Mild-mannered Ryan Brehm turns up intensity, snaps cut streak, claws into contention at RMC

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — Ryan Brehm hadn't even teed off yet, and Phil Mickelson already was done with his round Saturday at Detroit Golf Club.

Can't say that's happened too often, especially on the weekends.

Then again, the weekends, themselves, have been problem enough for Brehm, the Traverse City native and Michigan State alum who finds himself in contention at his home-state PGA Tour tournament.

Ryan Brehm of Mount Pleasant putts on the ninth green during Saturday's second round.

Brehm, the 624th-ranked golfer in the world, was set to tee off around 11:20 a.m.  Saturday. Mickelson, the six-time major champion who was the first man out and playing as a single after barely making the cut for the weekend, was done around 10:30 a.m. — for a round played in under three hours.

"It just feels good to hit some good golf shots again," Brehm said Friday night, after posting a 5-under 67 that left him at 6 under for the week, four shots off the lead. "Today was a fun day.

"It's fun when you're hitting good golf shots."

Those have been hard to come by for Brehm, 35, especially lately. He came into this week having missed seven consecutive cuts on the PGA Tour, and eight in a row total if you count a Korn Ferry Tour stop.

He's well outside what it'll take to keep PGA Tour status for next season, with time running out.

So perhaps it's the right time, right place for Brehm to kickstart the home stretch, at home. He was followed by scores of friends and family Friday, and was to be again Saturday. He's got ties from all over the state, homegrown in Mount Pleasant.

A rather even-keel fella, the emotion surfaced during Friday's round.

"His eyeballs are different today, right," Casey Lubahn, the Michigan State golf coach, said. "There was a lot more determination in there, not as much searching. That's what I got to see, competing as opposed to just trying to find the next golf swing.

"(The crowd atmosphere) reminded me of when he was a 19-year-old playing in the Buick Open. You get some energy. He cares about putting on a show for his friends and family."

Brehm made the cut at the 2005 Buick Open. Occasionally, it feels like that was the last cut he's made.

Lubahn is a constant confidant for Brehm. When Brehm's wife, Chelsey, is on the road, Lubahn and Brehm talk a couple times a week. When she's not, they talk much more frequently. Lubahn, in his Michigan State bucket hat, has been at Detroit Golf Club all week, working with Brehm, particularly on the driver. During a practice round Tuesday, Lubahn stood behind several tee boxes, videotaping the swing.

That's the biggest key to Brehm's game. He's one of the longest drivers on the PGA Tour, but one of the least accurate. This week, he's still missing his fair share of fairways, but it hasn't been as extreme.

And the length has played a huge factor. In previous RMCs, the course has played super firm, and thus super short. With all the rain in the last week, it's playing softer and much longer, an advantage for Brehm.

He still can reach three of the four par 5s, while much of the field can't. 

"That's four shots right there," Lubahn said.

Indeed. Brehm birdied each of the par 5s in Friday's 67, tied for his second-best round of the year. He also drove it greenside at the 366-yard par-4 eighth hole in each of the first two rounds.

Brehm was one of two Michigan men to make the cut, along with Flint's Willie Mack III. It was Mack's first made cut on the PGA Tour, in three starts. He made the cut on the number, at 3 under.

Brian Stuard (Jackson/Oakland) missed the cut by a stroke, and Jeff Roth (Plymouth/Boyne), the oldest player in the field at 63, isn't around for the weekend, either.

For Brehm, it's the first time he's made a cut since March. His best finish this season was in February at the Puerto Rico Open, the tournament played opposite a World Golf Championship. He tied for 11th.

Brehm said earlier this week he's not overly focused on cuts or his card — he's had an easier time keeping perspective on what's most important in life, after the January death of his mother at 62. He just wants to keep hitting good shots, which will lead to better results, and more weekends of work.

He made a bowling reference Thursday, after an opening 71. He said there were lots of strikes and lots of gutters. He played with recently turned pro Davis Thompson, who was the first-round leader after an opening 63. To keep with the bowling jargon, the gap between Thompson and Brehm was bigger than a 7-10 split. He closed an eight-shot difference to two Friday, to the delight of so many close to him.

"I've just embraced the feelings," said Brehm, who missed the cut at last year's RMC, when he had no gallery with fans banned because of COVID-19. "I'll be a little bit nervous.

"I think nerves are a good sign. It means you're doing something right."

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Twitter: @tonypaul1984