'Just amazing': Locals Willie Mack III, Ryan Brehm take pivotal steps at Rocket

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — For one, it was a big first step toward forging a career on the biggest stage in golf.

For another, it was a big step in the right direction toward keeping that career going.

Ryan Brehm (Traverse City/Michigan State) finished 5 under this week at the Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club, for the first cut he's made in his last eight PGA Tour tournaments — and nine tournaments in all, if you count a missed cut a Korn Ferry stop. Meanwhile, Willie Mack III (Flint), in the tournament on a sponsor's exemption, finished 4 under in making a PGA Tour cut for the first time in three tries.

They were well down the leaderboard, but they cashed five-figure checks and can feel the momentum from a memorable week filled with a whole lot of familiar faces in the gallery.

Flint's Willie Mack III hits a chip shot on the 18th green during the final round of the Rocket Mortgage Classic on Sunday.

"It was great," Brehm said after a final-round 72 on Sunday, which tied him for 67th and earned him $15,600. "I was getting a little frustrated on the course, but I heard a lot of 'Go Greens!' out there and a lot of people cheering for me, being a home-stater. 

"I think I started pressing a little too hard out there. I wanted to perform for everybody.

"But I hit a lot of good golf shots."

Brehm, 35, was 6 under through two rounds after a second-round 67, four shots off the lead. It was his first made cut on the PGA Tour since March.

His game was solid tee to green this week, but he struggled on the traditionally treacherous Donald Ross greens. One of the longer hitters in the field, he wasn't nearly as hindered by the wet conditions earlier in the week that made DGC, and particularly the par 5s, play a lot longer. He was ranked in the top 10 in the field with strokes gained tee to green, but in the 70s in strokes gained putting.

But he'll take it, after so many workless weekends in the past several months. He credits Michigan State golf coach Casey Lubahn for the positive results. Lubahn was around all week working with Brehm, particularly when it came to the driver.

Brehm is playing the next three PGA Tour tournaments, before a week off. He needs some good showings. He's still projected to be around 185th in the FedEx Cup standings; top 125 keep full PGA Tour playing privileges for next season, and top 150 get conditional status, which Brehm has had this year and last.

"I'm gonna take away more positives than negatives this week," said Brehm, a Mt. Pleasant native whose wife Chelsey, dad Mike and sister Hannah headlined his large following, which includes aunts, uncles, cousins and lots of friends (Chelsey handled all the ticket requests).

"We'll take that to next week."


Also heading to the John Deere Classic in Silvis, Illinois, is Mack, for his fourth PGA Tour start this year, all on sponsor's exemptions.

Mack, 32, missed the cut in his first two starts, out west in January and February, but found his groove at Detroit Golf Club, which he has played regularly over the years, since he was a kid.

Like Brehm, Mack started strong this week with an opening 68, and actually got it to 6 under early in second round Friday morning — his name was on the first page of the leaderboard — before stumbling to the house. He made the cut right on the number (he had great company in that regard, with Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson and Patrick Reed).

He closed with a 1-under 71.

"It was surreal, just being able to play on the weekend at a course you play all the time," Mack said Sunday, walking over to chat with some of his friends and family. "Just to do it on the PGA Tour scale is pretty exciting. … Hopefully making this cut, with all the pressure that I had, (I'm) able to keep it going."

For Mack, this week was the biggest gallery of friends and family he's ever played in front of, led by dad Willie Mack Sr. Several of them had shirts with Mack's face on them; an uncle orchestrated that.

Mack played in a Korn Ferry Tour tournament in South Carolina last month — where he tied for 62nd for his first Korn Ferry paycheck — and he got paired with Baseball Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. So that probably was his biggest gallery ever.

But so many familiar faces this week took the cake on that front for Mack, who has won more than 60 professional tournaments, mostly on the mini-tours, and many for less than he was set to earn this week.

"All of it," Mack said when asked if there was one moment that stood out during the Rocket.

"From the first day I got here on Monday, it was kind of all just amazing."'

He tied for 71st and earned $15,075, one of the largest paydays for the long-time mini-tour grinder.

The other two locals in the field, PGA Tour mainstay Brian Stuard (Jackson/Oakland) and 63-year-old Jeff Roth (Plymouth/Boyne), missed the cut.

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Twitter: @tonypaul1984