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Tom Gillis fires 63, qualifies for first Champions Tour event

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Tom Gillis has qualified for his first Champions Tour event.

So far, so good for Tom Gillis as he embarks on his Champions Tour career.

The Lake Orion professional fired an 8-under 63 on Tuesday, leading the way in his qualifier to earn a spot in the field for his first tournament on the 50-and-older circuit. The round, which included an eagle on a chip-in, six birdies and no bogeys, took place at Victory Links Golf Course in Minneapolis.

"It was good. I mean, I've made one bogey in the last 72 holes in tournament play," said Gillis, who also missed his first-ever 59 by a single stroke during a practice round Monday. "Hopefully, we can carry that on."

The three-day 3M Championship starts Friday at TPC Twin Cities in Blaine, Minn., and Gillis is guaranteed his first Champions Tour paycheck as there are no cuts in the non-major tournaments.

Four players out of 20 who teed off in the Tuesday qualifier earned spots in the tournament. Gillis beat out a field that included recognizable names like Skip Kendall, Deane Pappas, Greg Kraft, Guy Boros and Tom Purtzer.

Among the headliners in the 3M Championship field are John Daly, Jay Haas, Lee Janzen, Tom Kite, Tom Lehman and Rocco Mediate. Paul Goydos, the defending champion, shot 20 under last year.

"You've gotta go low," Gillis said. "Nothing's really been accomplished, other than I've earned my way into the event."

More:Now 50, Tom Gillis takes aim at Champions Tour

This was Gillis' first attempt to qualify for a Champions Tour event, after turning 50 on July 16. He hopes to receive some sponsor's exemptions into remaining events on this year's schedule — he has received one into the inaugural Ally Challenge at Warwick Hills in Grand Blanc in September — and Tuesday qualify for the others in hopes of avoiding fall qualifying school and securing full-time status on the tour for 2019.

Gillis has been gearing up for the Champions Tour for several months, including intense workouts at least three days a week, after last playing on the PGA Tour in August 2016. Since turning professional in the early 1990s, the Oakland Community College alumnus played 188 PGA Tour events, with a best showing of second, twice — at the Honda Classic in 2012 and the John Deere in 2014, when he lost in a playoff to Jordan Spieth.

He's played limited tournaments since 2016. He took third at the Michigan Open in early June, and tied for 17th at the Jamaican Open in December. He played two mini-tour events this month to gear up, including a third-place finish in Lexington, N.C., last week.

This is the last year of the 3M Championship on the Champions Tour. Next July, the city and sponsor get a PGA Tour event as one of the new additions on the PGA Tour schedule, along with Detroit.

U.S. Amateur qualifiers

Four Michigan golfers have qualified for the U.S. Amateur, set for Aug. 13-19 at historic Pebble Beach Golf Links in California.

They are: Traverse City's Alex Scott, White Lake's Jake Kneen and Canton's Donnie Trosper. Hamilton's Nick Carlson, a University of Michigan golfer, also is exempt, after a run to the semifinals at the U.S. Amateur in 2016, when it was held at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Township.

Scott plays at Grand Valley State, Kneen plays at Oakland and won this year's Michigan Open, and Trosper plays at UCF and won this year's Michigan Publinx Medal Play.

Alternates include: Grandville's Josh Gibson (Hope; Division III player of the year), Novi's Ben Smith (Georgia Tech), Carney's Hunter Eichhorn (Marquette), Ann Arbor's Charlie Green (Michigan State) and Howell's Bryce Messner (Grand Valley State).