Hebert returns home for Michigan Open defense
By Jim Heil
Just three years ago, Scott Hebert was as recognizable among Michigan's golfing elite as a Jeff Daniels-directed spin on Hebert's hometown. But long before "Escanaba in Da Moonlight" hit the theaters, Hebert started making a name for himself in golf tournaments far removed from his Upper Peninsula roots.
Nowhere has his success as a golf professional been more fruitful than at Grand Traverse Resort, where Hebert has won the Michigan Open two of the last three years. A former assistant pro at the resort, Hebert is expected to be among a field of approximately 150 golfers when the Michigan Open celebrates its 15th anniversary at The Bear, June 26-29. The $110,000 tournament is sponsored by Detroit Newspapers.
Last year, Hebert posted a 6-under-par 282 - capped by a final-round 69 - to win his second Michigan Open title and a $14,500 check. Grand Traverse golf pro Tom Skoglund has seen where Hebert's game excels. "He really is a solid iron player and he's going to hit a minimum of 15 greens every time he goes out," Skoglund said. "He's going to have his birdie opportunities and he's not going to three-putt and lose a shot. "If a guy can hit 14 greens each day, he's got a great chance."
If Hebert is seen as the favorite to repeat this year, it might have less to do with his familiarity with The Bear than his results on the NGA/Hooters Tour this spring. Hebert cracked the top five in the Hooters money rankings after finishing second in an event in Matthews, N.C. in early April, pocketing $8,500. Formerly the Jordan Tour, the Hooters Tour has served as a proving ground for PGA Tour pros like Lee Janzen, Tom Lehman and Jim Furyk. With few breaks in its schedule, it doesn't afford Hebert many opportunities to play in Michigan PGA events.
But returning to Grand Traverse Resort should be an easy call for Hebert.
In 1997, while still working at the resort, Hebert shot a final-round 69 to win the Michigan Open with a record 11-under 277, becoming the first player to win the Open on his home course. He finished four strokes ahead of former champions David Smith and Tom Gillis. After the win, Hebert said other players in the field had played The Bear as often as he had, but having played it more recently, the greens may have been fresh in his mind.
"I don't know if it's my home-course advantage," Hebert added. "But you have to know where to hit the ball on certain holes."
As defending champion in 1998, Hebert made his way into a playoff with a final-round 66 on The Bear, facing Flint Golf Club's Jeff Roth and Forest Akers' John DalCorobbo. But Roth drained a five-foot birdie putt on the second hole of sudden death to win.
Hebert reclaimed the Michigan Open title in 1999, when he made an adjustment to his putting stroke the day before the tournament began with the help of Bryan Lebedevitch of the resort's Jim McLean Golf School.
"Scott was just unbelievable," Roth, who finished three strokes behind Hebert at 285, told the Traverse City Record-Eagle. "I can't remember a putt he missed that he should have made. It was an incredible display."
Thousand Oaks pro Gary Smithson, who finished third at even-par 288, said Hebert was a joy to watch. "He has a lot of confidence, he doesn't lay up, he hits it the middle of the greens and he doesn't miss many putts," Smithson said. Hebert has credited much of his success to patience. "You've got to be patient," he once told Michigan Golfer. "If you keep hitting the fairways and greens the birdies will come. That's how to play golf, I believe. My dad (Joe) taught me that you have to be patient when you're playing golf." Behind Roth and Smithson on last year's leader board were Ron Beurmann of the Country Club of Jackson at 289, and Tommy Valentine of the Lochmoor Club and Frank McAuliffe of Ann Arbor Country Club, who tied at 291.
Last year's top amateur was Livonia's Stephen Polanski, at 296.
Skoglund, who said no changes in The Bear are planned for this year's Open, said this year's winner may have to show shades of Jack Nicklaus. "He just never puts the ball in a bad position on the golf course," Skoglund said. "On The Bear, you put it on the wrong side of the green, you're looking at a three-putt or worse. A guy who can keep his three-putts down over those four days has a great chance to win."
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