Summers Golf Champions
by MICHELLE ELLIS
Michelle Ellis admits her parents dont know which end of the golf club is which, and she admits she only took up the game as a school class bludge, which is roughly Australian slang for something to kill time without expending great effort.
But the 24-year-old second-year touring pro also admits the game found her, too, and she wants to be among the best in the world at it.
Thats why Im out here, to learn, to start to work and learn and experience the kind of experience I experienced here, she said after winning the Innerform Golf Challenge, a late June stop by the SBC Futures Tour at Boulder Creek Golf Club in Grand Rapids.
Then when we get to the LPGA, we wont be jumping in the deep end.
Among the things that will keep her afloat will be a three-day gritty performance that included rounds of 70, 69 and 68 for 207, and a one-hole sudden death playoff with Japans Namika Omata.
The money helps, she said after picking up the first-place check of $9,100, but what happened will help me more.
Ellis, who qualified for the U.S. Womens Open this summer, took over the top spot on the money list with the win. The top three on the money list at the end of the season earn LPGA playing cards because this is the second year in which the big tour recognizes the little tour as its official developmental tour.
Ellis figures the money list would be great, but there is always Qualifying School. She ran out of goals as an accomplished amateur in Australia after claiming two Australian Amateur titles and playing well in World Cup competition.
That left coming here, and learning what it takes to do this for a living, she said. Ill go home now and again, but Im here to make it.
So she toils, and with two wins, is likely headed for the LPGA Tour. Not that the folks at home will notice right away. Its not unusual to call home and report she shot 3-under only to here her mother ask if thats good.
Hey, thats kind of nice really, she said. They dont care how I play, as long as Im happy.
Ellis is a native of a tiny town in New South Wales called Casino, which she said is near the Queensland border.
If I wasnt playing golf, Id probably be working in a golf shop, she said. Its about all I know now. Im making this my career in some way, and I want it to be as a player.
She left Grand Rapids happy, even though it took two missed four-foot putts, one on No. 18 in regulation play, and one in the playoff, to help make her a champion.
She had made a clutch putt of about seven feet on No. 18 to settle in at 207.
I guess I learned that you really never know what will happen, she said. I didnt expect her to miss those, but you know, its, well, a lot of pressure. Pressure in the past sent her temperature rising, but the fiery Ellis admitted playing each week in a tournament has taught her to level out her emotions.
Im working on it, she said. You cant keep thinking about bad shots. You really have to play the next shot. When I play well, Im doing that.
Soon, will likely be doing it with the best women golfers in the world.
Im confident I can do that, she said. I figure if I can win here, with some work, I can win there. That is the idea isnt it?
With Hooters Tour player and Michigan Open champion Scott Hebert trailing him by just two strokes entering the final round of the Tournament of Champions played last month on the Alpine and Monument courses at Boyne Mountain, 22-year-old Michael Harris of Troy could have been extremely nervous. I was on the telephone a lot and then I went to bed and slept well, Harris said of sleeping with the lead in the $100,000 tournament. I wasnt nervous at all. That wasnt a factor.
Harris, who played on the University of Michigan golf team last spring, shot an even-par 72 in the final round and collected the $20,000 winners share of the purse. He finished the 54-hole tournament with a 9-under 207, two strokes ahead of Hebert, and four strokes ahead of former amateur champion Shawn Koch and senior pros Lynn Janson and Randy Erskine.
Harris closed out his T of C title by draining a 30-foot birdie putt on the final hole, after hitting a 6-iron 175 yards into the wind and over water. That was probably the best swing I made this week, said Harris, who quickly changed his mind. That was probably the best swing of my life, he said of that 6-iron. I couldnt have asked for anything more.
Although happy to receive his winners share, which he said was about four times as much as he had ever won playing golf, Harris, who turned pro just prior to teeing off in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, said the money was not his primary concern.
This was the first time I ever birdied the last whole to finish it off, Harris said. Im 22 years old and some of these guys have been out here seven or eight years. Right now Im playing for the experience more than for the paycheck. The experience will help me more in the future. Janson and Erskine have been playing Michigans majors for many more than seven or eight years.
I hung in there and had a little bit go my way on the last few holes, Harris said. It was a matter of getting a few putts to fall. I got a little frustrated out there because I hit some good shots but nothing really fell. When I thought I hit a good shot I ended up on the wrong side of the hole. Harris had played the Monument only once previously, in a practice round the weekend before the tournament. I enjoyed this very much this week, said Harris, who plans to attend the PGA Tours qualifying school this fall. It was fun to meet a lot of new people. I played well and I met a lot of new people, so for me, the tournament was a huge success.
In Harris Bag
Fairway woods: Mizuno
Putter: Mizuno (He said he planned to switch though, after winning the T of C.)
There will be a lot of Michigan club pros rooting for Scott Hebert to earn his Tour card this fall. After all, hes dominated the Michigan Open the last few years, by winning three out of last four events held at The Bear at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa. Believe me, theres nothing I want to do more (than to play on the PGA Tour). Thats what I work for every day, said the 31-year-old Escanaba native who now resides in Grand Rapids when hes not competing on the satellite golf circuit.
But watching the monotony of Heberts steady play, its hard to find the work in Heberts game. As a touring professional freed from the business and/or member demands of many club pros, Heberts game is at a different level. The same was true for former champion Tom Gillis who won in 1994 and is now playing on the European Tour. Pros who are working on their games day-in, day-out and competing on a regular basis have competitive advantages over most club professionals. That being said, thats doesnt mean Hebert is assured of success at the next level-The PGA Tour. In fact, the caliber of play is so keen itll be a tough go for Hebert to earn his card. Remember: those guys are good. Very good. But as his performance at the 2000 Michigan Open demonstrated Hebert is one of the best and most underrated players in the state. He played in his first Open in 1995 where he finished 11th. From then on, his finishes are as follows: second, first, second (lost in a playoff), first and first. Is that any good, Gary Koch?
Obviously, Hebert has found a home course at The Bear. He used to be assistant professional there and has played the course, in all sorts of conditions, countless times. You can sense by watching the talented, boyish- looking Hebert that he never feels defensive or intimidated by the layout. Although his swing is not classic or Harmonesque by modern standards, it has no loose parts and possesses a sound tempo. He drives the ball long and straight, hits lots of fairways and greens, and can putt his ball. Moreover, he has a ready pre-shot routine and is a quick, confident player. Most importantly, he thinks his way around the golf course in smart fashion. Like a champion, he doesnt make dumb course management mistakes. This year, he put together rounds of 70-72-68-68, or ten-under-par 278. He sped by third round leader Stephen Polanski-now theres a talented young amateur with a bright future-by birdieing the third, fifth and sixth holes during the final round. The birdie at the par-five 6th hole was a turning point. With Polanski inside him putting for birdie, Hebert drained a 40-foot putt to take a three shot lead. That was the probably the big moment in the round, said the Ferris State grad who earlier this summer won $20,000 in a Hooters Tour event.
Anyone watching this years Michigan Open wont be surprised if more big moments are in store for Scott Hebert. Hes ready for the next level this fall.
In the Bag:
Driving iron: Tour Edge
Irons: Titleist 990 (3-9)
Wedges: Hogan 56 degree SW; Titleist 52 degree
I felt it was my year, and with that thought in mind Stacy Snider of Grandville played and won her final match in the 84th annual Michigan Womens State Amateur Golf Championship at Metamora Golf & Country Club. Snider defeated her final opponent, Mary Jane Anderson of Clarkston, 5 and 4 to win the championship. Snider started the match strong with a birdie to go 1-up. Anderson drew even on No. 3, but then Snider began building her lead, which Anderson was never able to overcome.
Metamora, an attractive and very challenging course, played 5,881 yards for this tournament. Hilly, with some strategically placed water, Metamora requires good course management and ball placement, not only on the fairways, but also on the greens. The greens are undulating and fast, requiring a good read and feel. Snider displayed fantastic hands, putting and chipping, for a golfer her age, according to Anderson. On the day of the championship match, there was a steady wind, gusting strong at times, but both women did not let it affect their games.
After her semifinal match with Courtney Reno of Grosse Ile, whom she defeated 4 and 3, Snider said her strategy for the final match with Anderson would be to make more putts and go at everything so she would have no regrets. The 20-year-old Michigan State University sophomore said she felt confident going into the match. She did think it would go the full 18 holes and expected strong competition from two-time champion Anderson, who had defeated her twice before in quarterfinal matches. They also faced each other in June in the GAM Womens Atlas Cup matches.
It didnt take 18 holes, however, for Snider to win the championship. Anderson appeared to have a cold putter, and in her words, was always on the wrong side of the hole while Stacy was on the right side. Anderson had opportunities on holes 8 and 9 to perhaps turn the match around, but was not able to capitalize on them, while Snider, according to Anderson, probably played the best I have seen her play.
Sniders MSU golf coach, Stacy Slobodnik of Haslett, whom Snider defeated in the quarterfinals, 3 and 2, said, Stacy played great golf throughout the tournament. Sniders caddie and Slobodniks fiancé, Jim Stoll concurred, saying he was on Stacys bag to steady and calm her. In her speech when accepting her trophy, Snider acknowledged that Stoll kept her calm and patient, and went on to say, Patience paid off.
With no golfers in her family, Snider picked up the game on her own, beginning at about age eight or nine. Her family lived next door to a golf course, and Snider and her brother used to pick up the range balls so they could golf for free. She played in and won her first competition at age 10. Snider has two PowerBilt Junior titles and three GAM Girls titles. While on the Grandville High School golf team, the Bulldogs went to the state finals all four years Snider was a member and won state championships her junior and senior years. When considering a college, Snider formally visited the University of Kentucky and University of Memphis, but once she visited MSU, her decision to become a Spartan was immediate. Slobodnik said that this past season Snider consistently ranked in the top three on the team based on her finishes. Snider proudly pointed out that the team finished second in the Big 10, played in the regionals, qualified for the NCAA and finished 20th in the nation this year.
In Sniders Bag:
Driver: Callaway Great Big Bertha
4-wood: Callaway Steel Head
7-wood: Callaway Great Big Bertha
Irons: Ping I 2s
Wedges: Cleveland sand and Titlest 60-degree lob
Putter: Scotty Cameron
When it comes to power golf, Kevin VandenBerg, the new Michigan Amateur champion, takes a back seat to very few.
VandenBerg has long been known for his tremendous length, but up until this year it hadnt gotten him much except around Kalamazoo, where he has won the Greater Kalamazoo Golf Associations Player of the Year award four of the last five years.
Now, after having the career week of his life in June at Battle Creek Country Club where he won the Michigan Amateur championship, VandenBergs reputation has spread across the state. He still hits the ball long, but he proved in winning the Amateur that he has matured and developed his game beyond the aspect of more power.
Overall for the tournament (Amateur), VandenBerg said after his victory in Battle Creek, I was about 21-under-par. Ive never played this well, but what a super time to do it.
He went right from the Amateur to the Michigan Open at The Bear and finished in the top 50 there.
I had three decent rounds in the Open, he said. I shot 73, 76, 84 and 73. Whatever could go wrong in the third round did.
But I learned a lot about course management. I was paired with John Traub and saw how he played the course. I learned things that will help me a lot in the next few years.
VandenBerg, 34, is the chief investment officer at Greenleaf Trust in Kalamazoo.
He lives in Mattawan in the home he grew up in, having purchased it from his parents.
Golf was not one of his first loves in his teenage years, although he played on the varsity team all through high school.
He preferred basketball and baseball, and baseball was his first choice. He was a pitcher in Little League, but was moved to catcher in high school.
He was good enough to get a tryout with the Cincinnati Reds.
I wasnt a great hitter and my defense was adequate, he says. What they really liked was my arm. I had a real strong arm.
He hurt his arm at the tryout camp and that helped him make up his mind to turn to golf, but he didnt completely give up baseball.
VandenBerg went to Kalamazoo College where he played baseball in the spring and golf in the fall.
My last two years in college, I played football, too. I was a punter, he says. I worked out with the defensive secondary, but the coaches never played me in a game in the secondary.
VandenBerg credits baseball for the distance he gets hitting a golf ball.
Its from the legs and forearms, he says. I started noticing it after I got out of college. Im not real big.
Hes not small, though. VandenBerg is 5-10 and weighs about 205. Hes solid.
VandenBerg doesnt use special clubs, but he had to search long and hard to find the right driver. He settled on the Biggest Big Bertha with a 6 degree loft. It has a graphite shaft.
He also carries a 13 degree Taylor Made 3-metal or a 2-metal 11 degree old Taylor Burner.
His irons are Titleist 90s with steel rifle shafts.
I have a 1-iron and the 3 through pitching wedge, he says. I also carry two Snake Eye wedges, a 54 degree and 60 degree.
He putts with a 31-inch STX.
I normally use the Titleist Professional ball, he says, but Ive been experimenting with the Nike.
VandenBerg is working on his Masters degree at Western Michigan University and doesnt have any plans to turn professional.
People have told me I should try the mini-tours, but Im not good enough and I dont have the time, he says. I cant take a year or two off and expect them to hold my job for me. I like my work.
At the outset of the golf season, he listed among his career goals as winning the Michigan Amateur and making the match play field at the Western Amateur.
He had no idea hed achieve the first one so rapidly. Hed qualified for the Amateur four times previously, but had never won a match, always bowing out in the first round.
After he made it to the Sweet 16 at Battle Creek, he was thrilled and everything that followed was sugar coating.
When he holed his 119-yard wedge shot on the final hole for an eagle two to clinch the championship, it was a perfect ending to a perfect week that saw VandenBerg battle through some swing problems. It showed his maturity in how he handled the adversity and was able to come from behind in several matches.
Hes always been a great front runner. But when he was able to come from behind, especially against a great player like defending Amateur champion Randy Lewis of Alma, it showed that, for at least one week and in reality for one year, Kevin VandenBerg is the No. 1 Amateur player in Michigan.
In Vandenbergs Bag:
Driver: Callaway Big Bertha
3-wood: Taylor Made
Irons: Titleist 990
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