Last Friday, Michigan’s Tom Werkmeister earned associate membership status on the PGA TOUR Champions for 2018. By finishing T-23rd (72-67-71-66—276) and inside the coveted Top 30 at the Champions National Qualifying Tournament at TPC Scottsdale, Werkmeister became eligible to compete in open (Monday) qualifiers at all co-sponsored events on the PGA TOUR Champions after reaching age 50 by the start of the first tournament. The Michigan Golf Hall of Fame member and celebrated amateur will launch his Champions career at the Toshiba Classic qualifier in Newport Beach, CA on Monday, March 5. If successful, he would start his first tournament on Friday, March 9, the day after his 50th birthday. After a year’s hiatus, the Toshiba Classic returns to the Tour’s calendar next year. Its purse is $1,800,000 with the 2016 winner Jay Haas earning $270,000.
Recently, Werkmeister spoke to me about last week’s impressive play and finish along with his thoughts and plans for 2018.
What was your attitude and mindset going into that final round in Scottsdale? How’d you sleep the night before?
I slept fine. My mindset was confident; I was striking the ball really well all week. I just wasn’t making any putts so I felt I was due. I also felt I had nothing to lose so I played a little more aggressively. I made a nice birdie putt on the first hole from about 10-15 feet and it gave me a shot of confidence. And I took off from there.
Talk about that first nine. You played very well.
I made five birdies and finished the side (the back nine) with birdies on 15, 17 and 18. So I had a lot of momentum. Being the first group off on 10, our threesome played so fast we turned the nine in only an hour and a half. We then had to wait a half hour to play the first hole and now were directly behind the leaders (after 54 holes) just teeing off.
What happened then?
It really stopped my momentum. I didn’t want the delay to bother me and I thought I’ll just play as if I was starting my round. But it didn’t go as planned. I hit a shaky drive off no. 1 and then a bad second shot and kind of a bad chip but I made the putt for par. And I did the same thing on the second hole, hitting one good putt to salvage the hole. But after that, I settled down and got back into a rhythm.
After that low first nine, did you ever feel like your were coasting or protecting the round?
It’s very difficult not to coast or not to think about it. Normally, I like to play pretty aggressively but there were times I was thinking I should aim for the safe part of the green and at least give myself an easier putt.
As it developed, I played cautiously aggressive in the second nine. Actually, I had a really good shot on my last hole where I missed an eight-footer for birdie. But I had a good feeling about where I stood even after that miss. My wife Leslie was following me and she was checking scores on her phone. As soon as I walked off that last green, she told me I was tied for 23rd place and we knew it wouldn’t change much.
With whom were you paired on the last day?
I was paired with Clark Dennis and Phillip Price. Both were good guys. Price is a veteran of the European Tour and had won several tournaments and played on some international team events (World Cup and Seve Trophy.) He was a treat to play with: funny, laid back and we got a chance to chat a little bit. In fact, he jokingly started calling me “Tommy 64” after I made a couple good shots around the greens with my 64 degree wedge. The pairing really helped me to feel more relaxed.
Talk about Mike Boogaard, your long time friend, teaching pro and caddie.
Mike was with me every step of the way, both at the regional qualifier in Florida and again last week in Arizona. He’s a trooper and he just loved being there. He’s really good to me and keeps my head on straight. He gets me pumped up and thinking in the right way. We had a great time together.
Do you intend to enter as many Monday qualifiers as possible?
Yes, I’ll be playing most of them but I’m also checking the Michigan tournament calendar next year for such events as the Michigan Open, the Michigan Senior Open and possibly the Tournament of Champions. I’d like to play in one or two of those tournaments because they’re my home state events and it’s my first chance as a pro. In general, I’ll play it by ear and go with the flow after seeing how the year progresses and see what tournaments I get in.
Have you set any goals or expectations for this coming year? As it’s been often said, ‘will you enjoy just being out there?’
I never play golf just to be there. I’m way too competitive just to show up and be there. My attitude is play to contend and to win. I want to play as well as possible but also try to win. I’m pretty good at putting too much pressure on myself. It’ll be a learning process at this next level. There were times in Florida and last week when I was feeling nervous but I managed to get through them.
Talk about the sponsors that will be supporting you next year.
I have four sponsors and that part of the plan is now all set. I’m very pleased and proud that JDE Concrete, Doug Meijer, Paul Kamps, and Buchanan Insurance have all agreed to sponsor me in 2018. All contracts have been signed and we’re ready to go. It makes this transition much easier for me and I’m very grateful for their confidence and support.
What are your plans between now and March?
I’ll continue working at MCS Marketing while trying to stay active in the winter months in Michigan by hitting balls and putting indoors. I also hope to spend some limited time in Florida in order to get some rounds in. And of course, I’ll head out to Newport Beach CC in March to play some practice rounds at the Monday qualifying course.
Finally, you deservedly received many favorable comments this past week for your letter addressed to the GAM (Golf Association of Michigan) Family. In it, you wrote how “important my years spent playing in your tournaments were in making me the competitor I am today.” Comment on it and the motivation behind it.
I want to thank Leslie for being a gifted writer and being able to express our mutual thoughts so well. It was something I wanted to do to express what the GAM, its staff and volunteers have meant to me. They all have been a big part of our life.
Images courtesy of the GAM and Tom & Leslie Werkmeister.