Pete Kindstrom was heading down the home stretch of last summer’s Illinois Open qualifier when his caddie asked him the one question he never wants to hear on the golf course: “Are you nervous?”
Kindstrom’s usual caddie knows better, but that day he had a substitute carrying his bags. He also happened to be the one person that Kindstrom can’t get mad at: his father, Rich.
“To have my dad say it, all I did was laugh," Kindstrom said. "I could not stop laughing.”
Maybe his father wasn’t the most tactful caddie, but Kindstrom was still thrilled to have him at his side. Rich is, after all, the man who inspired him to get into professional golf.
It was Rich’s health scare in 2011 that prompted Kindstrom to quit his job and spend every penny he had to pursue the game professionally, despite the fact he hadn’t played competitively in four years.
And over the past eight months, Rich’s battle with colon cancer has motivated Kindstrom to kick his career into high gear.
Father and son share a love of golf and a diagnosis of familial polyposis, a genetic disease that causes pre-cancerous polyps to form in the intestine. Pete underwent two major surgeries while attending McHenry East High School, when the disease developed, and Rich has dealt with the condition since he was in his 30s.
So as Pete goes from Monday qualifier to Monday qualifier, traveling constantly and trying to break through into a PGA or Web.com tour event, it’s hard for him to get discouraged.
“He wants it just as much as I do,” Kindstrom said. “I think it’s helping him fight, too, because the more he fights, the more I fight.”
When Kindstrom decided to pursue professional golf, even he had to talk himself into it. His parents were much easier to win over.
It seemed like an illogical career move for a guy who had burned out on golf and quit his Carthage College team after two years, a guy who eventually left school and spent time working at a police department, a rental car company and a Home Depot.
But Rich was in a hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, fighting for his life after surgeons nicked his bowel during a hernia surgery, and Kindstrom believed professional golf was his dad’s dream for him.
So Kindstrom moved to Madison and began training. His mother, Lisa, was his sole supporter. They worked to find every dollar they could, and Pete estimates he spent $75,000 that year between living and training expenses.
“It was tough, but Peter has just a gift with people,” Lisa said. “He just has a gift. It was worth every struggle that there was, and it was a struggle.”
“That first week of being out there, I didn’t know if I loved it, if I really wanted to do it,” Kindstrom said. “But every time I’d go back to the hospital and see my dad, I’d be like, ‘All right, let’s go. Back to the golf course.’”
Eventually, Kindstrom moved to the Houston area to play on the Adams Pro Tour. He stayed with host families and fell in love with the area, landing a job as an instructor at Tomball Golf.
“I don’t take anything for granted now,” Kindstrom said. “It’s kind of just like, ‘This is amazing.’ I’m out on the golf course every day, getting paid to be on the golf course, to do what I love. I might not have loved it in college, but I’ll be damned if I say I don’t love it now.”
Over the course of the past year, Kindstrom has learned how to battle on the golf course. It’s not a coincidence that development coincided with his father’s battle with cancer.
When his father was diagnosed in October, Kindstrom kicked his career into high gear. He hired an agent and found sponsors. He started seeing a mental training coach and hired former PGA Tour golfer Homero Blancas as his swing coach.
And the frustration he felt early in his pro career, when he would often wonder if he should be pursuing golf, seems to have disappeared.
“I now have the confidence to know I can recover from bogeys, and know that the round’s never over,” Kindstrom said. “You can battle back from anything.”
He realized that last year, when he recovered from a lukewarm front nine with birdies on 14, 15, 16 and 17 at a qualifier for the Web.com Tour’s WNB Golf Classic. He realized it again in March at a qualifier for the PGA Tour’s Valspar Classic, when birdies on nine and 10 gave him momentum that put him right back in the thick of the race.
Both times, Kindstrom says, par on 18 would have put him into the main event. And although he didn’t convert either time, Kindstrom and those around him are confident he’s on the verge of breaking through.
“He has the tools,” Blancas said. “He hits it far, hits it where he wants to, chips the ball where he wants to, and his short game has gotten better. It’s just a question of being at the right place at the right time.”
Pete and Rich Kindstrom still talk golf all the time. When he’s playing well, Kindstrom says, the conversations are fun. When he’s not?
“It’s usually more of, ‘What the [heck] did you do wrong?’” Kindstrom jokes.
This week, Rich will get to watch his son in person. Kindstrom will play in Wednesday’s U.S. Open qualifier at Stonewall Orchard in Grayslake, and he’s arranged for a golf cart so his father can travel the course with him.
Kindstrom says golf was his father's dream for him; Rich says his dream was simply to see his son succeed.
But even if Rich dogs his son about his bad rounds, it's clear he's savoring the chance to watch him chase his dream.
"In the midst of his dad not feeling good, it’s been one of those things that’s keeping him going, I think," Lisa said.
“If he ever has a tournament he goes to, I don’t care where it is,” Rich said, "if there’s a very good chance of him qualifying or being on the tour even one round, we’ll be there, somehow, some way.”