just something where I worked hard and had fun doing, but I was not going to be a Tour player."
Coaching, though, intrigued him, and by a stroke of luck, Notre Dame added an open assistant position following his senior year, and that went to Whitten. After two years, he spent a year doing some teaching at Inverness Country Club in Toledo, before the Michigan job came open. It was good timing, with his wife in med school at UM.
As head coach at Michigan, he helped turn around a program that regularly finished in the bottom half of the Big Ten, and eventually got the team as high as a fourth-place finish. Three times, he got the team to the NCAAs; five individuals made the NCAAs.
You can imagine, then, how hard it was to say goodbye.
"Hard," he said, tilting his head and his voice trailing off. "Really hard."
But he's thoroughly enjoying the new job, even if he's racking up gobs of miles on the car traveling from one tournament to another — the GAM holds 19 tournaments and 14 USGA qualifers, spanning all age groups and genders, per summer, which in Michigan, as we all well know, is a condensed summer.
Whitten oversees a staff of about 10 and a volunteer army measuring well into the hundreds.
The GAM is the governing body for amateur golf in Michigan, and it oversees handicaps, course and slope ratings, and championships, while constantly trying to grow the game. Growing youth golf is an especially imporant initiative.
Things get a bit trickier Jan. 1 when the GAM will confirm with the all-new World Handicap System, which will conform the six current handicap authorities (USGA, R&A and four others) into one universal system. (Some changes include taking into account the weather and course conditions.)
Whitten also looks forward to meeting with other states' golf associations later this fall, during a convention in California. He wants to see what things they're doing, and how he can bring that to Michigan — not that Michigan needs much help growing the game.
"People in Michigan love their golf, for whatever reason," he said. "The season is short, but people are eager to go out and do it."