'He's just Stu': Brian Stuard's faithful following out in force at Detroit Golf Club

Nolan Bianchi
The Detroit News
From left, Dustin Nall, Brian Stuard, D.J. Heselschwerdt and McKenna Long pose for a picture following Friday's second round at the Rocket Mortgage Classic.

Detroit — Since third grade, they’ve known him by a one-syllable nickname: Stu.

That’s why, even 14 years after their childhood friend turned pro in golf, it’s still weird for D.J. Heselschwerdt and Dustin Nall to hear fans and announcers call PGA Tour golfer Brian Stuard by his first name.

“It’s like, who’s Brian?” Heselschwerdt said Friday afternoon, while watching Stuard putt on the 10th green at Detroit Golf Club.

Stuard is a longtime PGA Tour pro who often goes about his business barely getting recognized at stops across the country, but not this week. He's been a hit at this weekend’s Rocket Mortgage Classic, the first PGA Tour event to take place in Detroit.

A Jackson native and Oakland University alumnus, Stuard had his girlfriend handle ticket requests. She put in an order for 450 tickets — and they were all claimed before the tournament’s second round concluded.

“It’s been great,” Nall said. “You get an opportunity to come down here multiple days and bring family and friends that don’t ever get to see him.”

Stuard opened with a 6-under 66 on Thursday to put him among the first-round leaders, but he had a tougher time Friday, with a par 72. Still, he'll make the cut and have two more rounds to play in front of a whole bunch of friends and family.

Stuard wasn't thrilled after his round Friday, at least not with his play. But he loves the support, and notices how much he has — cheers of “Go Oakland” or “Go Michigan” have followed most of his shots, he said.

Brian Stuard sits at 6 under through two rounds of the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic.

“It’s been a lot of fun. The crowds have been awesome, getting to play in front of friends and family is pretty cool,” he said. “Probably more people that I didn’t know out there today, but still had a lot of people cheering me on, so it was great.”

Stuard's father, Glen, still finds it tough to explain how this all came together.

“This wasn’t something that was planned,” Glen said.

It actually was plan B — or maybe even less than that. Stuard’s first dream — playing quarterback — was derailed in eighth grade after taking a blindside hit that revealed a blood-clotting issue. He picked up golf during his early teen years, but still, playing professionally wasn’t something Stuard necessarily seemed destined to do.

“It’s neat to see because we know where he started,” Heselschwerdt said.

Stuard was voted “most likely to succeed,” won a state golf championship and was named valedictorian during his time at Napoleon High School. While those honors don't automatically translate to real-world success, they certainly do indicate a work ethic that would, in fact, explain all of this.

Stuard won his first PGA Tour tournament in 2016, the Zurich Classic in New Orleans.

“You don’t really realize the trip when you’re in it. You don’t realize what it actually takes to do it,” Glen said. “He just kept getting better, got out of college and played Hooters Tour just to see if he was good enough to play at that level — he was.

"Just kept getting better.”

Now, it’s easy to understand why Stuard’s fan club required hundreds of tickets.

He’s the pride of a small town.

"The whole town of Jackson, they think they know him,” Glen said. "If he knew how many people followed him, he wouldn't believe it."

He’s the pride of a small school.

“I’ve heard people say, ‘Hey, that’s the kid from Michigan. That’s the kid from Oakland. Is it the University of Oakland? Is it Oakland University?’" said Garry Gilbert, the director of journalism at Oakland, out on the course Friday. "I step in and correct them. I’ll say, ‘Yeah, he’s from Oakland University. He’s our best-known pro athlete.'"

And to those who knew him way before any of that, “he’s just Stu.”

“Honestly, with Brian, he’s a low-key guy, and since we’ve been friends with him for so long, it’s trucking along as a friend," Heselschwerdt said. "We don’t even think about (Stuard being famous).”

More than anything, Nall said he’s enjoyed simply being able to “walk all 18” with his childhood pal over the last two days.

“I think it’s changed the professional golf outlook for me,” Nall added. “Not that you don’t care about what those other guys are doing, but like, Dustin Johnson and all those big-name guys, you want to come watch your friend.

"He’s now your favorite golfer.”

Despite a rough Friday leg at Detroit Golf Club, Stuard, 36, comfortably made the cut — he's made 18 of 25 cuts this season — and will continue to see hundreds of supporters lining the ropes at every hole he plays Saturday and Sunday.

Those last two days, each shot means a little more. Mistakes are much costlier. The pressure is substantial. But as close friends of a participant, those last two days, Heselschwerdt and Nall said, are what they live for.

“With that adrenaline, it’s almost like you could start to feel that competitiveness with him,” Heselschwerdt said. “You kind of enjoy it with him a little bit.”

Then again, the same could probably be said by his entire local community.

Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.

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