'Golf has been healing': Mom's death puts recent struggles in perspective for Ryan Brehm

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — Ryan Brehm is in, arguably, the biggest rut of his professional golf career. He's missed seven cuts in a row on the PGA Tour, and he's running out of time to keep his playing privileges for next season.

And, sure, it's frustrating.

Yet, Brehm, the Traverse City resident and former Michigan State standout, said he actually has never felt more at peace on the golf course. He attributes that to his biggest fan, mom Debbie, who in January died from a brain tumor. She was 62.

Traverse City's Ryan Brehm is competing in this week's Rocket Mortgage Classic.

"It was devastating, but golf has been healing," Brehm said Tuesday at Detroit Golf Club, walking the front nine in preparation for this week's Rocket Mortgage Classic. "It's been a good source of distraction for me.

"You just realize the reason you're playing the game, for me, is because I want to play, and I like the challenge and who knows how much time you've got left.

"You just don't know. You never know."

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Brehm, 35, is in his second stint on the PGA Tour. He earned his card for last season, and got to keep his status for this season because of the COVID-19 shutdown last spring. That gave him some wiggle room, though now he's down to just a handful of tournaments to keep his card.

Brehm hasn't made a cut since March, and sits 183rd in the FedEx Cup standings. He needs to get into the top 125 to hold his card for 2021-22.

A good showing in Detroit, where he missed the cut last year, would go a long way.

Baby steps, though.

"It'd be nice to just make a cut and get some momentum going," said Brehm, who was playing a practice round Tuesday under the watchful eye of Michigan State golf coach Casey Lubahn. "But, you know, it really doesn't matter to me making cuts or not, I just want to play good. If you play good, that's all you can do. Hit good shots, right?"

Brehm hit some nice ones in a casual stroll around a soggy Detroit Golf Club on Tuesday, playing just in front of fellow Srixon pro Hideki Matsuyama. He made some putts. He needs to do more of that on Thursday and Friday, so he can see more Saturdays and Sundays.

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The biggest struggles are off the tee, where Brehm is one of the longest drivers on the PGA Tour (12th) but also one of the least accurate (179th). That has a damned ripple effect. The more he's out of position, the farther his approach shots are to the hole, the fewer putts he makes.

And, thus, too little work on the weekend. He's made just seven of his last 19 cuts, dating to last year.

"You have to hit enough close to make birdies," said Brehm, who averages 3.43 birdies a round, which ranks 150th on the PGA Tour. "I've never struggled as much as I have right now, but, you know, it's only one swing away. I know there's some good golf on the horizon."

Brehm credits wife Chelsey, who travels with him from stop to stop, with helping keep him positive, or as positive as possible, despite all the missed cuts (it's eight in a row, if you count one Korn Ferry Tour tournament).

He credits the other woman in his life, his late mother, with helping him keep things in perspective. As a son, the grief has hit hard. As a golfer, it's actually made it easier to accept when things go awry. After all, he knows he's good enough to compete against the best, and she knew he was good enough, too.

Brehm was able to spend a lot of time up north over the winter as the PGA Tour wrap-around season was turning over, during Debbie's final days. And he's grateful for that.

"I wouldn't be here without her," Brehm said. "I'm learning the new norm."

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Twitter: @tonypaul1984