Grand Blanc – The return of professional golf to Warwick Hills Golf and Country Club already proved it could bring out the big names during last year’s inaugural Ally Challenge.
On Thursday, the second installment of the PGA Tour Champions event proved it could do that once again, and only part of that was because some of the best golfers in the game were on hand. As players and amateurs both hit the range and putting green to get ready for the official pro-am, a pair of legends met up for the first time.
That happened when Fred Couples, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, noticed another Hall of Famer on the driving range – Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo.
“I never met him,” Couples said. “I've been to a few of his games, but never met him. It makes my day, you know, when you see people that you watch on TV all the time with not just good programs, but good people and good coaches and you hear a lot about, so it was fun.”
The admiration was simply about recognizing those who excel in other sports. As Couples said, he would have been just as excited to meet any other coaching legend from another sport. At Warwick Hills on Thursday, that meant meeting Izzo for the first time.
“I'm a sports nut,” Couples said, “and if I was playing anywhere else and went up to Urban Meyer, who's not coaching anymore, it would be fun to say hi to him, too.”
Izzo, who played with Tiger Woods at a pro-am for the Buick Open at Warwick Hills in 2005, is less than two weeks from opening practice for the 2019-20 season with a team many expect can win the national championship.
On Thursday, though, Izzo got a quick break from recruiting to mingle with some of golf’s greats.
“It is cool,” Izzo said. “It was fun to meet a couple of the guys and I'm sure looking forward to meeting some more of them. That's the neat thing about sports, everybody's in it the same way. We all know we're one bad shot or one missed free throw away from going from high to low and I think all of us appreciate that about our profession. Whether you're in golf or whether you're in basketball or football, it doesn't really matter.”
The fun of Thursday’s pro-am will quickly change by the time the tournament begins on Friday morning as Paul Broadhurst prepares to defend his championship against a typically strong PGA Tour Champions field.
Included in the 78-player field are 29 major championship winners with a combined 70 professional major titles. The field also includes eight of the top-10 in the Charles Schwab Cup, including leader Scott McCarron, who has 12 top-10 finishes in 19 starts this season, three more than anyone else. He has a $757,083 lead over Jerry Kelly in the Charles Schwab Cup standings
McCarron likes his position as the front-runner.
“I'm out here trying to win as many tournaments as I can,” he said. “I've been fortunate to play pretty well this year. I've got a little bit of a lead, which is nice, but I've got to keep the pedal to the metal. I've still got to go out there and win events and try to put myself in position. I've been trying to win that Schwab Cup for the last couple years, so the only way to do that is keep trying to go out there to win.”
McCarron will be trying to get that win on a familiar course. Warwick Hills hosted the Buick Open on the PGA Tour until 2009, and many of the players in this week’s field appeared regularly in that event. In fact, nine past winners of the Buick Open will play this week, including Couples, Woody Austin, Dan Forsman, Billy Mayfair, Rocco Mediate, Larry Mize, Tom Pernice Jr., Kenny Perry and Vijay Singh, a three-time winner.
The field also includes seven members of the World Golf Hall of Fame, including Couples, Tom Kite, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, Colin Montgomerie, Mark O’Meara and Singh.
“Good memories,” Singh said. “I won three times here and played a whole lot of events out here. So whenever you come here, you remember things and all the good things that happened.”
One added highlight this year is the Celebrity Shootout, a nine-hole team exhibition match that will benefit charity and take place following the last tournament pairing of the second round of competition on Saturday.
The event features the legendary Jack Nicklaus along with Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg, Kid Rock and Dierks Bentley. The teams – Nicklaus/Rock vs. Zetterberg/Bentley – will compete for a $25,000 purse to benefit the tournament’s primary charitable partners, Genesee County Habitat for Humanity and United Way of Genesee County.
“Anytime you can bring arguably the best player that's ever lived, Jack Nicklaus, to a tournament, it adds a lot,” McCarron said. “It's great to see the legends here. Jack is one of the greatest guys ever lived, one of the greatest players, so it's a lot of fun to have him here and more excitement for the fans.”
Where: Warwick Hills Golf & Country Club, Grand Blanc (7,127 yards, par 72)
Purse: $2 million (winner: $300,000)
TV: Friday-Sunday, 6-8 p.m., Golf Channel
Defending champion: Paul Broadhurst