Jackson native Brian Stuard isn’t the type of personality seeking to be a household name.
Still, the idea of it happening one day doesn’t turn him off, either.
“It would be nice, but it’s hard for me to think about considering myself at that level,” Stuard said before a fund raiser in Michigan in the fall. “I feel like I’ve got to win more, play better, to feel like I would deserve that kind of a thing.”
Maybe 2018’s even-numbered year will be good for Stuard on the PGA Tour. After all, his two best full seasons came in 2014 and ’16, when his Tour earnings exceeded $1.8 million and $1.6 million, respectively. The highpoint came in May of 2016 when he won the PGA Tour’s Zurich Classic, and earned his first career invitation to The Masters.
The Zurich victory made Stuard the first Michigander to win on the PGA Tour since John Morse of Marshall won the Hawaiian Open in 1995. Stuard also has two pro career 2nd-place finishes – in even years 2010 and ’14 coincidentally.
“This year (2017) was kind of a strange one,” he said, despite finishing the season ranked 6th in driving accuracy on Tour. “I started off alright and was making a bunch of cuts but not getting the high finishes I needed to get up there. Then I kind of lost my swing a little bit right about the time of the U.S. Open. I was hitting it bad and really didn’t recover. But now I feel like it’s coming around a little bit, but a disappointing finish (to the ’17 season) for sure.”
One upward trending sign early in the new 2018 season was Stuard’s T4 finish in the Sanderson Farms Championship in late October and another top 10 in November in Mexico with a final round 65. He is scheduled to play the Sony Open in Hawaii.
“It was a nice start to the (new) season for sure,” Stuard said in December. “I’m very happy with how things went. It’s nice to have those good feelings going into January.
“It might sound funny, but I was just trying to get back to basics. Just make sure I hit a lot of fairways and a lot of greens. I hit a higher percentage of greens this fall, somewhere around 70 percent and last season I think I was in the low 60s. It makes it easier on yourself to not work too hard to save that par. I’m back to playing solid golf.”
Stuard didn’t begin the game with a lot of lofty goals or assumptions – he just got the “itch” as he called it, as a teenager. He stuck with it, was patient and eventually earned some very nice rewards. Not many golfers from Michigan can say they earned PGA Tour status consistently – for six consecutive seasons now to be precise – quite an accomplishment for a kid that didn’t start playing golf until 9th grade and attended tiny Napoleon High where he eventually won the Division 3 state title in 2000.
“It’s funny; it’s hard for me to put into words. I don’t really know how it happened,” Stuard said about his rise from a rural school to the biggest stage in golf. “It just seemed like every year I got a little better at the game, I improved something. At the end of high school I just wanted a scholarship to go to college, and I did that (at Oakland University, where he earned Horizon League Player of the Year and set most of the school records).
“And when I got a little bit better my first few years of college I was thinking about trying to play the mini tours and everything. So I did that. And I kept getting a little better.”
Jim Beltz is a retired dentist who also served as Stuard’s college assistant coach at Oakland (1996-06). He said Stuard’s focus and quiet disposition has served the player well.
“Brian is a quiet, shy, inward person,” Beltz said. “The easiest way to embarrass Brian is to introduce him as a PGA Touring pro. And I think that’s one of his inner strengths. He’s a very strong family person. I just think it’s the whole value of the person; he’s a very good person with very good values.
“In college we never had to talk to him about go practice this; he understood his weaknesses and he’d go practice his weaknesses. And he does that still today, only at a higher level.”
Reaching that higher level brought Stuard face-to-face with many of golf’s greats early this decade.
“In my first year in 2010 I remember going to the tournament in Hawaii and the first time I walked down the range, there was Ernie Els right there and Vijay Singh over there and a number of guys you watched on TV growing up (was age 27 at the time) and I thought, ‘man, what are you doing out here?’ At that point I realized I couldn’t think about that and instead just focus on what I did to get here,” Stuard said. “I just try to stick to what I’m doing and so far it’s worked out pretty well.”
- By Tom Lang