WASHINGTON, Mich. – Golfers playing in their first professional events are unlikely to win, let alone tie a record that has been seemingly unreachable for 64 years.
Meet Berritt Kelpin, a 22-year-old Kalamazoo golfer who stormed the 95th Michigan Open Championship presented by DTE in historic fashion.
The recent University of Iowa graduate closed with a 4-under-par 68 Thursday for a resounding 23-under-par 265 tournament total at The Orchards Golf Club. It earned him an $8,000 first-place check as well as the coveted James D. Standish Jr. Trophy and a place in history.
It was also good for an eight-shot margin over runner-up Jeff Cuzzort, a Nationwide Tour player from Grosse Ile, who shot 72 for 15-under 273.
In the history books, it matched the mark set in 1948 by Michigan Golf Hall of Fame legend Chick Harbert, who won the Michigan Open four times, won seven times on the PGA Tour, won the 1954 PGA National Championship and was a Ryder Cup captain.
“Probably a lot of it hasn’t sunk in,” he said. “It was my first pro event and I played so well and managed to tie that record. It’s kind of surreal right now, but it was a great week. I mean I played well the whole week.”
Andy Ruthkoski, the 2007 Michigan Open champion from Muskegon, mini-tour golfer Willie Mack III of Flint and low amateur Brian Hayward, a Grand Rapids CPA, tied for third at 14-under-par 274. Clark Klaasen, a mini-tour player from Grand Rapids, was next after shooting a 65, the low round of the day, for 275.
Cuzzort, who won $4,800 for second, had three bogeys to start his round, and said he let the nervous Kelpin off the hook.
“I could see he was nervous,” he said. “He had a double-bogey (No. 5 in the hazard), but I just never got anything going. Bogey the first three holes – that’s not what I wanted to do. It’s kind of opposite of what I needed to do to put pressure on.”
Later in the round, Cuzzort was told that Kelpin had a shot at the record. He decided not to tell him and just root him on.
“I couldn’t catch him, so I started telling him to birdie his way in,” he said. “That was solid playing. It was impressive. He has a lot of game.”
Kelpin said the help of his uncle, Greg Gagie, who caddied for him, was a critical factor, and he said he talked on the phone with his teacher, Charley Vandenberg of Thousand Oaks in Grand Rapids, each day of the week.,
“I feel like talking with (Charlie) and having my uncle there to calm me down when the going got tough was big,” he said after making 29 birdies and an eagle during the four rounds. “I knew I could win, but I don’t think I really expected this in my first professional event.”
Kevin Helm, the executive director of the PGA, and Ron Dalby, owner of The Orchards, announced that the 2013 Michigan Open will also be played at The Orchards.
Kelpin plans to play some mini-tour golf and prepare for PGA Tour Qualifying in the fall.