Many of golf's biggest names, including Greg Norman, Tom Watson, Nick Price, and Hale Irwin, will compete in the U.S. Senior Open at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wis., on July 5-8.
One local name that grew quite a bit bigger Thursday will join them.
Shooting a 71 at Oakwood Country Club in Kansas City, Mo., the head pro at Alvamar Country Club qualified for the U.S. Senior Open for the first time, placing first among a field of 57 participants.
"I've played Whistling Straits in my mind a few times," Towner said after he returned to Lawrence. "Never for real."
Towner's strong back nine of 33, after struggling with a 38 on the front side, enables him to turn fantasy into reality.
"There are three practice rounds before the tournament, so I'll get to go up and hang out with the guys," Towner said. "That will be kind of fun."
Towner's unusual round featured an amazing seven birdies, two double bogeys, two bogeys and seven pars.
"Weird round," Towner said. "Normally, I'm extremely consistent. It was kind of a fun roller-coaster round."
In this, his 19th season at Alvamar, Towner's role has changed. In the past, club pros had the opportunity to earn side income giving lessons. One of the many changes since Dick Stuntz became president at Alvamar was the hiring of Brad Bruno, a former Kansas University golfer, as director of instruction. Towner indicated the change might have been indirectly been responsible for him qualifying for the biggest tournament of his life.
"I've been practicing a little bit in the evenings," Towner said. "I don't teach so much anymore since we have a director of instruction. So I've been able to teach myself a little."
And, for the first time, watch himself.
"Our director of instruction has helped me some," Towner said. "We've played a couple of rounds of golf. He's watched me hit some shots and videotaped my swing. I hadn't seen my swing on video before. He showed me some things that, had it been another student, I would have picked out easily. I hit the ball extremely straight. My irons were really good, and I putted really nice today."
Practicing for the Open won't be a priority for him this week because he has to make sure Alvamar's member-guest tournament (June 21-23) goes smoothly.
"My day job comes first, then I'll work on the other part," he said. "I'm a realist. I know I'm not going to beat Hale Irwin or Tom Watson or Greg Norman or those guys."
Free State High graduate Austin Wright, a member of the school's golf team and the boyfriend of Towner's daughter, Abby, toted the bag Thursday. Wright will be attending Kansas State, where he intends to learn how to become a golf course superintendent, Towner said.
Alvamar's pro described Oakwood as "a neat, hilly, old-style golf course. You have to drive it pretty straight."
The course is noted for its difficult par 3s, on which Towner finished two-under par. In keeping with his unpredictable round, Towner carded a bogey on what he called the two easiest par 5s on the course.
Whistling Straits, site of the 2004 PGA Championship, runs alongside Lake Michigan and is know for its extreme length (7,514 yards). The course also will be the site of the 2010 and 2015 PGA Championships.