The race to the lease of a new Cadillac ATS is on.
Sponsoring LaFontaine Cadillac is one of 18 LaFontaine Automotive Group franchises in nine locations across southeast Michigan, and will present the 2014 champion with a one-year lease of a new 2014 Cadillac ATS.
“That’s nice, a trophy, a check and a new car to take it home in,” quipped Brian Cairns, last year’s Michigan PGA Player of the Year who teaches at the Fox Hills Learning Center in Plymouth.
Tom Werkmeister, 46, went in the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame Sunday, and today he starts defense of his title. He was the first amateur to win the championship in 38 years a year ago.
“To be part of a tournament with such a great history is still a big thrill,” Werkmeister said. “My father and his friends used to talk about the great players like Chuck Kocsis. Walter Hagen’s name is on the trophy. I’ve played with Scott Hebert. It’s pretty amazing to be part of that.”
Werkmeister, a 46-year-old internet salesman from Kentwood, is one of 10 former champions in this year’s starting field of 156 golfers playing for the new Cadillac lease and a purse that will be announced during the tournament.
Hebert, the head golf professional at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa in Acme, heads the group of past champions as a six-time winner (1997, ’99, 2000, ’01, ’02, ’06), followed closely by five-time champion Randy Erskine of Great Oaks in Rochester (1976, ’78, ’79, ’84, ’85).
Other veteran past champions include three-time winner Steve Brady of Oakland Hills (1991, ’92, ’96) and two-time champion Bob Ackerman (1975, ’03). Ackerman, in fact, was an amateur in 1975 when he won his first title, and the last to do it until Werkmeister a year ago.
Barry Redmond of Boyne Resorts (1989) and Jack Seltzer of Kendall Golf Academy in Ypsilanti (1987) return, too. Seltzer will be competing alongside his son John of Oak Pointe in Brighton, who has been one of Michigan’s top golfers in recent years.
The mini-touring group returning home from various tours as past champs is formidable as usual. Barrett Kelpin of Kalamazoo, who tied the 23-under-par all-time tournament scoring record of Chick Harbert (23-under-par in 1948 at Tam O’Shanter) in winning in 2012, is back, as is Grand Rapids resident and Mount Pleasant native Ryan Brehm, who won back-to-back in 2009 and ‘10.
Andy Ruthkoski of Muskegon, the 2007 champion, topped several of the same players in winning the 2013 Tournament of Champions at Boyne Mountain Resort late last summer.
Other top players in the Michigan Section of the PGA are in the field as always. Last year’s Michigan PGA Champion and Michigan PGA Player of the Year Brian Cairns of Fox Hills Learning Center in Plymouth tops that list. Others include Lee Houtteman of Manitou Passage in Cedar, Matt Pesta of Lincoln Hills in Birmingham, Ron Beurmann of Country Club of Jackson, Thomas Harding of Kendall Golf Academy and the host professional, Prestwick’s own Brent Goulding.
Goulding said the course favors a strong ball-striker.
“Prestwick has a kind of links style on the front nine, but holes 13 through 18 are back in the woods to give the golfer the best of both worlds,” he said. “There is a high enjoyment factor in playing the course.”
Prestwick, located just north of Milford in Highland Township on 426 acres of natural, rolling terrain amid a family-focused community, was designed by architect Ron Garl. It’s a perfect spot for more Michigan Open history.
The Michigan Open was first played in 1916 and won by Leo Diegel, who also played in the inaugural Ryder Cup matches and The Masters Tournament in Augusta, Ga. Many of golf’s most famous have their names listed on the Michigan Open’s James Standish Trophy including Hagen, Kocsis, Al Watrous, Walter Burkemo, John Barnum, Marvin Stahl and more recent stars Buddy Whitten, Lynn Janson and J.R. Roth.
Play starts Monday at 8 a.m. The field will play 72-holes with a cut after 36-holes to the low 70 scorers and ties. The public is welcome free of charge.
Visit www.michiganpgagolf.com for more information and live scoring.