For the first time, Michigan golf pro Ryan Brehm can think long term — on his new boat

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — In the immediate aftermath of his first PGA Tour win, Ryan Brehm wasn't planning on splurging. He was planning on putting that $660,000 check in the bank.

Update: Brehm and wife Chelsey splurged. They bought a new boat —  a 22-footer to take out on Lake Michigan, near the couple's Traverse City home. Better yet: Brehm and his wife get to actually use the boat these days. There's a bit more rest and relaxation for the longtime professional-golf grinder.

Since winning the Puerto Rico Open in March, for his first career PGA Tour title, Ryan Brehm has finally been able to look at the big picture when it comes to life and golf.

Ryan Brehm and caddie and wife Chelsey Brehm walk on the fifth hole during the final round of the Puerto Rico Open.

Previously, it used to be all about the short term, the next week on the golf course, trying to keep his card. The Puerto Rico Open came with a two-year exemption, through 2023-24.

"It has changed, but it's good," Brehm said, of life in general, while walking through the players' parking lot at Detroit Golf Club on Tuesday, ahead of this week's playing of the Rocket Mortgage Classic. "You know, it's just a little bit more focused on the long-term improvement plan versus having to perform each week. That's the biggest difference. We take a longer approach, try to implement a few improvements in the way we play, and it's not like we have to go out next week and our career is going to end if we don't perform well.

"That, and we get maybe a couple extra weeks at home."

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Between the start of the 2019-20 season and the end of the 2020-21 season — which were essentially merged as the PGA Tour adjusted because of COVID-19 — Brehm played 38 tournaments, and in each one, he felt the weight of the world on his shoulders to perform. You've got to perform on the PGA Tour to stay on the PGA Tour. That's how professional golf works, or at least it used to (see: LIV Golf).

He didn't do enough in 21 events over 2020-21 to keep his card, but he was given a one-week lifeline from the PGA Tour, because he had to miss a tournament because of COVID.

He was given one start this season, and basically needed the week of his life to keep his card.

He chose Puerto Rico, where he had some past success. He basically had to win. And he did, becoming Michigan's first PGA Tour winner since Brian Stuard (Jackson/Oakland) won in 2016.

This week will be Brehm's 15th start on the PGA Tour this season. It's because of the late start, but it's also because he's been able to say no to a tournament for a change. Before, he was thrilled when the phone rang, meaning a spot had opened up. To close last year, he played seven of eight weeks, trying to find a magical moment to keep his card. This year, he's taken the occasional break, including two weeks ago, skipping the tournament at Tahoe to bop around back home on the lake.

"We've been using it as much as we can this summer, a lot of swimming and exploring," Brehm said.

"It's been nice."

And, well, different.

"Very weird," Brehm said. "Very strange."

But in a good way, on so many levels.

"You're so trained for so long, you're looking and begging to get in, 'Am I gonna get in or not?' And, now, it's just totally different," Brehm said. "We're getting a little bit older and realizing that seven weeks in a row is probably not feasible anymore.

"And it's amazing how much of a better frame of mind you come back with when you're not thinking about the game and when you're out on the water."

More: Ready for liftoff: Get all your Rocket Mortgage Classic coverage right here

Ryan Brehm walks on the 13th hole during the third round of the Puerto Rico Open.

When Brehm arrived at the Rocket Mortgage Classic last year, he did so having missed six consecutive cuts and trying like hell to keep his card, all while still coping with the death of his mother, Debbie. With his coach at Michigan State, Casey Lubahn, by his side pretty much all week, as they worked out swing kinks, Brehm made the cut at the Rocket to snap the skid, tying for 67th, and was a T53, T51 and T23 the rest of the way.

It's already a different vibe this year.

There's no Lubahn standing behind him recording every practice drive. And Brehm didn't feel the need to arrive at Detroit Golf Club the second the gates opened. In fact, he didn't show up Monday, playing at Orchard Lake in West Bloomfield. He wasn't planning on showing up Tuesday, either, because he was set to play the renovated South Course at Oakland Hills in Bloomfield Township with a potential sponsor.

He only showed up Tuesday for a couple hours to take care of some tournament logistics. In fact, he wasn't set to play DGC this week until early Wednesday, when he plays his nine-hole pro-am.

"Last year, I was so stressed out," said Brehm, as his new caddie, Lee Chaney, an acquaintance from their days on the old Hooters Tour, stood nearby. (Chelsey caddied in Puerto Rico, and swiftly retired.) 

"But, yeah, a lot can change in a year."

For starters, he's more financially secure — and that will be the case for the foreseeable future as sponsorship opportunities continue to arise given his PGA Tour win. At Puerto Rico, he wore the logo of Delta Dental on his shirt (soaked by champagne off the 18th green, the culprit good friend and 2019 Rocket winner Nate Lashley), but their business relationship actually had ended. After the win, Delta Dental was so thrilled with the exposure, they backdated a new contract and extended him for two years.

Brehm also is poised to make the FedEx Cup playoffs for the first time in his career. He sits 118th on the public rankings listed on the PGA Tour's website, but he's in better position than that given that list still includes several players who've left for LIV and are no longer eligible for the playoffs.

The top 125 make the playoffs, though Brehm would like to enter the fray in a little better position, because only the top 70 make the second event, and only the top 30 make the Tour Championship. There'll be good money regardless where he finishes, but the cash gets significantly bigger in that top 30.

A good week in Detroit would help. So would a good week next week, at the Wyndham, which he's committed to playing. For now. He'll make a final decision Friday. Because, now, he can.

"I thought I'd be here a lot sooner and be better than what I am," said Brehm, who became a bit of a legend growing up in Mt. Pleasant, the young kid who hit the booming drives. He first had his PGA Tour card for 2016-17, then lost it, then got it back, then lost it — and now look at him.

"But it's a lot harder. It's harder than I ever thought it would've been.

"It's just really difficult, you know, but that's good. That's a good thing."

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Twitter: @tonypaul1984