ACME – Winning the Michigan Open Championship last year at The Bear at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa was validation for then-amateur golfer Jake Kneen of White Lake.
“It validated for myself that I am good enough to give this professional thing a really good shot,” he said.
Kneen, now a professional with four professional mini-tour wins to his credit from over the winter in Florida, is one of 13 past champions who will play in the 102nd Michigan Open Championship presented by Grand Traverse Resort & Casino/Yamaha Golf Cars Plus/Lake Trust Credit Union next Monday through Thursday, June 10-13.
The 2019 championship, the 30th visit and second consecutive to the resort for the Michigan Open, is presented by Grand Traverse Resort & Casinos, Yamaha Golf Cars Plus and Lake Trust Credit Union with additional support from Pepsi and Traverse City Tourism.
Kneen, a 23-year-old former Oakland University golfer, was just the second amateur to win the Open since 1975 last year, and he said he is excited about the 2019 tournament.
“It’s always a big deal to play in a Michigan Open,” he said. “I have a lot of good memories from there last year, and the Michigan Open has an incredible history. A lot of big names in golf have won it, and I’m going to put my best effort into trying to win it again.”
Grand Traverse Resort and Spa hosted the Open 28 times between 1981 and 2008, and in the last 25 of those years The Bear course, designed by Jack Nicklaus, helped identify the champion as it helped identify Kneen a year ago.
“It is a great championship venue, very demanding,” said Kneen who overcame a triple-bogey 7 on the par 4 No. 16 hole in the final round to win. “You can make a big number on any hole if you hit a shot in the wrong spot. You just have to be on with your ball-striking, and if you are not on, then you are going to get penalized. When it comes to a tournament like the Michigan Open, with the history it has, I think The Bear is a great track for the tournament.”
He said he was teased by a few folks over the winter and asked about what he might hit off No. 16 in this year’s championship.
“I tell them I will have the same game plan as last year, but I will try not to hit it 70 yards right of the fairway,” he said and laughed.
Another among the 13 returning champions is Scott Hebert of Traverse City Golf & Country Club, who won his record-tying six Michigan Open titles on The Bear between 1997 and 2006. He is a past head golf professional at the resort and also worked for the golf operation after college. When he won most of his Michigan Open titles, he was playing mini-tour golf like Kneen is doing now.
Some of the other returning champions also won on The Bear, including Steve Brady, the director of golf at Oakland Hills Country Club, who won his three Michigan Open titles at The Bear (1991, ’92 and ’96). Jeff Roth of Boyne Golf Academy was the 1998 and 2004 champion at The Bear. Bob Ackerman has two titles, and his second was in 2003 at The Bear. Others back as Bear/Open champions are Tim Matthews of Scotts (1986), Barry Redmond of Crooked Tree Golf Club (1989) and Andy Ruthkoski of Muskegon (2007).
Rounding out the group of 13 former winners in the field are Randy Hutchison of Traverse City (2011), Barrett Kelpin of Kalamazoo (2012), Tom Werkmeister of Grandville (2013), Jeff Bronkema of Caledonia (2016) and Matt Thompson of Marshall Country Club (2017).
The elite field also includes Ben Cook of Caledonia and Yankee Springs Golf Course, who recently played in the national PGA Championship, Brian Cairns of Fox Hills Learning Center in Plymouth, John Seltzer of Seltzer Golf School in Grand Rapids, former PGA Tour player Doug LaBelle of Mount Pleasant, Willie Mack III of Grand Blanc, Eric Lilleboe of Okemos, Sam Weatherhead of Grand Rapids, Chris Mory of East Lansing, Mike Nagy of Manistique and James Holley of Howell, who finished second by two shots a year ago.
As always, many of the state’s top collegiate and amateur players are in the 156-golfer starting field, including last summer’s Michigan Amateur champion, Beau Breault of Hartland and Eastern Michigan University and Andrew Walker of Battle Creek and Michigan State .
The field will play 72 holes with a 36-hole cut to the low 70 scorers and ties. The purse will be announced during the tournament.
The Michigan Open was first played in 1916 and won by Leo Diegel, who also played in the inaugural Ryder Cup matches and the first Masters Tournament in Augusta, Ga. Many of golf’s most famous have their names listed on the Michigan Open’s James Standish Jr. Trophy including Walter Hagen, Chuck Kocsis, Al Watrous, Horton Smith, Walter Burkemo and John Barnum.
The championship is administered by the Michigan Section of the PGA. Justin Phillips is the tournament director.