EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third in a series of four releases regarding 25-year segments of the Michigan PGA Professional Championship, which will be played for the 100th time Aug. 16-18 at Prestwick Village Golf Club in Highland. The third group of 25 tournaments were presented from 1972 to 1996.
Lynn Janson might have teed it up in the 100th Michigan PGA Professional Championship next week if it wasn’t for back surgery five months ago.
“I wish I could since it’s the 100th,” said the 73-year-old golf professional who is retired but still consulting as a former golf course owner (The Legacy in Hastings) and teaching a PGA Junior League golf team, too.
In the third set of 25 Michigan PGA Professional Championships, Janson won four times (1979, ’81, ’85 and ’87) and said the 1986 championship that he lost to Gary Robinson in a playoff might be the one he thinks about most.
“I hit a bad pitch shot,” said the Michigan PGA Hall of Fame and Michigan Golf Hall of Fame member with a storied short-game reputation.
“I was happy for Gary, he’s a good friend of mine, but I just didn’t like the way I let that one get away. It was hard to take. I think we remember the ones we lose, too, maybe more so.”
Janson said playing in the Michigan PGA Professional Championship and playing in the Michigan Open Championship were big deals to him.
“The state PGA was important for us, the guys that were club pros,” he said. “I remember my first one (1979 at Davison Country Club). It was a total surprise.”
Janson had posted a score that tied him for the lead with Jim Pickard, who he watched reach the par 5 No. 18 green in two shots.
“He hit two beautiful shots and is putting for eagle,” Janson said. “I do remember thinking that putt is way faster than he thinks it is. I had that putt. Then Jim putts it four feet past and misses coming back. I really didn’t expect that to happen after those first two shots and suddenly I won.”
Janson said his second win in 1981 is memorable because he played with Al Mengert, another two-time champion who had won in 1980. The Oakland Hills Country Club pro had a national reputation, was the former No. 1 amateur golfer in the world and played in eight Masters Tournaments.
“We were paired with Al in the final round and Fred Stabley (Jr.) caddied for me,” Janson said. “Fred was more nervous than me. He was so nervous that at one point he handed me the flag stick instead of my driver to go to the next hole.”
Janson won his final two PGA titles at Indianwood Golf & Country Club on the Old Course, which had been renovated and brought back to its classic design features.
“It is one of my favorite courses, really in my top 20 in the world,” he said. “In those days they took pride in getting the greens as fast as they could get them – lightning fast. I thought it was great. I thought it helped me.”
Janson, a Lansing native recently named as part of this year’s Hall of Fame class at Michigan State University where he was an All-American golfer, rents a home in Hastings for part of the year and lives the rest of the year at Black Diamond Ranch in Lecanto, Fla. He remembers the 1985 win included the PGA Tour’s Dave Hill in the field.
“He was being inducted into the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame that year (then located at Indianwood) and agreed to play,” Janson said. “What a great player he was.”
Janson and Buddy Whitten, beyond being rivals in the major state tournaments, had a friendly rivalry fueled in large part by the members of the clubs where they worked in the Grand Rapids area for many years. Whitten was the head PGA professional at Blythefield Country Club and Janson at Green Ridge Country Club which later became Egypt Valley Country Club.
Whitten won in 1977 and 1983 and their names were often at the top of the leaderboards with Ken Allard, Randy Erskine, John Traub, Jack Seltzer among other future hall of famers.
“I don’t remember a lot of details, but I remember the stiff competition and having to battle to the end with Lynn and so many other good golfers,” said Whitten, who is 74 and still teaching the game in retirement to military veterans with disabilities in the celebrated PGA Hope program at Fox Hills Golf and Banquet Center in Plymouth.
His first Michigan PGA win stands out. Whitten was an assistant professional to Tom Deaton at Franklin Hills Country Club for one year, 1977. He had obtained PGA Class A status, which made him eligible to play in the Michigan PGA.
“That was the same year I qualified for the U.S. Open at Southern Hills, and the same year Tom (Deaton) won the Michigan Open,” Whitten said. “Then I won the Michigan PGA in really my first thing in the section. I think Tom and I won the (Michigan PGA) Pro-Assistant and there were a couple of other things.
“It was a big deal that year at Franklin Hills with what the staff had done, and winning the PGA was a big deal to me. It got me into the national club pro (PGA Professional Championship), which I then qualified for my first PGA Championship the next year, and then that led me on to winning the national club pro in 1979.”
Whitten, a Florida native who played with full status on what is now the PGA’s Champions Tour when he turned 50, said he remembers being in the top five several times when the tournament was played at Indianwood from 1982 through 1991.
“In that era I played well,” he said. “I don’t remember all the finishes, but I really enjoyed playing the great courses in Michigan like Indianwood. I remember they had a new course they built there, and two years in a row I set a course record on it during the pro-am, and then didn’t play as well in the tournament on the Old Course.”
Ken Allard puts his three titles, the first two in 1989 and 1991 at Indianwood and a third 11 years later in 2002 at Shanty Creek Resort, at the top of his golf accomplishments.
“I was playing against my peers, my fellow PGA pros, and there were so many great players like Lynn Janson and Buddy Whitten,” he said. “I felt pretty good when I could come out on top.”
Allard, 72 and still competing in state senior tournaments, remembers his first in 1989 involving a reporter trying to interview him before the tournament had finished.
“I had finished a few groups ahead and we were watching there on the lawn there at 18 (Indianwood) and one guy in the last group, Richard Loy, had to just make par to tie me,” he said. “I don’t remember what reporter it was, but he was talking to me like it was over. It wasn’t over and I was trying to let him know that and watch at the same time.”
It turned out it was finally over when a bogey was the result Loy managed.
“His par putt went over what we called the cellophane bridge,” Allard said. “Don’t know how it didn’t go in. It went right over the hole like cellophane was there.”
Steve Brady has had his share of missed putts, but also made his share and won his share of Michigan PGA titles. The current director of golf at Oakland Hills Country Club won in 1993 and again in 1995.
Brady, who said he quit counting trips to PGA Tour qualifying at 17 times, said the great thing about his wins is that winning a section championship in those days earned an exemption into the national PGA Professional Championship as well as a ticket through the first stage of PGA Tour qualifying.
“Those were big things, but I still had aspirations to win the section championship so my name could be on the trophy, too,” he said. “I mean the names are amazing and they mean a lot to Michigan golf, Oakland Hills. We’re talking Walter Hagen, Al Watrous, Horton Smith, guys like that.”
Brady, like Janson, said he remembers one that got away, too.
“I three-putted the last hole at Indianwood (1990) and lost to Barry Redmond,” he said. “That one sticks out for that, but also because Tom Gillis (PGA Tour and Champions Tour player) was my caddie. He worked there. He was a range rat, caddied for me and helped me a lot.”
Brady, a Saginaw native, feels his Michigan PGA wins along with three Michigan Open wins helped put him in the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame, but also helped him become just the ninth head golf professional at Oakland Hills.
“It all led to this, the best thing that ever happened to me professionally,” he said. “I loved the game. My wife Judi was so supportive. We wanted to try and make it on the tour. We traveled. We played in a lot of tournaments. We worked hard and you remember the days you came out of top. They are special.”
Redmond remembers that first win and slipping by Brady in 1990, but his second win in 1992 was at Garland Lodge and Golf Resort in Lewiston.
“Garland was where I grew up because my dad (Alex) was a pro there for all those years,” he said. “So to be able to go back there and play the tournament was a thrill to begin with, and then what an honor to be able to win it with my dad right there to see, and all the people that we grew up with knowing how special it was. That is one of my most cherished moments.”
Redmond, 61, retired from the golf business but working with a restoration and repair company, said the family was stationed in Royal Oak where he and his siblings went to school, but when summer arrived it was off to Garland.
“I didn’t go to college, I went to Florida and started working in golf to become a PGA professional,” he said. “I came back home and worked as a professional, and that made the Michigan PGA something that was always on my docket. I’ve always felt it is an honor to be a PGA member, and to win our section championship is a great accomplishment.”