Michigan State's Matt Harmon hopes Rocket propels him to greater heights
Detroit – There were plenty of chants of “Go Green” around Detroit Golf Club on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Most of the cheering from Michigan State fans was because basketball coach Tom Izzo was on hand for the Area 313 Celebrity Challenge on Tuesday, then played in the pro-am Wednesday as part of the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic.
But he hasn’t been the only reason for Spartan fans to cheer. In fact, they’ll be pulling for one of their own to not only make the cut, but perhaps change the trajectory of a career.
That person is Matt Harmon, the 2007 Big Ten Player of the Year at Michigan State who has been grinding hard for the better part of the last 10 years to earn a spot on the PGA Tour. He learned Monday morning that he had landed a spot in the tournament when Abraham Ancer withdrew.
“I was down in Columbus getting ready to play golf with a buddy of mine and he was gonna help me out with my golf game a little bit,” Harmon said Wednesday from the practice range at Detroit Golf Club. “I was scheduled to go at 9 and it was about 9:03 and I got a phone call. It said it was (tournament executive director) Jason Langwell on there and I thought, ‘I should probably take this one,’ and he had some good news for me.”
The good news means Harmon, an East Kentwood High graduate who lives in Grand Rapids, is playing in a regular PGA Tour event for the first time since the 2009 Buick Open. There was an appearance in the 2013 U.S. Open in there, but primarily Harmon has been playing on the Web.com Tour, the PGA Tour’s developmental tour that recently fell under the sponsorship of Korn Ferry, a Los Angeles-based consulting firm.
He’s also played on the Mackenzie Tour – PGA Tour Canada, where he earned his only professional victory in 2014.
It’s been a grind, to say the least, but one Harmon isn’t giving up on. His approach is different from when he was younger. No longer is the moment too big for him, something that wasn’t true in is early days as a pro.
“It’s been so long that it’s fine,” Harmon said. “I was out here completely calm yesterday. I played a practice round with my good friend, Robert Streb. … So it’s a lot of familiar faces. Being on the Korn Ferry Tour, seeing so many familiar faces out here it’s pretty comfortable for me now. When I was younger I’d definitely be more uncomfortable.
“But it was fun yesterday. Robert and I played the front 9 then about 300 people were waiting on the 10th tee and it was for Bubba Watson. So it was fun to play (the back) 9 with Bubba with everybody following, so it was pretty cool.”
The galleries might not be huge for Harmon the next couple of days, but there is sure to be Spartan fans. Harmon says no matter where he plays he’ll hear someone yell, “Go Green,” while he’s on the course. And he’ll have plenty of family and friends here this week. He said player registration ran out of will-call passes when he handed them a list of folks who planned to be at Detroit Golf Club this week.
What happens when he gets on the course remains to be seen. Harmon has played DGC plenty over the years and his former MSU teammate Jimmy Chestnut, who he’s staying with this week, is a member.
Harmon’s goals are realistic, but that doesn’t stop him from thinking about something improbable.
“I haven’t been playing great lately so just kind of come out see what I do,” he said. “Try to get on a roll. Everyone is trying to guess what the scores are gonna be like. I guess you never know til you get out there and hit the shots and add it up at the end. Ultimately, top 10 gets you (a spot) next week. A win would be a life-changer, so it would be a lot of fun.”
Harmon isn’t the only Michigan native playing this week. Brian Stuard is a PGA Tour regular from Jackson who is looking for his second Tour victory after capturing the 2016 Zurich Classic title. Petoskey native Joey Garber is also in the field, as is Lee Houtteman, the 57-year-old winner of the 2018 Michigan PGA championship.
“It hasn’t been crazy,” Houtteman said of his experience this week. “I’ve played in several senior majors so it’s the same kind of stuff going on. The guys are younger, but I feel pretty good. It is what it is. I’m looking at the challenge of my game and figuring out how to get around here so I can try to make it and play the weekend. That’s my goal.”
Houtteman earned his spot in the event by beating Scott Hebert in a playoff at last summer’s Michigan PGA. The pro at Bahle Farms near Traverse City, has never played in a PGA Tour event but he’s not worried. In fact, playing senior events is more intimidating, he said, since it’s against the golfers he watched and looked up to when they were in their prime.
So there won’t be much pressure the next couple days. Houtteman will have plenty of family around as he tries to get to the weekend. That family, he said, has been supportive as he’s tried to work some extra practice around life as a dad and PGA teaching professional.
“I’ve been trying to get out, but this still isn’t my job,” Houtteman said. “But I can sneak out and my son and wife are nice about it. Instead of being a baseball coach for one weekend I’ll go out and hit some balls.”