'This could be the break he needed': Canton's Donnie Trosper ready to let it fly at Rocket Mortgage Classic

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — Sure, he'll be at least a little nervous. It's the PGA Freakin' Tour.

But as far as the jitters go, Donnie Trosper can't imagine being more freaked out than he was last week when he stopped on the first tee for a hastily organized 18 at Detroit Golf Club.

His playing partners that day were two gents named T.J. Lang and Darren McCarty.

Canton's Donnie Trosper plays his approach into the second hole at Detroit Golf Club on Tuesday.

"Yeah, to be honest, I was at my peak nervousness there," Trosper, a Canton native and former Michigan State golfer, said during his drive in Tuesday morning, before playing his first practice round ahead of this week's Rocket Mortgage Classic. "Especially when playing with T.J. Lang. For some reason, maybe he's just an intimidating guy."

Trosper eventually settled down alongside Lang, the former Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions offensive guard, and McCarty, the Red Wings legend, especially on the back nine.

On Nos. 14-18, all Trosper did was go eagle-par-birdie-birdie-birdie.

"It was so impressive," McCarty said. "It's cool to say I played a practice round with Donnie."

Trosper, 23, is playing his first PGA Tour event this week — heck, he's never even gotten into a Korn Ferry tournament — after surviving a four-man playoff for one coveted spot during Monday's qualifier at Oakland University's Katke-Cousins course in Rochester.

He's one of three Michigan natives in the field, along with PGA Tour mainstay Brian Stuard (Jackson, Oakland University) and another Michigan State alum and PGA Tour member Ryan Brehm (Traverse City).

Trosper will tee off at 2 p.m. Thursday and 8:45 a.m. Friday, looking to turn that $100 entry fee into Monday's qualifier into something much, much bigger.

"That'd be awesome," Trosper said. "That'd be a dream come true."


'Kid knows how to win'

Trosper grew up in Canton and attended high school, and golf was just going to be a given since his parents, Don and Gail, owned Mickey's Golf Range in Westland.

When he wasn't playing roller hockey, Trosper was putting put his time in pounding one beat-up range ball after another — and the result was a stellar junior career. In one single summer, 2014, he won four American Junior Golf Association tournaments, tying him for second place all time. You know who he's tied with? Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, albeit they each did it twice.

"The kid," said Casey Lubahn, Michigan State's golf coach, "knows how to win."

That's why Lubahn went hard after Trosper out of high school, to no avail. Trosper was drawn to the year-round warm weather, and headed to the University of Central Florida, where he played three seasons, earning conference freshman of the year and making all-conference twice.

But by the time his senior year was rolling around, Trosper didn't feel great about his situation. He clashed with his coach, and simply put, he didn't feel he was getting better.

So he took a trip to Michigan State, checked out its $6-million golf facility, and headed for home.

"The minute we knew he was interested, it was pretty simple," Lubahn said. "It was a no-brainer."

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In his one season at Michigan State, 2018-19, Trosper averaged 71.37, the lowest single-season scoring average in program history. He was a first-team All-Big Ten selection. He set a program record for 54 holes, at 9 under par, in an NCAA Regional. For the season, he had seven top-10s, including two top-fives and one win.

And in typical Trosper fashion, he made it look rather easy.

If you spend 30 seconds talking to the kid, you get the sense he's pretty laid-back.

"He's actually more laid-back," Lubahn said.

That's off the course, of course. And that suits him just fine, until it doesn't. For instance, since his time at MSU ended, he acknowledged not being the best at organizing his time or his golf schedule. He played the Korn Ferry Tour's qualifying school and did pretty well, getting some conditional status there — but that turned out to not mean much at all, particularly among the COVID-19 shutdown and restart.

Donnie Trosper once won four AJGA golf tournaments in a single summer.

He's basically on the Monday qualifier circuit these days, Korn Ferry and PGA Tour, because it's cheap, at only $100. Trosper doesn't have sponsors and doesn't have the $50,000 he figures it takes to make a life of things on the road right now.

That's why Monday could prove so huge. Trosper shot a 4-under 67 in the morning and figured he wasn't going to get one of the two spots — especially when a 27-year-old from California named Kurt Kitayama sat down next to him. Trosper asked how he did, and Kitayama responded: 7-under 64. But as the afternoon wave of the 51-man field kept coming in, Trosper's score was holding, albeit with some ties.

He got in the playoff with three other players, one of who happened to be Wes Homan, with whom Trosper played in last year's Monday qualifier. In 2019, Homan made it, Trosper didn't, and as they were walking off the course, Homan said to Trosper, "It's all right, bud."

Remember that laid-back Trosper off the course? Well, turns out, he can be a sniper on it and for whatever reason that remark from Homan, however innocent, really ticked him off.

"That kind of got under my skin," Trosper said, laughing. "Man, if this guy can do it, I can do it. Then I saw him in the playoff, and that fired me up even more. Man, I'm feeling it. I'm just ready to birdie the first hole."

That's exactly what Trosper did, taking what he called the Daniel Berger approach — all guns blazing, whatever happens, happens. Worst-case scenario, he said, was a holiday weekend spent hanging with some buddies, playing some money games at Eagle Crest in Ypsilanti. He drained a 20-footer on the first playoff hole to eliminate half of the four-man playoff. Trosper and Andres Echavarria both made par on the second hole, and Trosper took home the second and final spot when Echavarria three-putted the third hole for bogey.

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That put Trosper into this week's 156-player field at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, which will his biggest event ever, especially as a pro.

As an amateur, he played in three U.S. Amateurs and two U.S. Open sectionals.

"This surprises me so little, it's hard to describe," said Lubahn, who won't be on the grounds at Detroit Golf Club this week in Detroit with a bunch of other Spartans (the tournament is the fourth of five fan-less events on the PGA Tour), but said he'll be refreshing his phone every five minutes Thursday and Friday — and he hopes into the weekend, as well. "When Donnie plays well, he plays well.

"I think this could be the break he needed, at the moment he needed it."

Making the cut, Trosper said, is the first goal. That means a guaranteed paycheck. If he gets past that, then the sky is the limit. Just ask a golf pro named Will Gordon, who was a regular on Canada's Mackenzie Tour, which shut down for the year. That led him to trying to secure as many sponsor's exemptions as he could on the PGA Tour, but those eventually run out. Except Gordon, who played seven PGA Tour tournaments before last week's Travelers Championship, finished tied for third in Connecticut to earn special temporary membership through the rest of the season. Gordon, 23 like Trosper, is in the field this week in Detroit. Nate Lashley entered last year's Rocket Mortgage Classic as the last man in the field, ranked 353rd in the world. By week's end, he was a champion and a millionaire.

Crazy things happen on the PGA Tour.

Donnie Trosper played three seasons at Central Florida before transferring to Michigan State.

Home-course advantage

It's a good bet that among the players in the field, nobody has played Detroit Golf Club more than Trosper, who was a regular in the Horton Smith Invitational and also played here in high school.

Then there was that round earlier this month, which came out of the blue. Trosper and McCarty both are members of the newly created (and booming) Metro Detroit Golfers Facebook page, and McCarty, Lang and former 97.1 The Ticket host Kyle Bogenschutz happened to be looking for a fourth. Somebody suggested Trosper, and McCarty texted him out of the blue. Game on.

"He said it took him two hours to get comfortable," McCarty said, laughing. "Man, he's got the game. He's as good a younger player that I've played with, and I was in Florida for six years and played with a bunch of mini-tour guys, guys on the Web.com (now Korn Ferry).

"I'm stoked because he's got the game, bro. It's amazing. For example, he played from the tips, we played from up, and he was probably like 1 under or a couple under. Then we get to the (Area) 313 zone, and he's like, 'I'll dial it in.' He goes eagle-par-birdie-birdie-birdie to finish 5 under the last five.

"People can really dig into this hometown kid."

There are some advantages to being the local, even though he won't get to experience what Stuard and Petoskey's Joey Garber experienced in 2019 — large crowds of friends and family, growing with each day.

But Trosper gets to sleep in his own bed and make the same drive he's made countless times before, from Canton to Detroit Golf Club, a course he knows better than anybody in the field — even if the rough is thicker than he's ever seen it ("You know the best way to play out of that?" his caddie for the week, veteran looper Brian Oldani, asked him on the second hole of his practice round Tuesday. "Don't hit it in there.").

Good point. Good line. Keeping it loose, the Trosper way.

"It's the same drive on the same highway to the course. I know that drive, I know that course, just pulling up to the course, it's crazy how there's a PGA Tour event here," said Trosper, who figures between the texts and Instagram DMs he got easily over 100 congratulation messages Monday (that doesn't count FaceTimes, of which he did a few, wearing a big grin and a pulled-down mask). "If I was playing, like maybe, in Utah or somewhere else around the country, or California, I'd be really, really nervous, at a new place.

"But here, I feel pretty comfortable. I hope I stay like this."

Rocket Mortgage Classic

When: Thursday-Sunday

Where: Detroit Golf Club

Defending champion: Nate Lashley

Notable players: Webb Simpson, Patrick Reed, Bryson DeChambeau, Tyrrell Hatton, Tony Finau, Sungjae Im, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, Kevin Na, Danny Willett, Kevin Kisner, Erik van Rooyen, Christian Bezuidenhout, Bubba Watson, Matt Wallace, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Brandt Snedeker, Jason Day, Steve Stricker, Padraig Harrington, Vijay Singh

TV: Thursday-Friday — Golf Channel, 3-6 p.m; Saturday-Sunday — Golf Channel, 1-3 p.m; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Wednesday: Bubba Watson, Jason Day, Harold Varner III and Wesley Bryan will play a nine-hole exhibition for charity, and it will air live on Golf Channel from 1-3 p.m.

Tickets: None; the event will be held without fans because of COVID-19.

Merchandise: RocketMortgageClassic.com


Twitter: @tonypaul1984