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Ranking Michigan’s greatest professional golfers of all time
By Steve Kaminski | Skaminsk@mlive.com | Posted April 10, 2019 at 07:00 AM | Updated April 10, 2019 at 08:07 AM
Walter Hagen at Metairie True Temper Open.
One of the world’s most prestigious golf tournaments tees off with this week's 83rd edition of the Masters at the legendary Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia.
Any guess who won the first tournament way back in 1934? Clue one is that he returned in 1936 and won it again. Plus, he had strong Michigan ties.
The answer is Springfield, Mo., native Horton Smith, who moved to Michigan after serving in World War II and became the golf pro at the Detroit Golf Club in 1946, a position he held until his death in 1955.
There have been plenty of golfers like Smith who have either had a strong Michigan connection or were born in the state who left a lasting impression on the sport.
MLive caught up with Michigan Golf Hall of Fame chairman Greg Johnson of Greg Johnson Media (Hudsonville) and tapped into his knowledge on Michigan’s greatest male and female pro golfers. MLive then formed a list of the top 10 female pros, followed by the top 10 males, in the slideshow below. We ranked them by not only their performance but the impact they had in golf.
NO. 10: SUZY GREEN-ROEBUCK
Green-Roebuck, of Franklin, is a three-time Michigan Women’s Open winner, taking the title in 1994 and 1999 and again 17 years later in 2016 at the age of 49. That made her the tournament's first three-time winner as well as its oldest winner. She also competed seven years on the LPGA Tour (1995-96, 1999 and 2001-2003), and she was a four-time winner on the Futures Tour.
She is the daughter of four-time Michigan Amateur champion Pete Green. Green-Roebuck won the 1985 MHSAA Open division state championship at Birmingham Groves High School and starred at Ohio State (1986-89). Green-Roebuck was inducted into the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame in 2017.
"She is the daughter of Pete Green, and they are the first father-daughter combination to be inducted into the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame,” Johnson said.
NO. 9: SUE ERTL
Sue Ertl smiles as she receives a big after the 2015 Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015, in Grand Rapids, Mich. Ertl is being inducted into Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame for her long successful career as a golfer. (Taylor Ballek | MLive.com)
Ertl, of Ionia, played on the LPGA Tour for 11 years, including 1990 when she won over $100,000, which placed her 37th overall on the money list. Her career-best tournament finish was a fourth place, which she achieved four times, and six times she shot a career-low 66.
She also participated on the Futures Tour beginning in 2000, and in 2005, she won the Massachusetts Women's Open and the Ohio Women's Open.
Ertl earned All-American honors at Michigan State University and was selected the school’s first Sportswomen of the Year. She was inducted into the Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame in 2015.
NO. 8: BECKY IVERSON
Becky Iverson of Gladstone, Mich., watches a tee shot Thursday during first round play in the LPGA Oldsmobile Classic golf tournament in East Lansing, Mich., June 2, l994. (AP Photo/Dale Atkins)
Iverson, of Escanaba, played at Michigan State University before turning pro in 1989. She played on the LPGA Tour from 1994-2009, and she won her lone LPGA Tour event in 1995 when she beat out Kelly Robbins and Helen Alfredsson by two strokes in the Friendly’s Classic in Massachusetts. Iverson’s best finish in a Major came in the 2001 Women’s PGA Championship when she tied for sixth. Iverson also played in the 2000 Solheim Cup and had three wins in the Symetra Tour.
In all, Iverson made the cut in 182 of the 329 LPGA events that she entered and recorded 21 top-10 finishes. She totaled over $1.5 million in career earnings.
NO. 7: JOYCE KAZMIERSKI
Joyce Kazmierski follows her iron shot during LPGA Team Championship play. Kazmierski and partner Sandra Spuzich fired a 6-under 67 to share second place with teams of Amy Alcott-Debbie Massey and Jo-Ann Prentice-Beth Stone. Oregonian
Kazmierski, of Grosse Isle, starred at Michigan State and won the national invitational intercollegiate golf championship in 1966. It helped launch a pro career that spanned more than two decades (1968-through-1986).
“Joyce never won, but she had seven second places,” Johnson said. “She was among the top 50 money leaders when she retired.”
Kazmierski, 73, tied for fifth in the 1977 Women’s PGA Championship, marking her best finish in a Major.
NO. 6: CINDY FIGG-CURRIER
Cindy Figg-Currier tees off at the 10th hole during the first round of the LPGA Michelob Light Classic at the Forest Hills Country Club in St. Louis Thursday, May 29, 1997. (AP Photo/James A. Finley)
The Michigan golf community got its first look at Figg-Currier in 1978 when she won the MHSAA Open Class state championship for Mt. Pleasant High School. Figg-Currier, 59, played professionally for more than two decades, including 1997 when she posted her lone LPGA Tour victory at the State Farm Rail Classic in Springfield, Ill. She also had three Legends Tour wins and won the Texas Women’s Open, giving her five career pro wins.
Figg-Currier entered 461 LPGA Tour tournaments from 1985-2005, and she made the cut 294 times. She finished with 42 top-10s.
NO. 5: ELAINE CROSBY
Elaine Crosby winner of the Lady Keystone Open after sinking her par putt at the 18th hole at Hershey Country Club's West Course. (MLive File Photo)
Crosby, of Birmingham, won a pair of LPGA Tour events, taking top honors in the 1989 Mizuno Japan Classic and the 1994 Lady Keystone Open in Hershey, Pa. Crosby’s pro career spanned 1985-2000, making the cut in 228 of the 410 events that she entered. Crosby had 36 top 10s, and in 1994, she finished with six top-fives and earned over $344,000, which placed her 11th on the money list.
She had one victory on the Futures Tour in 1984, and in 2004, she won the Hy-Vee Classic on the Legends Tour. Crosby, 60, was inducted into the University of Michigan Hall of Fame in 1996. Other highlights include winning the 1981 Michigan Women's Amateur Championship.
NO. 4 CINDY HILL
Hill, of South Haven, turned pro when she was 31 years old and went on to play 14 years on the LPGA Tour. Hill, 71, won twice during her pro career that spanned from 1979-through-1992, taking first in the 1984 Rail Charity Classic in Springfield, Ill., and the 1987 S&H Golf Classic in St. Petersburg. Her best finish at Major was a fourth place in the 1981 U.S. Women’s Open.
In all, Hill made the cut in 77 percent of the tournaments she entered - qualifying in 177 of 231 starts. Hill finished with 28 top-10s.
NO. 3: KELLY ROBBINS
Kelly Robbins tees off on the third hole during the 18 hole three-way playoff for the U.S. Women's Open in North Plains, Ore., Monday July 7, 2003. (AP Photo/John Gress)
Robbins, of Mt. Pleasant, starred at the University of Tulsa and earned NCAA Co-Player of the Year honors in 1991 with Annika Sorenstam, and it was a sign of things to come. Robbins turned professional in 1992 and won nine LPGA Tour events, including the 1995 LPGA Championship. Robbins, 49, is retired.
“She was the top American player at one point, before she had back problems,” Johnson said. “From 1993-1998, she was the dominant player.”
Robbins made the cut in 262 of her 335 career starts and posted 91 top-10s. Her career average was 71.91, and she won over $5.7 million.
NO. 2: SHIRLEY SPORK
Caption: Eight founders of the Ladies Professional Golf Association pose at a celebration of the association's 50thanniversary Tuesday, Oct. 19, 1999, in New York. Pictured from left rear are Marilynn Smith, Marlene Hagge, Alice Bauer, Louise Suggs and Betty Jameson. In the front row are, from left, Bettye Sanoff, Shirley Spork and Patty Berg. (AP Photo/Stuart Ramson)
“She called herself a tomboy from Michigan, and she started playing when she was 10 years old,” Johnson said.
That tomboy grew up to be one of the 13 original founders of the LPGA.
Spork, a 91-year old native of Detroit, turned pro in 1950, and while she never won an LPGA event, she was runner-up in the 1962 Women’s PGA Championship and tied for eighth in the 1962 U.S. Women’s Open. Spork also helped create the teaching portion of the LPGA.
NO. 1: MEG MALLON
Meg Mallon has a laugh after being presented with her trophy for winning the BMO Financial Groups LPGA taking place in Niagara Falls, Ont. Sunday, July 11, 2004. Mallon won the tournament shooting 18 under par.(AP PHOTO/Jonathan Hayward) Express-Times AP
Mallon, a native Natick, Mass., was a youth when her family moved to Michigan, and she is a graduate of Farmington Hills Mercy High School. She won the 1983 Michigan Amateur Championship before joining the LPGA in 1987. The 55-year old Mallon captured 18 LPGA titles from 1994-through-2004 and made the cut in 415 of 510 starts. She had 144 top-10s.
Meg Mallon celebrates after putting out on the 18th green as the winner of the U.S. Women's Open Golf Championship at The Orchards in South Hadley, Mass. Sunday, July 4, 2004. Mallon won with a 10-under-par 274, two strokes over second place finisher Annika Sorenstam. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
FOUR MAJOR WINS
Mallon, who starred at Ohio State and is a member of the school's hall of fame, won four Majors: the LPGA Championship and the U.S. Women’s Open in 1991, the Canadian Women’s Open in 2000 and the U.S. Women’s Open in 2004. She also played for the U.S. in eight Solheim Cups. Mallon was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2017 and won over $9 million.
Let's meet the top 10 greatest Michigan male pro golfers
NO. 10: TOM GILLIS
Tom Gillis and Tom Pernice Jr. line up putts at the par three 17th. First round action in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans PGA Tour stop at The Players Club of Louisiana in Westwego Thursday, April 28, 2005. The Times-Picayune
Gillis, who was born in Pontiac and resides in Lake Orion, has five professional wins, including a victory on the Nationwide Tour in 2009 at Bridgeport, W. Va. Gillis also won the Michigan Open twice (1994 and 2008), was first in the 1993 Jamaican Open and the 1992 Waterloo Open Golf Classic in Iowa.
One of Gillis' most high profiled tournaments came in 2015 when he was runner-up to Jordan Spieth at the John Deere Classic, losing on a second playoff hole.
“He has played on the European Tour and the Asian Tour, and he also coached Pontiac Notre Dame High School in 2017," Johnson said.
NO. 9: BRIAN STUARD
Brian Stuard waves after sinking his putt on the 18th green during a playoff round to win the rain-delayed Zurich Classic golf tournament at TPC Louisiana in Avondale, La., Monday, May 2, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Stuard’s story is far from finished because he is currently playing on the PGA Tour. But the Jackson native is one to watch. Stuard, 36, won the 2016 Zurich Classic of New Orleans after beating Jamie Lovemark and An Byeong-hun in a playoff. Stuard tied for fourth in Sunday's Valero Texas Open.
Stuard has $8.7 in career earnings, and in 314 starts has made the cut 183 times since joining the PGA Tour in 2010. He is a graduate of Oakland University where he won 2005 Mid-Continent Conference Player of the Year honors.
NO. 8: DAN POHL
Dan Pohl (MLive File Photo)
Pohl, of Mt. Pleasant, played over 20 years on the PGA Tour and recorded 70 top-10 finishes. He won two events in 1986, taking top honors in the Colonial National Invitational in Fort Worth, Tex., and the NEC World Series of Golf in Akron, Ohio. He nearly won the 1988 Masters before losing to Craig Stadler in a playoff. Pohl earned the Vardon Trophy, which is awarded to the golfer with the lowest average in 1987, and he was on the Ryder Cup team, also in 1987.
“He could hit the crud out of the ball,” Johnson said. “He led the tour in distance a few times.”
Pohl, 63, resides in Mt. Pleasant and teaches at the PohlCat Golf Course, which he designed. He played 424 events from 1979-1996 and made the cut 301 times. Pohl recorded 70 top 10s.
NO. 7: CALVIN PEETE
Calvin Peete (MLive File Photo)
Peete, a Detroit native, started golfing when he was 23 years old, and he developed into the most successful African American golfer prior to Tiger Woods.
“He won 12 times on the PGA Tour, he won the Vardon Trophy (1984) and was the most accurate driver for 10 consecutive seasons (1981-1990),” Johnson said. “He was on two Ryder Cup teams (1983 and 1985).”
Peete, who was a cousin to former Detroit Lions quarterback Rodney Peete, died in Atlanta at the age of 71 in 2015. His final career stats show him making the cut 395 out of 538 starts, 80 top 10s and $3.2 million in earnings.
NO. 6: MIKE HILL
Lee Trevino and Mike Hill talk at the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf at The Club at Savannah Harbor in Savannah, Ga. The duo finished third at the annual tournament. (MLive File Photo)
Hill, the younger brother of the late pro golfer Dave Hill, found most of his success on the PGA Senior Tour, where he was an 18-time winner from 1990-through-1996. Hill won five times in both 1990 and 1991. He also won three times on the PGA Tour, capturing the Doral-Eastern Open Invitational in 1970, the San Antonio Texas Open in 1972 and the Ohio Kings Island Open in 1977. Hill, 80, continues to live in the Jackson area.
Hill made 590 of 715 career starts and posted 162 top 10s. He earned $8.4 million.
NO. 5: DAVE HILL
Dave Hill (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)
Hill, of Jackson, played at the University of Detroit before transitioning into a professional career that saw him win 13 times, including three victories in 1969. He also earned the Vardon Trophy in 1969 and was on the 1969, 1973 and 1977 Ryder Cup teams. Hill’s best finish at a Major was second at the U.S. Open in 1970. He also won six times on the Senior Tour from 1987-1989. Hill, who won the 1959 Michigan Open, died at the age of 74 in 2011 in Jackson.
NO. 4: AL WATROUS
Watrous was originally from New York before moving to Michigan, and he went on to serve as the head pro at the Oakland Hills Country Club for 37 years. Watrous won eight times on the PGA Tour, and while he never won a Major, he did come close at the 1926 British Open. He was tied with Bobby Jones heading into the 17th hole before Jones pulled out a two-stroke victory, which was spearheaded by his legendary 175-foot recovery shot on Hole 17 that resulted in a birdie. Watrous won a combined 15 Michigan Open and Michigan PGA tournaments. He died at the age of 84 in 1983 in Royal Oak.
NO. 3: WALTER BURKEMO
Burkemo was born in Detroit in 1918, and Johnson called him one of the top players of the 1950s. He won a Major in 1953, capturing the PGA Championship at the Birmingham Country Club in Birmingham, Mi. He came close to winning two more PGA Championships. He was runner-up to Sam Snead in 1951, and he finished second to Chick Harbert in 1954.
Burkemo also won the Southern Florida Open in 1938, and he was a member of the 1953 Ryder Cup team. He died in Fenton in 1986 at the age of 69.
NO. 2: HORTON SMITH
Smith is best known for his two Masters victories, but he finished his career with 36 pro victories spanning from 1928-through-1941. Smith also was on five Ryder Cup teams.
It wasn’t until 1949 that the tradition of the green jacket was first awarded to the Masters winner (Sam Snead), and Smith received one for his two victories.
“His Masters jacket sold at an auction (in 2013) for $682,000,” Johnson said. “It is the highest price paid for a piece of golf memorabilia.”
NO. 1: WALTER HAGEN
Walter Hagen acclaimed one of the greatest golfers of all times, gestures to a gathering of golfing greats at a testimonial dinner in his honor. The 75-year-old Hagen was surrounded by golfing stars of today and the past. With Hagen are Cary Middlecoff and Arnold Palmer.
There’s little debate who belongs at the top of Michigan’s list of most prominent golfers when considering success in Majors and impact on the sport.
Hagen was born in Rochester, N.Y., in 1892, but he moved to the Detroit area in 1918 and became the Oakland Hills Country Club’s first golf pro. He later moved to Traverse City, where he died in 1969 at the age of 76. He is buried at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield.
“Hagen won 11 Majors, placing him third behind only Jack Nicklaus (18) and Tiger Woods (14),” Johnson said. "But he also invented barnstorming golf. He toured the world playing golf.”
Hagen won the PGA Championship five times, along with four Open Championships and two U.S. Opens. Hagen also played on six Ryder Cup teams.