'Swing for the fences': Traverse City's Ryan Brehm won't hold back in return to PGA Tour
Detroit — Ninety-two days.
That's how long Ryan Brehm was stuck at home in Traverse City — OK, there are worse places to be stuck — without being able to play a single round of golf, a drought that seemed like forever, but actually lasted from late February into late May. Sure, he chipped a bit, actually a lot, in his vast backyard, when he wasn't obsessing over building his dock. But as far as 18 holes, nope.
He figures his longest stretch, prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, was three weeks, maybe four tops, sometime between a Thanksgiving and a Christmas. At least since he turned pro, in 2008, and probably even dating back longer than that.
Finally, the courses up north opened, and he played a round at LochenHeath.
"It wasn't as weird as I thought it was gonna be," Brehm said.
Getting back to professional, touring golf, now that was weird.
He's played the last three weeks on the Korn Ferry Tour, with the first tournament at TPC Sawgrass. He missed the cut. Then it was on to St. Augustine, Florida. He missed the cut again.
Last week in Utah, he made a cut and finished tied for 18th, earning his first paycheck since late February.
"Those first two weeks," said Brehm, "I was feeling it a little bit. I'm getting better, but it took me a while. It's getting a little bit better, here and there. Last week was a better week."
Now, Brehm is hoping a better week last week can springboard into an epic week this week.
Brehm is playing his first PGA Tour tournament since the restart, and it just so happens to be in his home state, at the Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club.
This marks the third time the Mount Pleasant native, Traverse City resident and Michigan State alum will play a PGA Tour tournament in his home state. He Monday-qualified for the old Buick Open as an amateur in 2005, and made the cut, then played in the Grand Blanc tournament's swan song in 2009, missing the cut.
This will be the first time playing a PGA Tour event in Michigan, while he's an active PGA Tour card-holder.
"I grew up dreaming of playing the PGA Tour in my home state," Brehm said early Wednesday morning, walking down the first fairway during one last tuneup before Thursday's opening round.
"It's special here."
Brehm, 34, is one of three Michigan natives in the 156-player Rocket Mortgage Classic field, with fellow PGA Tour member Brian Stuard (Jackson, Oakland University) and Donnie Trosper (Canton, Michigan State).
This will be Brehm's 14th PGA Tour event this season; he's made the cut in eight of his last nine tournaments.
Brehm is in his second go-around on the PGA Tour, after graduating from the Korn Ferry on the strength of a late-season win in 2019. That earned him his PGA Tour card, but doesn't guarantee him into every tournament. Star-studded fields, he has no shot — thus, he was shut out of the first three events back.
The Rocket Mortgage Classic, the fourth tournament back, proved a convenient week to take off for some of the game's bigger names, and that's good news for Brehm. He doesn't know when his next tournament will be, whether it's next week in Ohio, or later in July.
"We don't know," said Brehm, who's the ninth man out for next week's tournament at Muirfield Village, though that could change in a hurry given all the shuffling amid a rash of positive COVID-19 tests.
That means Brehm must take advantage of every opportunity he gets.
Because of the COVID-19 shutdown, the PGA Tour granted this season's players the same playing privileges for next season, meaning Brehm gets to keep his card for 2020-21. That's a relief.
But that doesn't take away the pressure, at least in his eyes.
He still wants to made the season-ending FedEx Cup playoffs, even though his chances will be limited.
Well, he's got a shot this week, at a course that, amazingly, he never played before. He already has fallen in love with Detroit Golf Club, he raves about the condition, and warns about the thick-as-can-be rough, particularly around the greens. Driving distance here helps, he said, but accuracy probably is more important. This season on the PGA Tour, Brehm ranks fifth in distance (314.7 yards) but 223rd in accuracy (47.4%).
"We know we're going to have more opportunities this year and next year, so for me it's trying to take it one week at a time, try to make progress, get better a little bit here and there," said Brehm, who rented a house for the week in Royal Oak. "But, you know, I'm feeling more pressure this week, just because it's my first start, and I'm only going to get a few before the FedEx Cup playoffs, and we're at home. I want to play well.
"So, there's a little extra pressure, which is fun. In reality, I need to play extremely well in these few events if I want to get into the playoffs. And that's why I'm playing for. I'm going going to hit driver as often as I can, swing for the fences, and play for Augusta."