Michigan's Tom Gillis, Tom Werkmeister teeing it up in Ally Challenge

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Tom Gillis, left, and Tom Werkmeister will compete in the Ally Challenge this week in Grand Blanc.

David Toms will be there.

So will the Michigan Toms — as in, Gillis and Werkmeister.

When the inaugural Ally Challenge tees off Friday at Warwick Hills Golf & Country Club in Grand Blanc, two of Michigan's best golfers of the past two decades will be in the field.

Tom Gillis, of Lake Orion, will make his third Champions Tour start, after receiving a sponsor's exemption into the Ally. He finished tied for third in his first two starts, earning $250,000, and positioning himself nicely to earn full status for the 2019 season.

Tom Werkmeister, a Warren native and current Grandville resident, will be making his fourth Champions Tour start, and his third consecutive. He earned his way into the field by finishing tied for third at Tuesday's qualifier, at Spring Meadows Country Club in Linden. He shot a 5-under 67 and advanced in a playoff.

The other qualifiers were Mark Walker of Texas, Paul Claxton of Georgia and Gibby Gilbert of Tennessee.

The four qualifiers round out of the field of 78, which includes 57 former PGA Tour winners (16 with a major) and 49 former Champions Tour winners (18 with a major). All together, the field features players who have won a combined 551 tournaments, whether on the PGA Tour or Champions Tour.

More: West Michigan's Tom Werkmeister trades storied amateur career for shot on Champions Tour

Nine of the top 10 players in the Charles Schwab Cup standings as well as six World Golf Hall of Famers will  be competing in the Ally, which features a $2-million purse as professional golf returns to the longtime home of the PGA Tour's Buick Open.

Gillis and Werkmeister, both 50, are rookies on the 50-and-older Champions Tour. Neither has exempt status on the Champions Tour, so they have to rely on Tuesday qualifiers or sponsor's exemptions. Gillis, who played several years on the PGA Tour, learned this week he received a sponsor's exemption into the PURE Insurance Championship later this month, at Pebble Beach. Werkmeister, who gave up a storied state-amateur career to turn pro, has advanced in three consecutive qualifiers, and also qualified for the U.S. Senior Open this summer. He has earned $22,458, 118th on the money list. Gillis is 55th on the money list.

Counting this week, there are four tournaments before the start of the Champions Tour playoffs. The top 72 on the money list make the first event, in Virginia; the top 54 the second event, in California; and the top 36 make the Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix in November.

"The season's coming to end, so they're all big weeks now, really," said Gillis, who turned 50 in July, limiting his schedule this season. "When you've only played two events all year, every one you get in is big."


The Ally is the first regular Champions Tour stop in Michigan since the Greater Grand Rapids Open, which was held at The Elks, The Highlands and then Egypt Valley Country Club from 1986-2004.

The Ally is open to the found starting with Thursday's practice rounds and pro-am, followed by competition Friday through Sunday. A Big & Rich concert closes the activities Friday night. Tickets are still available.

It's one of five high-level professional annual stops in Michigan, joining three LPGA Tour tournaments (in Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor and, starting next year, Midland) and the PGA Tour tournament that debuts at Detroit Golf Club in June 2019.