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Ex-Spartan Brehm kept faith, earns PGA Tour card

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Ryan Brehm earned his first season of exemption on the PGA Tour after winning Sunday's Web.com Tour season finale.

By the time Ryan Brehm’s red-eye flight from Portland, Ore., arrived back home just before noon Monday, he had 270 text messages on his cell phone.

How many had he returned?

“You’d be surprised,” a clearly exhausted Brehm told the News over the phone from his home in Traverse City.“I think I have 78 left.

"I’ve been making some decent work.”

The former Michigan State golfer, who later became an assistant coach at his alma mater and for a brief time was interim head coach, earned his PGA Tour card for 2016-17 on Sunday evening with a win in the Web.com Tour season finale, the WinCo Foods Portland Open in North Plains, Ore.

The victory earned him $144,000 moving him to $281,808 and fourth on the final season money list — the top 25 earn exemption on the PGA Tour.

The 31-year-old previously played in three PGA Tour events, including the 2005 Buick Open in Grand Blanc, where he made the cut as an amateur and finished 79th.

The Mount Pleasant native will be one of two Michigan natives with full-time status on the PGA Tour next season, joining Jackson’s Brian Stuard, an Oakland alumnus who earned his first PGA Tour win this year. Wyandotte’s Justin Hicks and Lake Orion’s Tom Gillis won’t be fully exempt.

Brehm never lost the faith.

“I was just thinking back on that today,” said Brehm, who is believed to be the first Michigan State golf alum to earn a full-time PGA Tour card. Eric Meierdierks played 19 events on Tour in 2013 but wasn’t on the MSU golf team while in school. “People probably used to think I was crazy. I Just always thought I did (have what it takes).

“Anybody who’s played this game long enough, you just never know if and when it’s gonna happen. I’ll never if and when it’s gonna happen again. The key for me was just kind of getting past that and really focused on the process of becoming a better golfer this season.”

Brehem, who was named Mr. Golf for the state of Michigan in 2003 and a three-time winner of the Michigan Open (2009-10, 2014), built on a tie for third in last week’s Web.com Tour event, opening with an 8-under 63 in Portland. He then held it together with a 70 in the second round before posting a 68 in the third round.

At Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club on Sunday, he was 1 over through five holes, before reeling off three consecutive birdies on Nos. 6-8. After a bogey at No. 9, he then birdied three of his next six holes giving him enough of a cushion that a bogey at the par-5 18th didn’t cost him a thing.

He won by one stroke over Mark Anderson and two over Zack Fisher, who, like Brehm, closed the tournament with 3-under 68s.

In his 53rd career start on a professional tour — he played a full season on Web.com this year, and played regularly on PGA Tour Canada in 2014-15 — this was Brehm’s first victory. He had a runner-up finish in Canada last year, and two ties for third place on Web.com this season.

Still, through all that, he refuses to call his golf journey “a grind.”

“You know, the biggest grind has just been with family life,” said Brehm, who’s married to Chelsey. The couple has no kids yet, but he said the time is coming.

“There’s not enough money out there to support a family, to travel, when you’re married. You kind of need the duel income so that means sacrifice, stuff of that nature. But I still got to play golf for a living, and, you know, I was fortunate in that regard that I had some financial support from people.

“I don’t know if playing pro golf is ever a grind, but it is difficult.”

Brehm arrived at Michigan State with nice high school credentials, giving Mount Pleasant hope it might have another future PGA Tour golfer to join the likes of Dan Pohl, who won twice on the PGA Tour in the 1980s, and competed seriously in three of the four major championships.

Brehm won Big Ten freshman of the year in 2004-05, and by the time his four-year career as a Spartan was over, he had set the school record for scoring average — 73.30 — which remains in place today. He also owns the lowest-round record, 64, which he actually shot twice.

After his playing career, he spent time on staff as an assistant golf coach at MSU, and later served as interim head coach.

There was a time when he thought his future might actually be in coaching.

“I thought about it,” Brehm said. “I thought it might be something I may be interested in. Not that I’m disinterested — I thought I was just a little young to give up on playing professionally.”

After playing mostly in Canada the last two years, he earned his Web.com card for this season — and took full advantage, playing in all 21 events, ahead of the four-tournament Web.com finals, which start Sept. 8 and end with the Tour Championship in October.

He’ll have the opportunity to play just as hectic a schedule on the PGA Tour, which starts in 2016-17 season in mid-October at the Safeway Open in Napa, Calif.

But while it’s important to play well early — there’s a lot of key money to be made in early season events, when the fields don’t often feature the top golfers in the world rankings — to put himself in position to retain his card beyond 2016-17, he knows there’s a balance, too.

He stepped up that balance this year, after he, his wife and his coach of four years, Adam Schriber, put together a game plan that focused on his sleep schedule, diet, being a better husband and, oh, improving his golf game, too.

“It’s just been a slow, gradual progression,” said Brehm, a long hitter who also was top 20 in scoring average and top 30 in putting on the Web.com Tour this season. “It’s my job now to keep that trending upward.

“I’m gonna need to be smart (with scheduling) and realize it’s a long endeavor. I do need to get off to a good start, and play well in the middle.

“But I also need time to rest.”

The rest and relaxation could start in earnest Monday afternoon.

After he returned those last text messages, of course.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984