by Greg Johnson
Despite a two-year sponsorship via a group from Grand Rapids, Stacy Slobodnik saw enough of professional golf in one year to convince her she would prefer another life-style.
But the Kentwood native also saw enough daily practice time, gained on-course experience in all types of conditions and worked under the watchful eye of noted national teacher David Leadbetter for a year.
"I became a better golfer, no doubt about that," she said, "and I could see myself having a good chance to make it on the LPGA Tour someday. I mean, Mr. Leadbetter was very positive. He helped me.
"But I didn't want to limit my options."
Slobodnik, the Michigan State University assistant golf coach who won the Michigan Women's Amateur championship earlier this summer at Egypt Valley Country Club in Grand Rapids, pointed out that male golfers who make the mini-tour trek have club professional careers waiting for them if they don't make it in tour golf.
The same can't be said for women just yet.
In addition, the head Michigan State women's golf coach for 24 years, Mary Fossum, came calling with a job offer.
Slobodnik saw it as an opportunity to return to MSU where she had been a standout golfer, saw the possibility of perhaps being a head coach in a golf program in the future and saw a chance to continue her education in graduate school.
"I saw a chance to give myself a lot of options," she said. "I mean we would get off the golf course after playing for four hours and practicing for four hours, and so many women would have to run off to a waitress job. They had to do it. They didn't have a choice.
"I wanted to have a choice."
Her choice was to come back to Michigan, coach the Spartans, get reinstated as an amateur golfer and play her tournament golf without having the pressure of a check hanging over her head.
"I just love it," she said even before she won the state championship with a 4 and 3 win over Clarkston's Mary Jane Anderson, the defending champion and a two-time winner and two-time state runner-up.
"I always thought I was good enough to win the state championship, and to do it at my home course, over a great player and with my family here, it's very special," she said afterward.
She did it with five birdies on the front nine, a stunning performance that kept Anderson, known for her comeback ability, fighting from behind.
"She's obviously a very good player," Anderson said. "It takes a good player to make five birdies, especially in nine holes on a tough course. I didn't play really great, but she did."
Slobodnik said it was the best golf of her life, part of a stretch of play that also saw her finish second in the prestigious Spring Lake Invitational at Spring Lake Country Club.
She said she wouldn't have second thoughts about a professional career, however.
"I think I've found what I want to do," she said. "I want to be around golf, I love coaching and I want to play as an amateur."
Slobodnik comes from some good golf roots. Her father Dave, her teacher, is a single-digit handicap player at Egypt Valley, and her grandfather Louis Slobodnik won the 1947 Cook County Amateur in golf-rich Chicago.
She has been around the game since she could first grip a golf club, but she didn't really approach it seriously until she was in the eighth grade in the Kentwood school system.
She asked her father to teach her the game, and he set about it seriously. He took her to a corner of a practice range and admits he was a task master.
"I had some high expectations, maybe too high," he said. "But I have to give her credit for taking everything I dished out. She stayed right there and learned to play."
Slobodnik remembers hitting golf balls in tears quite often, though she remembered this while in tears after victory.
"I cry at the drop of a pin," she said. "I would get frustrated and cry, mad and cry, lots of things and cry. I'm very emotional."
She handles her emotions on the course, however. In fact she was calm and precision-like in the Amateur, much like her iron shots that seek the pin.
"I probably did that the best I've ever done," she said after winning the state championship match. "I was playing a player I knew would never give up, so I had to stay focused, play one shot at a time, execute and not start thinking about what she was doing."
Afterward, she celebrated and received congratulations from the happy Egypt Valley patrons as well as some of her Michigan State golfers who had come to cheer for the coach.
She looked back on her time as a professional and said the most important thing she learned was that she absolutely loved to play the game of golf.
"I found I could do it every day, and like it," she said, getting the attention of two of her Spartans. "That's what I want to have these guys feel." v
In the bag: Stacy Slobonick
Callaway Big Bertha 9 degree, component-built 3 metalwood, component-built 7-metalwood, King Cobra 3-PW irons, Cleveland 49 degree SW, Ping Zing putter.
By Greg Johnson
It used to be Steve Brady would win, say a Michigan Open, then talk about the money from his impressive check helping finance another shot a PGA Tour Qualifying School, or maybe another van for mini-tour travels.
It seemed his dream of making the big show would never fade to black, and the fact that he came as close as one shot in 1991 to playing on television most Sundays made his dream seem very reachable, destiny perhaps.
He seemed ever ready for just one more try, one more van, one more tense struggle against the countless other golfers with great games and the same dreams.
It has been crystal clear that he is the best golfer in Michigan. Didn't he belong on the tour?
The 37-year-old Saginaw native, three-time Michigan Open champion and two-time Michigan PGA champion tried for 14 consecutive years before last fall when the streak ended.
It ended not because he figured 14 years and 17 attempts was enough, but because of injury. He hurt muscles in his neck while playing in the National Club Pro Championship, and it forced him to consider a fall season of healing over one of grinding through the difficult stages of making the PGA Tour.
"I had no choice but to take time off," he said after winning his third Michigan Open with a brilliant closing 6-under-par 66 on The Bear at Grand Traverse Resort in Acme earlier this summer.
"And at times there is still a twinge. I don't get to play as much as I used to, so I couldn't be sure it would hold up."
But it has held up, and this time after winning the Open he had a different answer about his future.
"I'm really very happy where I'm at, as an assistant at Detroit Golf Club," he said. "It's a great club. I get to teach. It's a good situation. Sure, I would like to be a head pro at a nice club somewhere, but right now I have a nice situation."
When pressed by a media contingent that figured he would never stop trying PGA Tour qualification, he said things had changed in his life.
"I have a new home, a mortgage, two kids," he said.
When asked if a win in the Michigan PGA, which means a free pass through the first stage of Tour School, would make a difference, he hedged, but only slightly.
"That's a hard, hard question," he said, "maybe, just maybe."
When asked if winning the $250,000 the Detroit Newspapers have offered to a golfer winning the Open, the PGA and the Tournament of Champions, he couldn't help the smile.
"Now that could change things," he said and laughed. "The bad thing it, I'll have to start thinking about it."
It didn't hurt that he held off mini-tour regulars of recent years in the Open, golfers like Scott Hebert of Escanaba, 1994 Open champion Tom Gillis of Lake Orion and 1995 champion Dave Smith of Rochester.
"I was one of those guys, and I know what it's like out there chasing it," he said. "It's not easy, and there is so much pressure to win something so you can afford to stay out there.
"You know luck is involved, and you hope it comes along at the same time you are playing good."
Brady, last year's Michigan Player of the Year who started this year with two wins in each the Open, the PGA and the skins games showdowns, plans to remain competitive, as competitive as being a teaching professional allows.
"I owe it to my family to be the best golf professional I can be," he said. "But that doesn't just mean tournaments. It means being a good teaching professional. I'm ready to do that I think."
Unless, of course, he wins say $250,000 or so. If it's possible, he's the player.
As for the $14,410 he won in the Michigan Open, he had more practical uses for it.
"I don't know about you guys, but $14,000 is a lot of money to me," he said. "That's a lot of lessons, a lot of work."
Brady finally has a sense of belonging as a club professional in Michigan it seems, and he also has sense of his place in Michigan golf. He should not be considered as a player who didn't make it. He certainly has made it, at least in this golf-rich state.
"To win against your peers, and to be listed with the greatest golfers in the state's history is just an incredible feeling," he said after winning the 1995 Michigan PGA.
And he didn't mention buying a new van.
In the bag: Steve Brady
Callaway Bobby Jones Deep Face 9.5 degreedriver, Titleist 13 degree Pro Trajectory 3-metalwood, Titleist DCI 3-PW irons, Ping 1-iron, Wilson Staff TK 60 degree wedge, Nicklaus SW, Ray Cook putter.
by Jack Berry
Every time a player falters down the stretch and loses a tournament the "learning experience" line is hauled out.
But, you know what? Experience indeed is the best teacher.
On the world scene, check Tom Lehman who didn't quite make it in 1993 and 1994 Masters Tournament close calls and in the 1995 and 1996 United States Opens.
Lehman learned, however, and put that experience to work by keeping his head despite playing one of the world's best match players in front of that player's crowd. Lehman didn't bow to Nick Faldo or the pro-British gallery.
Now come to Michigan, admittedly a smaller stage than a national championship, but a state with some of the richest purses that club professionals and minitour players play for and there is plenty of pressure when you're going for a $20,000 first prize.
Flint Golf Club professional Jeff Roth knows all about it. Like Lehman, Roth had his "learning experiences" too_two last hole losses in 1992 in the Michigan Open at Grand Traverse Resort and the Michigan PGA Championship at Garland.
Roth learned and now when the pressure starts to build, the 38-year-old Flint Golf Club professional is equal to it. He proved it again with a solid competitive course record 5-under-par 67 final round on Boyne Mountain's Monument course to successfully defend his Detroit Newspapers Tournament of Champions crown.
Roth gets better as he gets older. One year after losing the Open and PGA, he won the biggest tournament of all for a club professional, the 1993 National Club Professional Championship at PGA National Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, outdueling the defending champion in the final round.
Roth was a top junior player in the Detroit area, played golf at the University of Arizona, did some minitouring and went to work for Ray Maguire at Birmingham Country Club. He was a fixture at Birmingham until moving up to the head position at Flint, a fine old Donald Ross design.
Always an exceptional putter with a good short game, Roth reworked his swing coming in 1991 to build a reliable, repetitive stroke.
"It's very low maintenance," Roth said after defending his Tournament of Champions title. "I've hardly played at the club all year but when I come out, I want to be able to play with the (Tom) Gillises and (Eric) Bookers."
Booker, assistant at Warwick Hills G&CC and a minitour veteran, has taken over Roth's runnerup role. He lost the 1995 TOC to Roth in a playoff and he lost the 1994 PGA Match Play to close friend Ken Allard in another playoff.
Booker opened 69-73 on Boyne Mountain's friendlier Alpine Course for a one shot lead over Roth (70-73) and by three over 1992 TOC champion Dan Olsen of Freesoil, and 1994 Michigan Open champion Tom Gillis of Lake Orion, both full-time minitour players. Allard, head professional at The Wyndgate, a new private club in suburban Detroit, was at 142, two behind Booker.
Roth seized the lead with four straight birdies starting at the sixth hole and he added another on the 13th to jump three shots up on Booker with Olsen and Allard well in arrears by then.
Booker failed to capitalize on a short birdie putt on the par 5 14th and three-putted the 15th for a bogey while Roth deftly got down for par after aggressively overshooting the uphill green. Roth led by four and coasted, smartly taking a last hole bogey by laying up short of the island green after driving into the rough. Booker birdied the 18th but it was meaningless.
"I dodged Eric's bullet on 14 and I figured I couldn't lose it from there, that I'd have to pull a (Greg) Norman to lose," Roth said.
And Roth doesn't do that anymore. He's learned. And he'll take his experience to Gleneagles, Scotland, for an end-of-summer trip with the American PGA Cup team to face British club pros.
In the bag: Jeff Roth
Callaway Bobby Jones Deep Face 9.5 degree driver, Wilson Ultra Tour 16.5 degree railer, Tommy Armour 845's 2-PW irons, Top Flite SW, Snake Eyes 12 LW, The Cute Kid putter by Bobby Grace.
by Terry Moore
When it came to his golf game, Randy Lewis made one New Year's Resolution in January. Nearly eight months later, Lewis reached his goal by winning the Golf Association of Michigan (GAM) Championship in impressive fashion at Barton Hills CC in Ann Arbor. "I really wanted to win this one badly," said Lewis. "This makes it all three (major victories) now for me: The Amateur, the Michigan Medal Play, and now the GAM." Lewis won by being the only player after 72 holes under par, with his final round 69 leaving him at 270, four shots better than runner-up Josh Mondry.
A key hole for Lewis was the par-three 196 yard 8th hole where Lewis' long iron ran through the green and nestled into the second cut of rough. Meanwhile, Mondry_then only a shot behind Lewis_was looking at a birdie putt of less than 15 feet. "I had a tough pitch because my lie wasn't good," said Lewis. "But I've worked hard on my short game and been reading some Bob Rotella (golf psychologist). So I just said to myself to hit a nice little chip and not be nervous." That nice little chip, from 20 feet, came out softly, bounced few times and rolled into the cup for an unlikely deuce to which Mondry's putt failed to answer. When Lewis made another birdie and Mondry bogied the tough par-four 9th hole, Lewis had a commanding four shot lead. "When I rolled in that putt on nine I thought that this maybe was my day," said Lewis, 39, from Alma.
Lewis readily admits 1995 wasn't his year. The '92 Michigan Amateur and '94 Medal Play champion by his standards played poorly. He did not make the 10-man GAM Honor Roll for player performance last season, while also missing the cut at the GAM and bowing out in the first round of the Michigan Amateur. "I was disappointed with my play last year," said Lewis. "I worked out hard this winter on physical conditioning, began running more and lost some weight." Lewis decided to lose his old sticks as well. "I had some old MacGregors that I had worn the soles out last season. I must've tried seven sets of irons last year." Lewis says he was working with Steve Robbins, the father of LPGA star Kelly, when Steve happened to bring out a set of custom clubs made for Kelly by Titleist. "I had tried the regular DCI's and those irons just didn't seem right," said Lewis, "but these custom-made ones for Kelly felt great." Enamored with the irons, Lewis managed to special order a like set in December. "Basically, I wanted to take advantage of the new technology and forgiveness in the new irons, especially with the long irons."
With the new irons, a dedicated conditioning program and extra practice on his short game ("getting it up and down is what the game is all about"), Lewis was chomping at the bit for the '96 golf season. The 'new and improved' Lewis was in evidence at the Michigan Amateur at Michaywe where he set a new 36 hole qualifying record of 136 (67-69) only to bow out to the fine play of Joe Saigh. "I played very well at the Amateur but in match play it doesn't always matter," said Lewis.
The Lewis golf bio is an intriguing one. There's no tale here of being a Tiger Woods-type child prodigy. Lewis was a late starter in the game, not playing until he was 17 years old. "I played baseball but when one day my Dad was in the backyard swinging a club and I decided to try it," recalled Lewis. "Not too soon afterwards, I played a round and I knew that this was the game for me." Lewis played golf in his senior year of high school and also one year at his alma mater, Central Michigan University. "My game really didn't take off until after CMU," said Lewis. "Golf's a game of levels_you accomplish one goal and then you keep stepping up the ladder." Lewis' early steps to championship-caliber play were the '78 Michigan Amateur where he made the Sweet Sixteen bracket and the '83 U.S. Amateur. "When I qualified for the '83 Amateur, that was the biggest thrill because a USGA event is so special. When I did that I said maybe I can play this game."
There's no maybe in Randy Lewis' game. By taking his game to the next level, he's the 1996 GAM champion.
Officials and players alike all commented on the excellent course conditions and tournament courtesies at Barton Hills, a wonderful and faithfully maintained Donald Ross design. Kudos were extended to head pro Doug White and super Tim Dark. Host GAM official at the 75th championship was Barton Hills' Howard Wikel. Next year's event will be held at another Donald Ross gem, Kent Country Club in Grand Rapids.
In The Bag: Randy Lewis
Callaway Great Big Bertha 9 degree driver, Callaway 3 metalwood, King Cobra 2 iron, Titleist DCI 3-PW irons, Ping L wedge, Ram Tour Grind SW, Founder's Club MO CAT putter.