NCAA-bound Michigan State men's golf: 'Regionals won't be our last stop'

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Bath Township — The last several months have been a blur for Michigan State golfer James Piot, whose U.S. Amateur championship earned him three professional starts, so far, including last month's Masters. In between all the birdies and bogeys, he's made countless memories, and has become pretty polished in telling all those stories.

Here's one absolute doozie that Piot told Wednesday and had the audience rolling, after accepting his award for Golf Association of Michigan player of the year at the GAM's annual meeting.

On Monday of Masters week, while preparing to attend the annual amateurs dinner, Piot realized he didn't have anyone to tie his tie — and, no, he doesn't know how to tie one. So, along with another amateur, he went looking for help. He started with some club workers, who were wearing ties, but that was a dead end. Turns out, they were wearing clip-ons. Yes, they wear clip-ons at Augusta.

Senior James Piot and the Michigan State men's golf team will compete in the NCAA Tournament regionals from May 16-18.

Eventually, Piot ended up wandering into the Champions Locker Room, where he had a chance encounter with 2017 Masters champion Sergio Garcia, wearing his Green Jacket. They introduced themselves, made some small talk, and then Garcia asked what the two amateurs were up to. Piot and Latin America Amateur champion Aaron Jarvis fessed up. They needed their ties tied.

So, Garcia stepped in and played pops. He tied their ties. And, turns out, he got a kick out of it.

"It was pretty cool. Every time he saw me for the rest of the week, he'd go like this," Piot said, holding his hand to the knot of his tie and adjusting it. "Even if he was a fairway or two over."

Piot, 23, has played in two other PGA Tour tournaments, will play in next month's U.S. Open, and is expected to get several more sponsor's exemptions into PGA Tour events after turning pro, including a likely spot in Detroit's Rocket Mortgage Classic — the stuff dreams are made of, though Piot has a bigger dream in mind.

Piot and the Michigan State men's golf team will compete in the NCAA Tournament regionals at Traditions Club in Bryan, Texas, from May 16-18, with the top four in each of the six regionals advancing to the NCAA Championships later in the month in Scottsdale, Arizona.

The Spartans are seeded seventh in the region.

Other teams in the regional include, in order of seeds: Pepperdine, Texas A&M, Georgia, Tennessee, Kansas, Arizona, SMU, Boise State, Oregon State, Colorado State, Southeastern Louisiana and Texas Southern.

Michigan State's James Piot has spent five years in East Lansing — and three times, he's been first-team All-Big Ten.

You may not believe this, but if you've spent any time with Piot, you would. A long run in the NCAAs would mean more to him than much of what he's already accomplished in the game, including the U.S. Amateur Championship last summer, and a spot as an individual in last year's NCAA Championships.

"It'd be the coolest thing," Piot said, waiting in line for lunch at the GAM annual meeting (hey, he's still a college student; he's not turning down a free meal). "Playing in the Big Ten's last week, people were asking about the Masters and how it stacks up, and to me, it felt like the Big Ten was almost more important than the Masters, just because I've invested so much in Michigan State and the people who believed in me. Last week was really a heartbreaker, not getting the Big Ten championship done."

Michigan State led after the first and second rounds of the Big Ten tournament, but finished in second place, just one shot back of Illinois.

So the NCAAs feel like unfinished business for Michigan State, which is led by Piot, named first-team All-Big Ten on Wednesday; Ashton McCulloch, named Big Ten freshman of the year (third in program history, with Piot and 2022 PGA Tour winner Ryan Brehm) and second-team All-Big Ten; sophomore August Meekhof (Coopersville), also second-team All-Big Ten; and junior Bradley Smithson (Grand Rapids), the reigning Michigan Open champion.

Michigan State has been represented in the last six NCAA Tournaments, either as a team or with an individual. But this might be the deepest roster the Spartans have had.

Piot went so far as to declare, "Regionals won't be our last stop."

That would be a blessing for the Canton native, who's spent five years in East Lansing — three times, he's been first-team All-Big Ten — but recently started realizing he wouldn't mind more time in green and white.

"Yeah, I mean, it's for sure bittersweet," Piot said. "I wish I had a few more years of college. Obviously, I'm excited for all the opportunities I have coming up, but at the same time, being a Michigan State Spartan is something I love. Leaving this place ... I got done with my last final Wednesday of last week, and I'm like, 'Holy crap, it's over.' It's all I could think about. I wish I could rewind it."

We're running a new-subscriber special. Support local journalism, and subscribe here.

Twitter: @tonypaul1984