MSU's Bradley Smithson finishes with three straight birdies to win epic Michigan Open
Patrick Wilkes-Krier got the check, but Bradley Smithson got the trophy.
Smithson, a junior-to-be at Michigan State, rebounded from a late blowup to stage an incredible rally to win the 104th Michigan Open on Thursday on The Bear course at Grand Traverse Resort & Spa in Acme. Smithson led after every round, but needed a three-birdie finish to claim the championship.
It's just the ninth time an amateur has won the state's golf championship, and third since 1975.
"It was really intense," Smithson told The News on Thursday night, about 90 minutes after claiming the title. "It feels very good. I've kind of said to a lot of people all week that I really wasn't playing my greatest. To piece together four really good rounds was very nice to see."
Smithson, 20, led by one shot after the first round, five after the second, and one after the third, and then buckled up for a wild ride in the final round.
He had two eagles on the front nine, but also a double-bogey. He maintained his one-shot lead over Wilkes-Krier, a former Michigan assistant golf coach, after making birdie at the par-5 15th. And then Smithson had some issues, three-putting from 20 feet for a double-bogey at the par-4 16th, then missing the green and failing to get up and down, carding a bogey at the par-3 17th.
Wilkes-Krier, now a teaching pro at Kendall Golf Academy at Miles of Golf, parred both holes and stood on the 18th tee with a two-shot lead.
"It was definitely hard to keep focus coming off those last two holes, playing them 3 over," Smithson said. "Coming to 18, I didn't have the momentum I wanted.
"But I birdied the 18th in the second and third round, so I knew I could get a really good look."
Smithson hit his approach at the par-4 finishing hole to 20 feet and drained the putt, while Wilkes-Krier made bogey, sending the Michigan Open to a playoff.
They played the 18th again first, and Wilkes-Krier seemed in prime position to take the title, hitting his approach shot to 4 feet, while Smithson just missed the green.
He needed to make the chip to keep the playoff alive, and that's exactly what he did, trickling in the left-to-righter — the direction left-handers like Smithson lick their chops over.
"About halfway there, I was like, 'Shoot, that's too high,' and then it just kept breaking and breaking," Smithson said. "Four feet out I was like, 'Oh, that's really good,' and it went in.'"
They headed to the par-4 16th for the second playoff hole, and while Smithson found the fairway, Wilkes-Krier found a fairway bunker and could only pitch out.
Smithson hit a sand wedge to the back quarter of the green, to about 15 feet, and he made that to with a crowd of over a hundred watching the impressive finish.
He went birdie-birdie-birdie to take the title in what he believes was the first playoff he's ever been in.
"He went out and earned it," said Wilkes-Krier, 37, who, of all the shots late, bemoaned his errant tee shot on the 18th in regulation that led to a bogey. "It was disappointing.
"... But it was nice to actually show up in a four-round event and put together some solid rounds."
Wilkes-Krier, a professional whose tournament schedule was limited over the last year by the pandemic, still receives the $12,000 first-place check, of the $80,000 purse. He also used the tournament as an excuse for a family vacation.
Smithson, an amateur, doesn't get any cash, but he still gets quite a springboard into the rest of his summer schedule, and his junior season at Michigan State. He was disappointed with his sophomore season.
Smithson and Wilkes-Krier both finished regulation at 13 under, with Wilkes-Krier shooting a final-round 70 to Smithson's closing 71.
"That was the lowest 72-hole score of my life," said Smithson, a state champion in high school at Forest Hills Eastern who's been attending the Michigan Open as long as he can remember, watching his dad, PGA teaching pro Gary Smithson, compete in the tournament. The two shared a big hug after the round. "It definitely gives me a lot of momentum, going into the rest of the summer tournaments, and the fall."
Smithson finished the week with 24 birdies and two eagles.
Donnie Trosper, the Canton native and fellow Michigan State alum who made two PGA Tour starts last season, finished in solo third, carding a final-round 65.
Traverse City's Winton Much and Ann Arbor amateur Tyler Copp, who plays at Mercer, tied for fourth at 6 under, and defending champ Brett White of Caledonia and Traverse City's Alex Scott tied for sixth at 4 under.
Copp will defend his Michigan Amateur title next week at Cascade Hills Country Club in Grand Rapids, before turning pro. Smithson isn't in the field, and returns to tournament action next month.
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