Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Former Spartan cashes in at Michigan Women's Open, Island Resort Championship at Sweetgrass



It's been a great week for women's professional golf in Michigan.

Hopefully these two back-to-back events -- last week's $100,000 Island Resort Championship presented by Delta County Chamber of Commerce in the Upper Penninsula June 24-26, followed by the Michigan PGA Women's Open at Crystal Mountain Resort June 27-29 -- can continue to piggy-back off one another to attract more top players.

Nobody took better advantage of the two tournaments in such close proximity as former Michigan State University star Laura Kueny of Whitehall. The former Big Ten Player of the year shot a final round 69 to win the Michigan PGA Women’s Open, just days after finishing in seventh at the Island Resort Championship.

“It was another win for the Spartans and there’s no other place I’d like to get my first win than Michigan,” she said after completing rounds of 71-71-69 (211) on Crystal Mountain's wonderful Mountain Ridge course.

Kueny was tied with Ashley Tait of Littleton, Colo., and Jean Bartholomew of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., going into the final round. But her “short game came through” while Bartholomew and Tait were slow out of the gate. Bartholomew’s first tee ball shot into the woods resulting in a double bogey.

Kueny's win at the Michigan PGA Women’s Open earned $5,500. She will continue to play on the Futures Tour and enter LPGA Q-school in the Fall. Kueny shot 74-68-73 for a 215 total to earn $2,968 at Sweetgrass.

Tait has also had two good weeks. She won more money for finishing second at the Michigan Open ($4,400) than she did winning the Texas Women’s Open the week prior ($4,300). Maybe more aspiring LPGA Tour players will notice that the Michigan Women's Open is only a notch below a Futures Tour event and remains one of the country's top state-wide events. Unfortunately, only 63 players participated in the Michigan Women's Open, coming from from 11 states and Brazil. Amazingly, there were more amateurs (38) than pros (25) in the field.

As for the Futures Tour event, the first in Michigan since 2005, it was a solid success, especially for its new venue, the Sweetgrass course at Island Resort & Casino in Harris near Escanaba.

Teenager Stephanie Kim earned her first professional victory in wire-to-wire fashion.
The 2011 LPGA and LPGA Futures Tour rookie carded rounds of 67-72-70 to win by two shots at 7-under 209, securing the trophy, a cardbook check for $15,400, and a handmade Native-American blanket. Kim edged runner-up Jane Rah (70) of Torrance, Calif., who finished at 5-under 211, and Hanna Kang (72) of Seoul, South Korea, who finished third at 4-under 212.

“It wasn’t as hard leading the pack as it was hitting the fairway today,” said Kim, 19, of Bayside, N.Y., who hit only nine fairways in regulation in the final round. “I was scraping it around, but making a lot of putts. When my swing fell apart, I guess I just dug deep.”

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Willie Mack III wins historic Michigan Amateur



It was a historic result for a historic event on a historic venue.

All the stars aligned for the 100th Michigan Amateur at The Heather course at Boyne Highlands Resort.

From the first tee shot of the final round it was Willie Mack III’s day. With precision drives and savvy putts Mack defeated defending champion and hometown favorite Joey Garber (Petoskey/University of Michigan) 4 & 3 to become the first African American to win the Michigan Amateur title.

“I didn’t really think about this history aspect of it when I was out there,” said Mack, 22, who plans to turn professional later this year. “I just wanted to come out and play and see how far I could get in the tournament. But to be the first African American to win in the 100th year of the tournament is really special.”

Mack won his semi-final over Matt Thompson (Battle Creek/University of Michigan) 1-up in a match where Mack was 5-up at the turn. He hit some errant shots on the back nine which caused him to consult his swing coach Bill Baldwin between the semi-final and final matches. Baldwin, who is the PGA professional at The Jewel of Grand Blanc, knew just what Mack needed to help him soar in the final round.

“I called Bill and he gave me a little drill and I went out on the range and did it before the final and it worked,” said Mack. “I told myself to just keep grinding and to take it one shot at a time and it worked out.”

Mack has been on a tear recently. Mack, a former Flint Central High School and Grand Blanc High School golfer who played at Bethune-Cookman University, has won four college tournaments and the West Michigan Amateur this season.

Garber also defeated his semi-final opponent, Eric Lilleboe (Okemos) 1-up but in the final round sprayed some tee shots into the woods and rough and left himself with some long and difficult putts. Garber was clearly frustrated with his play, particularly after the turn, and was disappointed not to play better in front of the large gallery that was, for the most part, rooting for him.

“I know how good Willie is but I also know how good I am and I didn’t play nearly as well as I can today,” said Garber, 19. “It’s no fun to lose like this but Willie beat me and he played well so there just isn’t much to say about it.”

Mack had birdies on 10 and 11 which really turned the match in his favor. Although he played his practice round at Boyne Highlands Resort – The Heather with Garber, he had no qualms about going for the kill in the final match against his fellow golfer.

“We’re all friends but you have to keep grinding and beat them down,” said Mack. “I know Joey was getting mad out there, but I just got hold of the par 5s today and that really made the difference.”

The diminutive Mack stands 5-foot-6 and weighs just 148 pounds, but he packs a punch with his driver. He averages between 295 and 300 yards with it and hit his 5-wood 265 yards on the back nine in the final.

“I’m just real happy,” said Mack, who expressed a sense of pride in coming from the Flint Junior Golf program and adding to a rich tradition of golf in the Flint area. “It’s been a long week and I can’t wai
t to get home to Flint and share this with everyone there.”

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Two University of Michigan golfers finish 1-2 in stroke play at Michigan Amateur

HARBOR SPRINGS – University of Michigan golfer Matt Thompson (Battle Creek) edged teammate and defending champion Joey Garber (Petoskey) for medalist honors at the 100th Michigan Amateur.

Thompson shot 71-69—140 while Garber was just one stroke behind him with 71-70 – 141 on The Heather course at Boyne Highlands Resort.

Thompson has played in the Michigan Amateur for the past three years and lost in the final to Tom Werkmeister (Kentwood) at Spring Meadows in 2009. At the start of the tournament, Thompson’s goal was just to make it to match play but after shooting a one-under-par 71 in the first round of stroke play he raised the bar.

“After seeing what I shot in the first round I had to set a different goal and keep myself motivated,” said Thompson after his round on Wednesday. “So I went out today with the goal of being the medalist. I was one over at the turn but I made a couple of long putts on the back nine which really helped me.”

Presentation of the trophy was delayed until Thursday morning due to a long rain delay on Wednesday that left nine golfers having to finish their rounds. Thompson is a psychology major at U-M but said all of his knowledge didn’t really help him on the links at Boyne Highlands Resort – The Heather this week.

“I didn’t really have a class for golf psychology,” quipped Thompson. “Hopefully I can use something I’ve learned this week.”

Thompson acknowledges there is much golf to be played this week but admits it is a great feeling to have won medalist honors for stroke play.

“Hopefully this isn’t a situation like the President’s Trophy in hockey,” said Thompson. “It was a good feeling to achieve my goal. I ran into Joey (Garber) last night and he said he missed a short putt on nine that put him at 70, one stroke behind me. When I heard that, I thought I might have won.”

There was a playoff between eight players at 154 who battled for the last six spots in the field of 64 for match play. Nathan Clark (Charlotte) Brian Donohoe (Rochester Hills), Matt Johnson (Lansing) Lucas Trierweller (Plainwell), Lyle Wolberg (Huntington Woods), and Bill Zylstra (Dearborn Heights) all advanced to match play.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Gary McCord's antics kicks off the 100th Michigan Amateur at Boyne Highlands Resort



When it comes to first-class golf organizations in Michigan, the Golf Association of Michigan and Boyne USA Resorts come immediately to mind.
Putting the two together is pure magic.

Today kicked off the 100th edition of The Michigan Amateur at The Heather course at Boyne Highlands Resort in Harbor Springs. This is a special week for the GAM. And Boyne, Michigan’s largest course operator, rolled out the red carpet for the affair. Monday was a great day for all to kick off the week.

Gary McCord, the sharp-tongued CBS announcer, did a clinic in the afternoon and was the special guest speaker at a spectacular Champions Dinner later that evening. While players were preparing with practice rounds on The Heather, a special outing was held on the Arthur Hills course. I hadn’t played the Hills in at least 3-4 years, so I couldn’t remember how good of a course it really was. It’s as fun as any in northern Michigan.

The green surrounds are tricky. Some are shaved. Others are carpeted with thick rough. Most greens are table-top, elevated plateaus that are hard to hit. The elevated 13th tee – which crashes downhill – might be the most scenic in the state. Check it out below.



True to form, McCord did more talking than hitting shots at his clinic after golf. He dove into a lot of heavy swing theory without taking too many swings himself. McCord – more famous for his mouth and his mustache than his game – went 22 years on the PGA Tour without a single win. Most people know him more as the announcer who was booted from The Masters for life than his handful of Champions Tour wins. He knows where his bread is buttered.

After the golf clinic, McCord and defending champion Joey Garber, a Petoskey High product fresh off an NCAA appearance with the University of Michigan golf team, held an intimate press conference. Garber mentioned that he's hitting his irons better than ever and doesn't feel pressure to defend. He's happy to be able to play in front of so many family and friends this week.

Then McCord held court on all topics, ranging from Rory McIlroy’s historic U.S. Open win to Tiger’s troubles. McCord wouldn’t touch the subject of Tiger too indepth because he repeatedly noted that “Tiger is keeping track” of all those who criticize or doubt him.

As only Boyne can, the Champions Dinner was a classy reception of several hundred people. Everybody was dressed up in jackets, and ties and the food was excellent. WJR’s Steve Courtney was a riot as the emcee. As soon as he got up on stage, he pulled out his wireless phone and said “Did anybody just get a text from former Senator Weiner?’

The gloves were off at that point. After guests met the past champions in attendance and had dinner, McCord knocked them dead with his tales of the “muni” where he grew up in southern California. His risquĂ© stories of illegal aliens, uzis, bookies, gambling, a stay in jail and general debauchery with his friends named “Fairway Louie” and “20/20” (a blind guy) were off the hook. He ended the night with a story that he said “couldn’t leave the room.” I won’t break the code of brotherhood McCord made us swear by, but it involves David Feherty and ashes. You can take it from there.

Today the tournament kicked off with a ceremony that included Michigan Am. Legends Bud Stevens, Glenn Johnson and Peter Green this morning. After two days of stroke play, the tournament turns to match play to decide the champion on Saturday (weather permitting). Whatever happens this week on the course (see the iconic 18th hole below), it is sure to be a special one for the players and fans who attend. Another celebration like this probably won’t be held for another century.

To follow the action, visit gam.org, or to take a bite out of The Heather yourself after the tournament, check out boyne.com.

Monday, June 13, 2011

First Island Resort Championship at Sweetgrass on tap

For the first time since 2005, the Futures Tour will visit Michigan. The Island Resort Championship at Sweetgrass is set for June 24-26 at Sweetgrass Golf Club in Harris in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

It's also the first major pro golf championship in the U.P. since the Canadian Tour's Bay Mills Open ended in 2004. Solid crowds are expected to attend. Tickets are $10 for all three days.

It's too bad Futures Tour events don't get any TV coverage because for many Michigan golf fans it will be their first look at the Sweetgrass course, designed by Paul Albanese of Plymouth.

Here are some story lines to watch:

* A number of professional players with Michigan ties will be in the field, including: SHASTA AVERYHARDT of Flint; LAURA BAVAIRD (Western Michigan University) of Grosse Ile; LAURA KUENY (Michigan State University) of Whitehall; ALISON MEYER (Ferris State University) of Duluth, Minn.; rookie AIMEE NEFF (Michigan State) of Carmel, Ind.; and ELISE SWARTOUT (Western Michigan) of Ann Arbor. AVERYHARDT became only the fourth African-American in the history of the LPGA Tour by qualifing through the LPGA’s annual “Q-School” last December. She has competed on both tours throughout the 2011 season.

* Continuing with the minority theme, Native American Cheryl Mitchell of Strongville, Ohio, was invited as a local exemption. Mitchell, 32, a mother of two, turned professional in 2004 after winning the 2003 Ontario Women’s Amateur Championship. She is a member of the CN Canadian Women’s Tour. As a college player at Kent State University, she was twice named to the All-MAC Conference First Team. She also was named to the Mid-Continent Conference First Team twice while attending Michigan’s Oakland University for graduate studies. Mitchell represents the Potawatomi Nation, which owns Sweetgrass Golf Club and the Island Resort & Casino.

* The second local exemption, awarded to a local amateur, went to Marquette Senior High School player Carley Saint-Onge. The three-time defending Michigan High School Athletic Association Upper Peninsula Division I medalist will play at Michigan State University this fall.

4. Four tournament winners from the current 2011 LPGA Futures Tour will play: KATHLEEN EKEY of Sharon Township, Ohio, winner of last week’s Ladies Titan Tire Challenge in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; LISA FERRERO of Lodi, Calif., winner of the Symetra Classic in San Antonio, Texas; TZU-CHI LIN of Taichung, Taiwan, winner of the Florida’s Natural Charity Classic in Winter Haven, Fla., and RYANN O’TOOLE of San Clemente, Calif., winner of the Santorini Riviera Nayarit Classic in Mexico. O’Toole is a three-time tournament winner on the LPGA Futures Tour and a former contestant on the Golf Channel’s “Big Break” show. She is also a 2011 LPGA rookie and plays on both tours. Eight of the top-10 money winners on the current 2011 money list will be in the field.

* Two "Big Break" winners will be in the field. Model and professional golfer BLAIR O’NEAL of Tempe, Ariz., also will be in the field. O’Neal, who won the Golf Channel’s “Big Break Dominican Republic” last fall in a field of men and women professionals, was featured in Sports Illustrated’s annual 2011 “swim suit issue” in a full-page ad for Cobra Golf. O’Neal played collegiately at Arizona State University. CARLING COFFING of Middletown, Ohio, won last year’s “Big Break Sandals Resorts” show.

For more, visit sweetgrassgolfclub.com/championship.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Two big-name teachers join the Dave Kendall Academy at Miles of Golf

You could say the teaching staff at Miles of Golf's Dave Kendall Academy in Ypsilanti Township got older with the addition of Frank McAuliffe and Jack Seltzer.

But the reality is the staff got wiser ... and more accomplished ... within the past six months.

I've worked with McAuliffe over the years as a sports writer while he was coach of the successful Dexter High School team and the head professional at Ann Arbor Country Club, so it was great to finally get a chance to catch up with him face to face about golf and life earlier this spring.

McAuliffe, the 2010 Golf Professional of the Year, knows his stuff. He's also transitioning into a new role as the first-ever men’s and women’s golf coach for Marygrove College in Detroit. If you recall, Marygrove has a new short-game facility designed by Tom Doak and his staff.

When Kendall walked by during my short lesson with McAuliffe, he didn't hesistate to praise his friend, calling him a "legend." McAuliffe still hits the ball as far as ever, and is a threat to win any senior tournament in Michigan. His son, Frank, just capped an outstanding career at Oakland University.

"Having someone of Frank's stature and experience be a part of Kendall Academy is a huge plus for all involved and most especially for area golfers," said Kendall, a two-time Michigan PGA Teacher of the Year.

I've never met Seltzer, a Flint native, but he certainly has a glowing resume. He is a past Michigan Open, Michigan PGA and Michigan PGA Match Play champion. Seltzer and his wife Pam moved back from Florida, where he's been working since 2005 as the general manager and head PGA golf professional at Bay Dunes in Panama City. Ann Arbor-area golfers might recognize the name. Jack's son, John, is the head professional at the Polo Fields Golf and Country Club.

“Because of his outstanding playing record, Jack’s teaching expertise isn’t always talked about,” said Kendall. “But Jack is one of the best teachers around, with a sharp eye and keen knowledge of the game. It’s no surprise to me that Jack has worked with 38 high school players who earned All-State honors.”

This staff might be the deepest, most talented ever assembled at the Kendall Academy, considering that Paul Haase and Kendall himself -- not to mention Scott Hayes and Tom Harding -- are all accomplished instructors.

For more information on the Kendall Academy, visit Miles of Golf at 3113 Carpenter Road in Ypsilanti, just 1.5 miles northeast of the US-23/I-94 interchange, call 877-973-9005 or visit www.milesofgolf.com/lessons.