(Grand Rapids, MI) Best as I can recall, I’ve written this annual column for the past ten years. Hearing no objection, I see no reason to stop now as another golf season draws to a close. And given the craziness of the past year, it’s appropriate to make it an odd number for the list. The following stories aren’t necessarily in the order of importance or significance. And remember: To err is human; to forgive, divine.
Golf and the pandemic: It’s been a remarkable year for golf, seeing its popularity and participation rate soar as a safe and therapeutic outdoor activity. With many Michigan public courses reporting a 30%-40% increase in business, it’s a far cry from the days when struggling operators were saying, “Flat is the new up.” Sales for equipment and accessories also had a banner year. However, the entertainment sector represented by two high profile and well-attended major state tournaments—namely, the Meijer LPGA Classic in Grand Rapids and the LPGA’s Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational in Midland—took a cancellation hit. Several others were held without fans. But overall, 2020 golf in Michigan was a positive, uplifting story. And wasn’t it refreshing (especially early in the season) seeing so many walkers and golfers using push carts?
DeChambleau and the Rocket Mortgage Classic: ‘The Incredible Bulk’—aka Bryson DeChambleau—served a dramatic notice to the golf world with his herculean length and overall game by claiming the PGA Tour stop at venerable Detroit Golf Club in July. DeChambleau became the first Tour winner in the ShotLink era (since 2003) to top the field in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee and Strokes Gained: Putting. He also led the field in Driving Distance (350.6 yards) and Par-4 Scoring (3.68).
Burnham and Michigan Women’s Open: A former standout at Michigan State where twice she was the Big Ten’s Player of the Year, Sarah Burnham of Minnesota won the title at Crystal Mountain Resort by 10 shots! With a sizzling final round score of nine-under-par 63, Burnham finished the 54-hole tournament at 198, 18 under par.
Furyk and The Ally Challenge presented by McLaren: In his PGA TOUR Champions debut, Jim Furyk carded a bogey-free 68 final round at Warwick Hills (sans spectators) to win by two shots. With the victory, Furyk became the 19th player to win on his Tour debut, snapping a winless streak of over five years.
Stuard and the FedEx Cup Playoffs: Jackson (MI) native Brian Stuard earning over $1 million last season on the PGA Tour, advancing to the FedEx playoffs for the third consecutive season and sixth overall.
White and the Turtle Creek Casino Michigan Open: If there were a state version of the Ben Hogan Award for overcoming physical adversity, it would go to the wire-to-wire winner of this summer’s Michigan Open. Three years ago, 27-year-old Brett White from Caledonia was confronting a near fatal brain infection, thinking he’d might never play again. In September, he earned a five-shot victory at The Bear in the 103rd edition of the state championship.
White (again) and the Symetra Tour: Brett’s sister Sarah won on the Symetra Tour, the feeder system to the LPGA, in her first tournament on that Tour. With rounds of 68-65-68 and playing on a special exemption status, Grand Rapids native White captured the Founder’s Tribute at Longbow in Mesa, AZ in August, earning $18,750. More importantly, White received an automatic Symetra membership through 2021. P.S. Brett was her caddie in Arizona.
Cook and the Michigan PGA: A teaching pro from Yankee Springs in Wayland, Ben Cook set a scoring record to win the prestigious PGA Championship at Flint GC. With a final round 65, Cook finished at 20-under 196 for an eight-shot margin of victory. The $7000 first place check will help fund Cook’s delayed honeymoon with his new bride, Miah.
Jack Nicklaus and American Dunes GC: Although not officially opened to the public until next May, American Dunes Golf Club, on the property of the former Grand Haven GC, had a sensational debut with its designer Jack Nicklaus and Folds of Honor founder and course owner Dan Rooney on hand to mark the occasion. The course received rave reviews the day before when selected media and guests played it. Many commented on its stunning transformation, accentuated by dramatic bunkering and exposed sand dunes.
A Notable Foursome and the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame (MGHOF): Back in the good old days of pre-pandemic February, the following new class was announced for the 2020 class of the MGHOF: David Graham, former executive director of the Golf Association of Michigan, Holt’s Julie Massa, a dominant senior golfer, Bay City’s Roy Schultheiss, a winner of both the Michigan Amateur and the GAM Championship, and Dick Stewart, a celebrated former head PGA golf professional at Kalamazoo Country Club. Regrettably, their induction ceremony at Ferris State University was cancelled in June and will be rescheduled in some acceptable and safe format next June. These notables and their accomplishments will be duly celebrated.
James Piot and the U.S. Amateur: The U.S. Amateur is a major championship, globally attracting the game’s best men’s amateurs. So it’s a rare feat for a Michigan player, like Canton’s James Piot, to finish the 36-hole medal play portion (69-65) as the no. 2 overall seed. At Bandon Dunes in Oregon and nationally televised, Piot made it to the Round of 32. For the year, Piot was named the GAM’s Men’s Player of the Year (POTY). Second in GAM’s POTY points was Ann Arbor’s Tyler Copp who beat Piot in the finals of the Michigan Amateur.
Honorable mentions: China’s Ruixin Liu captured her fourth career Symetra Tour title at Battle Creek CC in July at the FireKeepers Casino Hotel Championship; Brighton’s Allyson Geer-Park for being invited and accepting an invitation last January to the 2nd Annual Augusta National Women’s Amatuer originally set for April until it was cancelled and rescheduled for 2021; Macomb’s 13-year-old Lauren Timpf winning four of five possible junior GAM 15-and-under age group titles this summer; Forest Hills Northern HS (Grand Rapids) senior Lilia Henkel shooting a 12-under-par round of 60 at Stonegate GC in the Mona Shores’ Sailor Invitational; Announcement by the USGA that the U.S. Senior Amateur at the CC of Detroit, originally planned and then cancelled this past year, has been rescheduled for Aug. 28-Sept 2, 2021; After the devastating news in April of the unexpected death of Jonathan Scott, co-owner and president of Gull Lake View Resort’s six courses, Stoatin Brae was named in October as the 2020 Michigan Golf Course of the Year by the Michigan Golf Course Association.
Photos courtesy of the PGA Tour, Michigan PGA, GAM, American Dunes and Jack Nicklaus Design.