A bittersweet tournament for former NC State golfer

Kelly Mitchum at the US Open in Pinehurst 2014.
Kelly Mitchum at the US Open in Pinehurst 2014.

Kelly Mitchum has played in more than 20 PGA Tour events, but never one quite like this week’s Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte.

“It will be bittersweet, and a lot more bitter than sweet,” he said.

Mitchum, a lead golf instructor at Pinehurst Golf Academy, would not be in the Wells Fargo field had it not been for the death of Mike Townsend, a head golf professional from Kiawah Island, S.C., who was killed in a car accident last summer. Townsend’s victory in the 2015 Carolinas PGA Section Championship had earned him the Wells Fargo spot at Quail Hollow Club.

Mitchum in March won the Carolinas PGA Head Professional title, and with it Townsend’s Wells Fargo berth. The former N.C. State golfer, in turn, will be using the tournament this week to raise funds to help Townsend’s family – wife Katherine and her two children, 3-year-old Spencer and 1-year-old Ana Kate.

Donations to the Michael Townsend Trust Fund can be made by pledging a dollar amount for the number of birdies or pars made by Mitchum during the tournament, or with a one-time contribution.

“Mike has been remembered in different ways and I wanted to find a way I could financially help the family,” Mitchum said. “People have fundraisers where they play a number of holes in a day or walk a number of miles. I thought this would be another way of doing it.”

This is for Mike. He was really looking forward to playing in a Tour event. Unfortunately life doesn’t always go as expected, as we all know.

Golfer Kelly Mitchum, who is playing the Wells Fargo in place of the late Mike Townsend

Which means Mitchum wants to make as many pars and birdies as he can. And play all four days.

“As if there’s not enough pressure anyway,” Mitchum said. “But this is for Mike. He was really looking forward to playing in a Tour event. Unfortunately life doesn’t always go as expected, as we all know.”

Townsend, a Garner native and former Methodist University All-American, was the head pro at the Kiawah Island Club’s Cassique course. With a four-shot victory over fellow Kiawah Island Club pro Charles Frost in the Carolinas PGA Section championship on July 30 in Myrtle Beach. S.C., he had the choice of either competing in the PGA Tour’s Wyndham Championship in Greensboro or the Wells Fargo.

Nine days later, Townsend died in a single-car accident on Johns Island, S.C. He was 32.

A ceremony honoring Townsend was held in August, when Carolinas PGA Section pros gathered to hit ceremonial tee shots into “Lake Townsend” at Bryan Park Golf Course in Greensboro.

Mitchum, 45, has played in the PGA Championship four times and will be competing in his 25th career PGA Tour event. His Carolinas PGA victory in March also won him a spot in the recent RBC Heritage at Hilton Head.

Mitchum was paired the first two rounds with flashy Bryson DeChambeau, the former U.S. Amateur and NCAA champion at SMU who was making his pro debut.

“He’s the real deal,” Mitchum said. “He really believes in himself and he’s got all the shots.”

Mitchum, a four-time All-American and 1991 ACC champion at N.C. State, made the cut at Quail Hollow in 2004 and said he likes the golf course and the tournament setup.

“I feel good about my game,” he said. “I need to stay away from making any big mistakes. And I need to make a few putts.”

Mitchum has become something of a YouTube sensation because of his putting. One video titled “The best 3-putt, ever” has gotten almost 800,000 views and another “Best 3-putt, ever?” has been widely watched.

In the first, he hits three consecutive putts, all with right-to-left breaks, all ending up in the same cup. In the second, one swing of the putter sends three balls in three different directions, all landing in different cups.

Mitchum’s specialty at the Golf Academy at Pinehurst Resort is the short game, but he noted during the video tapings, “Some people had to be wondering what is this guy doing?” For the record, Mitchum said it took about an hour to shoot the first video, but two or three hours on the second.

Mitchum is hoping to make a lot more putts this week. It will be worth it, in more ways than one.

(Donation forms for the Michael Townsend Trust Fund can be found at

Chip Alexander: 919-829-8945, @ice_chip