Brian Stuard, a Jackson native and Oakland alum, finished tied for fifth at last year's Rocket Mortgage Classic. The Detroit News
Detroit — Last year ahead of the Rocket Mortgage Classic, Brian Stuard's girlfriend, Alicia, was in charge of handling ticket requests for friends and family. At first 100, then 200, and then, who knows how many.
The inaugural PGA Tour tournament at Detroit Golf Club was among the highlights of Stuard's long and steady career as a professional golfer.
For once, he got to play a "hometown" PGA Tour event. He finished tied for fifth. He was showered with love, from his first practice round to his final putt of the week. He probably went through more Sharpies in a week than he typically goes through in a year.
But this year, all of that ruckus is gone. He's not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.
"Yeah, that's a good point," Stuard said Wednesday, on the eve of the start of tournament play. "Definitely a lot less distractions this week, probably, I think, with the no fans. That's kind of the feel that it has been, but you know, it's going to be different.
"I'm not sure if it will be better or worse for me this week, but last year was something that I've never experienced before, playing a tournament in Michigan, having that many friends and family there.
"It's just going to be tough to duplicate that, obviously."
Stuard is one of three Michigan men in the field — joining Traverse City's Ryan Brehm and Canton's Donnie Trosper — but the only one who played in this tournament last year. He finished 17 under par, good enough to win many weeks on the PGA Tour, but not during a week when Nate Lashley ran away with it.
The tie for fifth, though, was Stuard's second-best finish of the year. He had one tie for fourth before that, and has one tie for fourth since then.
He's still seeking that elusive second PGA Tour win. In 2016, he won the Zurich Classic in New Orleans, becoming the first Michigan native to win on the PGA Tour since 1995.
"I don't think about that too much," said Stuard, a Jackson native who attended Oakland University. "There's definitely a desire to win again. But I think for me, I'm just trying to do as well as I can each week and hopefully I get a couple more chances to close the deal.
"But, there's always that desire to get back in the winner's circle."
This week would be the dream scenario, of course — on a course that fits his game. He's deadly accurate off the tee, important here, while he's one of the shortest hitters on the PGA Tour, not as important here.
Stuard comes in having made cuts in each of the PGA Tour's first three tournaments since the restart, though that's hardly a surprise. Given how many tournaments he plays and how steady he plays, he cashes more weekly paychecks than most guys on the PGA Tour.
And about a month ago, after months of going back and forth, he finally put some of that cash to good use, purchasing a motorcoach with which to travel — a growing trend on the PGA Tour. Stuard's good friend Russell Knox has done it for a while. Many players do it for the convenience of being able to come and go as they please, rather than having to stick to a strict flight itinerary, as well as for the ability to pack heavier and, thus, have around a few more of those comforts from home. That was part of the equation for Stuard, and part of it was simply the COVID-19 crisis.
Stuard is loving life on the dusty trail so far — those are the only long drives he's accustomed to — even at eight miles to the gallon.
"I wish I would have done it a couple years ago," Stuard said. "It's been awesome."
The only thing more awesome would be if Stuard was able to entertain in the luxury behemoth this week.
But it'll be a much quieter, much lonelier Rocket Mortgage Classic for Stuard, who said he never felt pressured from his gang of friends and family last year. He got to mingle, hang out a bit, but wasn't overwhelmed. They knew it was a work week for him, and they respected that.
In return, he put on quite a show for them.
Which he hopes to do again, even if that show now will have some commercials.