With his unexpected and stirring win at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans on Monday, Brian Stuard became the first Michigan native to win a PGA TOUR event in 21 years. The 33-year-old Jackson native and former Oakland University golfer now joins Marshall’s John Morse as the last two Michiganders to win on golf’s toughest Tour. It was at the 1995 Hawaiian Open when Morse, now a Michigan Golf Hall of Fame member, eagled the final hole and won the title by two shots. Like Morse, Stuard also qualified for the Masters. It has been 19 years since a Michigan professional (not an amateur like Alma’s Randy Lewis) last played at golf’s first major when Morse did it in 1997 thanks to his fourth place finish at the ’96 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills. Next April and 20 years after Morse, Stuard will be driving down Magnolia Lane.
Prior to Stuard and Morse, other Michigan players in recent generations winning on the PGA TOUR included Mt. Pleasant’s Dan Pohl who won twice—the 1986 Colonial and the 1986 World Series of Golf at Firestone Country Club. Jackson’s Mike Hill won three times—at the ’70 Doral, the ’72 Texas Open and the ’77 Ohio Kings Open. Mike’s older brother Dave won 13 times, including three tournaments in 1969 when he also won the Vardon Trophy for lowest scoring average. Of course, the Hill brothers later went on to have successful seasons with multiple wins on the Senior and Champions Tour.
A couple other tidbits about Stuard’s sensational win. At TPC Louisiana over the rain-shortened 54-hole event, he was perfect in his scrambling prowess, saving par in all 20 occasions when he missed the green. For the week, he was bogey free, the only player in the field doing so. With a new putter in his bag, Stuard was 46 for 46 in making putts inside 10 feet. Not surprisingly, he ranked No. 1 in Strokes Gained Putting with 2.883. He ranked 79th (of 82) in driving distance with a 265.1 yards average.
Stuard’s best previous PGA TOUR finishes were a pair of second places in Mexico, one in 2010 and the other in 2014. Monday’s victory was worth $ 1,260,000 and gave Stuard, who was on conditional playing status after being 126th on the ’15 PGA Tour money list, a two-year Tour exemption. He’s also automatically entered in this season’s Players Championship, the PGA Championship and the 2017 Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Maui.
Typical of his top-notch inside reporting, Golf Digest’s and Golf Channel’s Tim Rosaforte reported on Monday that in a recent friendly round with fellow Michigander Tom Gillis (who lost in a playoff last summer at the John Deere Classic to Jordan Spieth), a frustrated Stuard complained, “I’m the worst player on the PGA Tour.” Prior to New Orleans, Stuard had missed three out of four cuts.
Photo courtesy of PGA TOUR