'We all have to adjust': Michigan's touring golf pros will be under the gun once tournaments resume
Ryan Brehm was supposed to be traveling the country, relishing his second shot at the PGA Tour.
Instead, he's stuck in Traverse City — OK, there are worse places to be quarantined — working on his dock, binge-watching "New Girl" and "Outlander" with wife Chelsey, eating up ESPN's new Michael Jordan documentary, and really just trying to be at peace with everything that's going on.
Because, after all, there's not much he can do about it.
"I'm not frustrated. I just think, it's so out of the blue, you just have to roll with it and embrace it," Brehm said the other day over the phone from his property in Northern Michigan. "The PGA Tour is gonna be there again. We're just all gonna have to prepare and get ready to compete again. Honestly, this break is something that I haven't had in probably 10 years, and so, yeah, it's a little bit slow. It's a change of pace.
"But it gives you a chance to work on some things that you can work on at home."
Brehm is one of several Michigan natives in tricky situations when it comes to major-tour golf, among them Petoskey's Joey Garber (Korn Ferry Tour), Lake Orion's Tom Gillis (Champions Tour), and Michigan State alums Sarah Burnham and DeWitt's Liz Nagel (LPGA Tour).
All have status on their respective tours this season, but none are secure beyond this season — and in Garber's case, he's trying to get a promotion back to the PGA Tour, where he played last season.
But with all the major tours shut down amid the COVID-19 outbreak, and no real clear date when things will start back up again, the future is very much up in the air.
Many tournaments have been canceled, and when the tours do start up again, they'll be operating on a very condensed schedule, leading to fewer opportunities to earn a big paycheck — and more importantly, some comfort that next season is going to be there.
"My theory has always been," said Gillis, 51, "be ready when you're up."
Brehm is taking a similar approach.
At some point, the PGA Tour is going to restart, and when it does, he'll have to make the most of the opportunities he has.
That's why, while he can't get on the golf course — the state has shut down the industry through at least the end of the month, though many private clubs are allowing members to walk and play, without amenities — he's still able to fine-tune his craft, particularly his short game.
On three acres in Traverse City, Brehm's brother-in-law helped him carve out a little alley that goes up a hill behind his house, so he can hit some wedges. And he also has a golf simulator featuring four courses.
"But I typically just head to the driving range (feature) on there," Brehm said.
The PGA Tour announced this month it plans to return June 11-14 with the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, followed by the RBC Heritage in Hilton Head, S.C., the Travelers Championship in Cromwell, Conn., and then the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit, the week of July 4.
Those first four events will be played without fans. After that, the PGA Tour will assess the situation, though Dr. Anthony Fauci suggested this week that it's unlikely any major sports will be played in front of fans or galleries through the end of the year.
In total, the PGA Tour has 14 tournaments left on the schedule. The season often is called a marathon, but in this case it most certainly will be a sprint.
Given the condensed schedule, that could be an issue for Brehm, who as a 2019 Korn Ferry graduate has some status, but it depends how many of the PGA Tour's previous year's top 125 want to play in a tournament. The theory is, the top 125, including some of the game's biggest names, will play in the bulk.
One of the 14 is the PGA Championship, for which Brehm hasn't yet qualified. Another is a World Golf Championship event; same story there. The last three are the FedEx Cup playoffs, and he's well outside that. That leaves nine tournaments, one of which is the star-studded Memorial, Jack Nicklaus' tournament, which again he's not likely to play. So, then, he's down to eight. (The rescheduled U.S. Open and Masters aren't included, as non-sanctioned PGA Tour tournaments.)
Brehm made eight of nine cuts before the shutdown in March, but still ranks 197th in FedEx Cup standings.
Some fields will expand the number of players, which could provide Brehm an opening. But, as of now, there's still so much uncertainty.
"There are still some logistics left to shake out here in terms of eligibility requirements. I don't really know yet," said Brehm, 34, a Mount Pleasant native and a former Michigan State assistant coach who also played the PGA Tour in 2017. "It's just impossible for me to gauge. I don't think we've ever seen anything like this. I don't know how players are going to react, I don't know if there's gonna be trepidation to travel, or if they'll be eager to get back.
"I trust the Tour will make the best of this situation. They usually do a good job with this, they do have our best interests in mind.
"It's just been a unique year."
Players on all the major tours haven't been told specifics of how eligibility issues could be sorted out, though all are under the impression the tour is having discussions.
On the Champions Tour, Gillis only played one tournament before the shut down, because of multiple injuries, most recently a back problem. The break could do him good on the health front, but he'll have a lot of ground to make up once the tour resumes. He's 97th in the Charles Schwab Cup rankings, and needs to climb into the top 40 to get status for next year. The Champions Tour — which already canceled the Senior PGA Championship, set for May in Benton Harbor — plans to return July 9-12 with the Senior Players Championship in Akron, Ohio. The Ally Challenge in Grand Blanc is set to go off two weeks after. The Champions Tour has 15 tournaments left on the schedule.
On the Korn Ferry, the PGA Tour's feeder tour, there are 11 tournaments officially on the schedule, with three others having been labeled as postponed. So there could be 14. Players must get into the top 25 by season's end to get their PGA Tour card; Garber, 28, who played the PGA Tour last year and finished tied for 29th at the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic, has made four cuts in five events this season, but has a hill to climb.
And on the LPGA Tour, Burnham, 24, in her second season, and Nagel, 28, in her first, haven't yet cashed, as the LPGA Tour was just getting going when the shutdown happened. The LPGA plans to return June 19-21 with the Northwest Arkansas Championship, and has 15 tournaments remaining, including the Meijer LPGA Classic, which is being rescheduled and probably moving from June to sometime in July, and the Great Lakes Bay Invitational in Midland, which remains on target to be played July 15-18.
Talk about your shotgun restart.
"It's just something we all have to adjust to. It is what it is," said Brehm, who also, by the way, watched Showtime's "Hitsville: The Making of Motown," and highly recommends that. "I've been through things before. There are always surprises, and I think as a golfer, if you want to be successful, you just have to learn to take advantage of the opportunities when they present themselves. That's been my attitude.
"You know, all the best players in the world seem to do that."
Another local golf touring pro, Jackson native and Oakland alum Brian Stuard, 37, has been on the PGA Tour since 2013 and is safe with his status.