HIGHLAND – Benny Cook has played just one tournament since he collected two top-five finishes on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica that ended an abbreviated schedule in June, but his golf game hasn’t missed a beat.
“It really has been a good year of just trying to keep things really simple, trying to stay away from bogeys,” the defending champion said after shooting a 6-under 66 with one bogey to lead through the first round of the 100th Michigan PGA Professional Championship at Prestwick Village Golf Club Monday.
Cook, a PGA teaching professional at Yankee Springs Golf Course in Wayland, hasn’t won since last year’s Michigan PGA Professional Championship, but he made this a highlight year by making the 36-hole cut and finishing as the celebrated low club pro in the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, S.C., in May (tie for 44th).
“I’ve been happy with my game all summer really,” he said.
Kosta Ramirez, the head pro at the Masterpiece course at Treetops Resort in Gaylord, was happy with the 65 he shot to stand second through the first round. He said it was his best round in his seventh appearance in the championship.
Scott Brotebeck of Flint Golf Club shot 68, two off the lead, and Garrick Hunger of Great Oaks Country Club and Chris Sullivan, a salesperson for Sun Mountain, each checked in with 69s.
The four golfers at 70 were headed by five-time champion Jeff Roth of Boyne Mountain Academy. The others: Reigning Michigan PGA Match Play champion Kyle Martin of Lochmoor Club, Kyle Dobbs of Walnut Creek, and Midland Country Club’s Jim Dieters.
Cook said Prestwick Village was playing fast and firm and he liked it.
“I had one bogey and I didn’t even hit a bad shot,” he said. “The greens are way different than I’ve been putting on, very fast, and the chipping is tough. I chipped from just off the green in the rough on 11 and the ball just rolled out faster than I thought it would. I hit my mark, but it just kept trickling to 15 feet and I made bogey. I’m not complaining though. I like fast greens, and they are perfect. All you have to do is get it started on line.”
He started it on line enough to make five birdies and an eagle-3 on the par 5 No. 15 hole with a 3-wood off the tee and a 7-iron shot to seven feet.
“This course is longer than Flint (Golf Club) last year, which probably helps me,” he said. “It’s a good start. We’ll try to keep it going.”
The field of 122 will be cut to the low 60 scorers and ties after Tuesday’s second round. The final round is Wednesday in the 54-hole championship that will determine who takes home the first-place check from a $54,000 purse, has their name added as the 100th champion to the Gilbert A. Currie Trophy and is awarded a sponsor’s exemption into the PGA Tour’s 2022 Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club.
Ramirez, 30 and in his first year at Treetops after working at Bloomfield Hills Country Club, said he has been playing decent this year, but a good round in the Michigan PGA was overdue.
“The putter has come around,” he said. “I have a little bit quicker tempo on the putting stroke which has helped me out on short putts. I saw my old head pro Mike Erickson (Bloomfield Hills). He came out yesterday and gave me a couple of tips. Obviously it worked today.”
Ramirez made seven birdies in his round, which included a 4-under 32 on the back nine.
“I’ll try to come back with another good round tomorrow,” he said. “I think my best finish is a tie for 40th. It’s fun to start out playing well.”
The championship also serves as the starting point and qualifier on the road to major championship golf with the best players in the world at the PGA Championship of 2022, which will be played in May at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla.
The low nine golfers at the end of the tournament besides Cook, Scott Hebert of Traverse City Golf & Country Club, Roth, Tim Pearce of Birmingham Country Club and Cody Haughton of Red Run Golf Club who are already exempt, will play in the 2022 PGA Professional National Championship next April at Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa in Austin, Texas.
The low 20 finishers from that national club pro championship move on to play with the best players in the world at next year’s PGA Championship at Southern Hills.
The historic 100th Michigan PGA Professional Championship is presented by Cadillac, ROLEX and Club Car with supporting sponsors Nike, TaylorMade, Titleist/Footjoy, the Golf Channel and the PGA Tour.
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