FLINT – Jeff Roth, the BOYNE Golf Academy professional with seemingly age-defying golf skills, is at it again and trying to win in a fifth decade.
The 2019 champion at age 61, is 65 this year and turning 66 in two weeks, and yet he shot 4-under 68 at Flint Golf Club Monday to lead through the first round of the 102nd Michigan PGA Professional Championship.
“If there’s a tournament I could win now, it’s going to be one on this course,” he said.
Roth worked at Flint Golf Club in the 1990s and won in 2019 at Flint Golf Club, which was his fifth Michigan PGA Professional Championship title. The others came in 1988, ’89, 2001 and ’03.
“This is a yardage I can manage here (6,694 yards), not the 7,200, 7,400, 7,600 yards and more the other tournaments I’ve played this year have, and I do know this golf course,” he said. “On the longer courses you just put so much pressure on yourself. It’s much easier to come into a green with an eight iron than it is a four hybrid.”
Most of the chasers are younger, including a pair of 30-somethings who are one shot behind after 69s – Garrick Hunger of St. Clair Golf Club and Payne Gniewek of Thousand Oaks Golf Club in Grand Rapids.
Five golfers were at 70 headed by defending champion Kyle Martin of Lochmoor Club in Grosse Pointe Woods. The others included Tim Pearce of Birmingham Country Club, Kevin Muir of Wyndgate in Rochester, Josh Fryer of Franklin Hills Country Club and Mat Little of Golf-Tec Lakeside in Macomb.
And a half dozen shot 71, including 2015 champion Dan Urban of Gull Lake Country Club, last year’s Michigan Section Player of the Year Kosta Ramirez of the Mines in Grand Rapids, Cole Meinke of Watermark Country Club in Grand Rapids, Jim Dieters of Midland Country Club, Adam Schumacher of Point O’Woods Golf & Country Club in Benton Harbor, and another former Flint Golf Club pro, Scott Brotebeck of Walnut Creek Country Club in South Lyon.
Eight-time champion Scott Hebert of Traverse City Golf & Country Club, the Michigan PGA Senior Open winner earlier this summer, was in the group that opened with even-par 72 rounds.
The field of 120 golfers plays another 18 holes Tuesday, and after a 36-hole cut to the low 60 scorers and ties, the final round is on Wednesday.
In addition to determining the Michigan Section PGA champion, who receives an exemption into the 2024 PGA Tour’s Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club, the tournament also serves as a starting point and qualifier on the road to major championship golf at the PGA Championship of 2024, which will be played in May at Vahalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky.
The low nine golfers at the end of the Michigan PGA Professional Championship besides Hebert and Roth, who are already exempt, will earn playing spots in the 2024 PGA Professional National Championship next April at Fields Ranch East & West courses in Frisco, Texas, home of the new PGA of America headquarters. The low 20 finishers from that championship move on to Valhalla to play with the best players in the world at the 105th PGA Championship.
Roth, who has built a Michigan Golf Hall of Fame career and reputation as a world-class putter, said that has not been the case the last two years.
“I just kind of lost my way putting if you will,” he said. “I’ve been working with my son a little bit on it. I’ve been working on my own. I didn’t come down here (Sunday) for a practice round because I was putting on the putting green at The Highlands (in Harbor Springs) and I was doing something productive with it. I was just trying to get some positivity going.”
He made nine pars on the front nine but shot 4-under 32 on the back with birdies at 11, 13, 15 and 16.
“I had more quality putts, and of course I know these greens so well and they don’t break very much so it’s a little bit easier to putt these greens,” he said. “But I feel like I really stole a birdie on 13. I made about a 40 or 5-footer there and I can’t tell you the last time I made a putt that long.”
Hunger, who is in his first year as head pro at St. Clair, said his goal starting the tournament is the top-nine finish to earn a spot in the Professional National Championship.
“What I had going for me is I haven’t played a lot of golf, so I guess I don’t have any bad habits going,” he said. “I made some putts, like 15-footers. Other than that, I didn’t put myself in too much trouble.
SPONSORS: This year’s presenting sponsors are Club Car, Corebridge Financial and Rolex. Supporting partners are Gallagher, the Golf Channel and the PGA Tour. Supporting sponsors are Titleist/Footjoy, Callaway Golf, Nike and TaylorMade.
RESULTS, TEE TIMES: Click HERE