MICHIGAN OPEN, 100 YEARS:
Steve Brady, JR Roth, Scott Hebert, Ryan Brehm Represent Fourth 25-Year Span of the Championship
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the last in a series of four releases regarding 25-year segments of the Michigan Open Championship, which will be played for the 100th time June 12-15 at Prestwick Village Golf Club in Highland. The fourth 25-year span of tournaments were presented from 1992-2017.
BY GREG JOHNSON
The favorites to win the Michigan Open in recent years have usually been the touring professionals who are working to make the dream of playing on the PGA Tour happen, and yet find time to return home to play in the state championship.
Steve Brady, JR Roth, Scott Hebert and Ryan Brehm, a decorated foursome of the most recent 25 Michigan Opens, each chased the dream in some fashion.
Brady tried many times in the old form of PGA Tour Q-School. Roth has made his tour chase largely as a senior golfer with some success, and he made the cut in the recent Senior PGA Championship. Scott Hebert won multiple mini-tour events on the tour golf road and has been dominant at home in the Michigan PGA Section. And Brehm, at age 30, made it happen this year with full status on the PGA Tour and earlier this week qualified for the U.S. Open, too.
In Michigan Open history they are multiple winners, and seemingly always played in the final groups in the final round.
Brady won the state championship three times (1991, ’92 and ’96) and Roth won twice (1998, 2004) often going head-to-head. Hebert is tied with legend Al Watrous with the most wins all-time at six, including a record four consecutive (1997, ’99, 2000, ’01, ’02 and ‘06). Brehm has won three times (2009, ’10, and ’14).
Brady is the only one of the four playing in the 100th Michigan Open next week. Roth lives in New Mexico and doesn’t fulfill the residency requirement. Hebert, the 2002 PGA Professional National Champion, had to choose between the Michigan Open and the national championship for club pros which conflict this year on the golf schedule. Brehm also has a conflict on the schedule – the U.S. Open next week at Erin Hills in Hartford, Wis.
“It’s the 100th Michigan Open, I think I can still play a little bit and it just felt like I should be there,” said Brady, who is the director of golf at Oakland Hills Country Club, in his 20th year there, highly regarded as a teacher of the game and is a member of the Michigan PGA Hall of Fame and the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame.
A Saginaw native, the 58-year-old Brady started playing in the Michigan Open as an amateur and remembers close calls before winning his first in 1991.
“For a long time I was close, but couldn’t punch it over the goal line,” he said. “When I won in 1991 it was my first year working at Detroit Golf Club and John Traub (head golf professional) allowed me to play some. Then I made it two in a row, and I was ready to make it three.”
He awakened the first day of the 1993 Michigan Open with neck spasms, and surmises today he hit too many practice shots in preparation.
“I was always a grinder,” he said.
He said his third win in the Michigan Open stands out.
“Right behind me was Hebert, Roth and (Tom) Gillis,” he said. “It was never easy to deal with those guys, a tour player like Tom (Gillis) and two other guys who were good enough to be on tour for a long time. It was pretty cool beating them.”
He laughs at the memory of his second win at The Bear at Grand Traverse Resort. It was 1992 and in the final round Brent Veenstra, who would win in 1993, fired a stunning course record 10-under 62.
“I became a trivia answer,” he said. “Who won the Michigan Open the year Veenstra shot 62 at The Bear?”
Brady won in his mini-tour days, but considers the three Michigan Open titles the thing that gave him credibility in Michigan golf.
“Great memories, too, especially of taking the family up to The Bear, and there are so many great golfers who have won it,” he said. “You win a Michigan Open it says something about you. You have to have some guts. You have to really want to do it. You have to grind it out. I’m proud of it.”
Roth, 59 and the head golf professional at San Juan Country Club in Farmington, N.M., these days, said his first Michigan Open in 1998 is the one he remembers with the most favor.
“That was a big one for me because I spent so many years trying to do it,” he said. “I started playing in them when I was a junior in high school. I remember having a two or three-shot lead in ’92 with three holes to go, but made bogey at 17 and 18 at The Bear and then made a bogey on the first playoff hole, too. That stung for a long time.
“It helped in ’98 when I finally won that I was six or seven shots back starting the final round, and I knew I would have to shoot the round of a lifetime to have a chance. I shot 65 and birdied the first playoff hole. I was thrilled, as thrilled to win as I was disappointed to lose in 92. ”
Roth, who is tied with Hebert and Watrous for the most major wins in Michigan PGA Section history at 15, said the Michigan Opens were huge for his career.
“I might not be in the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame without those Open wins,” he said. “It says something to beat the guys who play in it and to achieve at something you put so much time and work into.”
Roth, who returns each year to play in the Boyne Tournament of Champions, called the years at The Bear and Grand Traverse Resort (1981-2008 the tournament was played on the resort’s courses, including 24 times on The Bear) the pinnacle of Michigan PGA Section golf.
“It had great sponsorship, great purses, a tough golf course and it was special to be up there with the family,” he said. “We would rent a house with the (1989 Open champion Barry Redmond’s family) at Elk Rapids. It seems like our families grew up together there.”
Hebert, 48 and the head golf professional at Traverse City Golf & Country Club, grew up at The Bear in a way. The native of Escanaba worked at the resort early in his career and then again later in his career before taking his current position. He was considered the horse for that Jack Nicklaus-designed course.
“I love the Bear, no doubt,” he said. “I wasn’t thinking about records or the Hall of Fame or any of that when I was playing and still don’t really. Back in those days I was trying to make some money so I could keep playing (tour golf), and I was never really about counting the victories. It’s the competition. I still play to get in those spots, get myself nervous and try to do well.”
The Michigan PGA Hall of Fame and Michigan Golf Hall of Fame member said the Michigan Open wins have helped him at every step of his career.
“They certainly helped me get the jobs I had at Grand Traverse, and here at Traverse City,” he said. “It helps with credibility in instruction. I can work with the young kids, the college golfers and give them a sense of what it is going to feel like when they get in those pressure spots.”
He said he would be in the field this year without the conflict of the PGA Professional National Championship on the schedule.
“I still want that one more,” he said. “So maybe I count in a way now, but it is more because I still think I have a little bit of golf left in me. Plus, 100 years, I really don’t like missing that. That’s a testament to Michigan golf really. The sponsorship through all those years, and the PGA’s involvement in running it; 100 years is a lot of history and quite an accomplishment.”
Brehm, living the dream this year that so many have chased, was still working toward it when he won his most recent Michigan Open. It was 2014, the first of four consecutive at Prestwick Village in Highland, and he talked about what the win meant to him.
“This tournament means so much to me because it is at home, in Michigan and honestly I feel every win gets me one step closer to my goal, which is to play at the highest level,” he said. “It’s not about the money or the car, though those are really great and I will enjoy them. It’s about the satisfaction of accomplishing something, getting the job done.”
The Mount Pleasant native and former Michigan State University standout showed a long game that marked him as a player headed for stardom when he played in the Michigan Open starting in the mid-2000s.
Often the talk about him was about how far he hit it on various holes, but he said he had to become a more complete player beyond sending the golf ball great distances. He said the Michigan Open wins helped him build a complete game.
“I learned to win, and you gain a lot from that,” he said.
While Brady, Roth, Hebert and Brehm stood out in the final 25-year span of the Michigan Open, other notables were champions along the way.
Tom Gillis, who last week was inducted into the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame, won in 1994 and again in 2008 after traveling the world and playing on various tours, including the European Tour and the PGA Tour. He plans to try the Champions Tour when he turns 50 in two years.
Barrett Kelpin, a Kalamazoo mini-tour golfer, shot 23-under in his first pro event to win the 2012 Michigan Open at The Orchards in Washington Township. It tied the all-time tournament scoring record first set by Chick Harbert when he won in 1948 at Tam O’Shanter Country Club.
Tom Werkmeister of Grandville, a Michigan Golf Hall of Fame member, became the first amateur to win since Bob Ackerman in 1975 when he took the 2013 title at The Orchards.
Ackerman, 63, won his second Michigan Open in 2003, 28 championships later as a Master PGA Professional. He was inducted into the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame last week, and he is in the field for the 100th Michigan Open next week.
“Looking forward to it,” he said.