State golf notes: MSU's James Piot, the U.S. Am champ, caps crazy year with round with Rickie

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — Most of us aren't going to look back fondly on the year 2021, which is starting to feel a lot like 2020.

James Piot, however, is not most of us.

Piot, a senior at Michigan State, had the best year of his life, right up till the very end. Earlier this week in Florida, he was palling around on the golf course with Rickie Fowler, who — get this — actually was a replacement because former President Donald Trump and Rory McIlroy couldn't make it.

MSU senior golfer James Piot is honored at a Spartans football game this fall.

While the result wasn't anything to write home about — Fowler and MSU golf coach Casey Lubahn beat Champions Tour golfer Tom Gillis, who set up the game at Jack Nicklaus' Bear's Club in Jupiter, and Piot, 1-up — it was just another blessing in a year chock full of them, headlined, of course, by his U.S. Amateur championship this summer at Oakmont.

Piot, a Canton native, was the first Michigan native ever to win the U.S. Amateur championship, which came after he won the Golf Association of Michigan Championship at Franklin Hills Country Club. He also made the Sweet 16 of the Western Amateur.

In the spring, he had arguably the best season in Michigan State history, posting the program's lowest scoring average (71.33), winning a tournament and making the NCAA Championships as an individual.

It was the U.S. Amateur, GAM Championship and Western Amateur showings that earned Piot GAM player of the year honors for the first time, but perhaps not the last. He previously won the GAM's junior boys players of the year award.

“It’s a goal in my head every year and part of trending the right way for where I want to be in the future,” he said of the GAM honors. “It validates your hard work and I consider it a big accomplishment. I’m proud of it and proud to represent the GAM and the state of Michigan. I couldn’t be more grateful to win it again.”

One thing Piot won't win again is the U.S. Amateur. He plans to turn pro after his senior season at MSU.

But the U.S. Amateur experience — and the aftermath — have made memories for a lifetime. He got a shoutout from Tom Izzo. He met Kirk Gibson. He threw out a first pitch at Comerica Park. He was honored at an MSU football game. He was on Fox's "Big Noon Kickoff." His face was on a billboard in Lansing and on a banner hanging on the clubhouse at his home course, Fox Hills in Plymouth. He got to represent the United States in the Spirit International, a top amateur team tournament in Texas where he won two medals.

And, oh, he's made a boatload of cash via Name, Image and Likeness. Exact numbers aren't known, but the support has been significant in the wake of his win at Oakmont — making him a unicorn in the NILsphere, where the big bucks usually flood toward the football and basketball players.

"Winning the U.S. Am is something you think you can do, but you don’t always picture it happening. Things have been crazy since it happened. I’m super blessed by all the things that have happened because of it.

"It was the coolest moment of my life.”

From left, Rickie Fowler, Tom Gillis, James Piot and Casey Lubahn pose at the Bear's Club in Jupiter, Florida, earlier this week.

The U.S. Amateur win earned Piot, 23, a spot in the 2022 Masters, where he has an offer to play some practice holes with McIlroy, because McIlroy couldn't make the game this week. He'll turn pro in the weeks after that, but still gets to play in the U.S. Open at The Country Club in Massachusetts. Piot is expected to pass on the British Open, which requires you to remain an amateur to cash in on the ticket from winning the U.S. Amateur (the U.S. Open no longer requires you to retain amateur status).

Other GAM players of the year include:

►Women: Kimberly Dinh, Midland

►Senior men: Jerry Gunthorpe, Ovid

►Senior women: Terry Delcamp, Grand Blanc

►Super senior: Rick Herpich, Orchard Lake

►Junior boys: PJ Maybank III, Cheboygan

►Junior girls: Sophie Stevens, Highland

►15-under boys: Max VanderMolen, Richland

►15-under girls: Mia Melendez, Ann Arbor

Chips & divots

►The Ally Challenge, Grand Blanc's Champions Tour stop, announced it raised $1,315,678 for charity off its 2021 tournament, with that money benefiting 20 charities in greater Flint southeast Michigan. It marks the second time the tournament has raised more than $1 million. The tournament raised about $800,000 in 2020, despite no fans because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In four years, the tournament has raised more than $4.5 million, with the United Way of Genesee County the primary beneficiary.

The Meijer LPGA Classic raised more than $1.1 million for charity in 2021, while the LPGA Tour's Great Lakes Bay Invitational in Midland and the PGA Tour's Rocket Mortgage Classic haven't announced figures.

►Flint's Willie Mack III took home one of the larger paychecks of his long, winding career earlier this month, when he finished tied for third at the Big Money Classic in Orlando, Florida. That earned him $20,250. That was a nice bounceback for Mack, who missed out on securing his Korn Ferry Tour card for 2022, and will have to Monday qualify and rely on exemptions for Korn Ferry and PGA Tour starts. Mack, 33, does have status on PGA Tour Latinoamérica, after making multiple starts on the PGA Tour and Korn Ferry Tour in 2021 — including at the Rocket, where he made his first cut, tied for 71st and won $15,075.

►Here's next year's major golf schedule in Michigan: PGA Tour — Rocket Mortgage Classic, Detroit, July 28-31. LPGA Tour — Meijer LPGA Classic, Blythefield, June 16-19; Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational, Midland, July 13-16. Champions Tour — Senior PGA Championship, Benton Harbor, May 26-29; Ally Challenge, Grand Blanc, Aug. 26-28.

►American Dunes, the old Grand Haven Country Club which was completely redesigned by Nicklaus and officially opened for the public in the spring of 2021, is starting to make its way into the national rankings, which was expected. It earned fourth place recent on Golf Digest's list of best new public courses.

►The GAM has created a new award to recognized efforts of equity, diversity and inclusion. Nominations for the first Champion of Diversity and Inclusion Award are due by Jan. 17.

►Head pro Scott Brotebeck has moved to Walnut Creek in South Lyon from Flint Golf Club.

►The Michigan Section PGA will celebrate its 100th year in 2022.

We're running a new-subscriber special. Support local journalism, and subscribe here.

Twitter: @tonypaul1984