Jackson's Brian Stuard switches putters, believes game is 'trending' entering pivotal RMC

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — Brian Stuard's been a card-carrying member of the PGA Tour since 2013, but he's in a dicey position with the season running short. And he knows it.

Stuard enters his home-state event, this week's Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club, sitting 121st in the FedEx Cup standings. Only the top 125 after the Aug. 12-15 Wyndham Championship will lock up their full playing privileges for the 2021-22 wraparound season.

There's reason for optimism, though. For starters, the Jackson native and Oakland alum is coming off a good showing at the Travelers Championship in Connecticut, where he actually drove a par 4 and made an eagle, and finished tied for 30th.

Brian Stuard, a Jackson native and Oakland University alum, started this PGA Tour season with a top-10 finish but hasn't had one since.

He's also returning to DGC, a course he played a ton as a youngster, and where he finished tied for fifth in the inaugural tournament in 2019.

"You know, I feel like it's trending a little bit," said Stuard, who missed the two cuts before the Travelers. "It's nice to be back in Michigan. For one, it's such a great golf state. To be at a place like this with the history, and having played here growing up…it's great. I always say, 2019 was one of the coolest experiences I've had playing golf. Hopefully this year, it kind of gets back to that."

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Stuard has one PGA Tour victory, the 2016 Zurich Classic in New Orleans, and was in position early at the inaugural Rocket in 2019, among the leaders after a first-round 66 — delighting a large and rowdy group of followers, some he knew, some he didn't, some shouting, "Wear the Bear." He closed with 65 and 68, but a second-round 72 cost him in the end; par is just dandy at a U.S. Open, but not Detroit Golf Club.

Last year, with no fans due to the pandemic, Stuard opened his tournament holing out for an eagle-2, but that was one of the few highlights of his week. He finished tied for 30th.

Stuard's mark long has been consistency. He cashes check after check. But this season has been an unusually tough grind, with 13 missed cuts in 28 events. He started the season with a tie for third at the Safeway Open, but hasn't cracked the top 10 since.

So, last week, he decided to make a change. He's used a two-ball putter for a couple years, but recently switched to a Rossie putter — the one Jon Rahm won with at the U.S. Open. Equipment changes, particularly with putters, are common with many PGA Tour players, but not Stuard. It was time.

"It just wasn't happening," Stuard said. "So I thought I'd change it up.

"I feel like I've been playing OK, but just not getting much out of it. I putted better last week, especially in the second and third rounds, so hopefully it's kind of trending."

The Travelers' showing was his third-best this season, and best since a tie for 16th at Pebble Beach in February.

Starting this week, Stuard, 38, has six more tournaments left to crack the top 125 — and if he gets inside, he'll advance to the FedEx Cup playoffs, along with keeping his card for next season. If he finishes top 150, Stuard will maintain conditional status; that would limit his schedule flexibility.

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He's had some PGA Tour status since 2010, with the exception of the 2011-12 seasons.

Another top 10, or even top five, would go a long way toward continuing that streak, and he's in position at a golf course that suits him. He's one of the shortest drivers on the PGA Tour, but Detroit Golf Club is one of the shorter courses on the PGA Tour. If he can avoid the 4-inch rough and find fairways — he's second on the PGA Tour in driving accuracy — he'll be in attack mode on a water-logged course that should make several pin positions very accessible.

The course also suits his eye, because it's what he grew up on. He calls it a "typical Michigan kind of golf course," with big, old trees lining the fairways. It's similar, Stuard said, to the course he grew up on, the Country Club of Jackson.

"It gives me some good vibes," Stuard said. "It's kind of getting down there (to the wire), and I need to start getting it in the hole a little faster than I have been.

"Last week was a good start."

And, he hopes, only a start.

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Twitter: @tonypaul1984