Jeff Bronkema Never Loses Lead, Wins 99th Michigan Open Championship

HIGHLAND TOWNSHIP – Jeff Bronkema, a 27-year-old mini-tour golfer, never gave up the lead in the final round and won the 99th Michigan Open Championship presented by LaFontaine Automotive Group at Prestwick Village Golf Club Thursday.

“It’s the biggest tournament I’ve ever won, the first four-day tournament I’ve ever won, and it’s one I’ve wanted to win for so long,” he said after a closing 2-under 70 put him at 12-under 276 for a three-shot win over 2007 champion Andy Ruthkoski of Muskegon and fellow mini-tour pro Eric Lilleboe of Okemos.

“It’s great to win a tournament you’ve always wanted to win against really good players, and it solidifies your thinking that you can make it playing professional golf.”

Bronkema’s name will go on the James D. Standish trophy, he received the first-place check of $8,000 from the purse of $54,500 and sponsoring LaFontaine presented him with a lease on a new Cadillac.

“I controlled my golf ball all week, rarely put it in bad spots, kept it below the hole and for some reason I just play great on the back nine here,” he said.

Bronkema’s closing 70 included four birdies against two bogeys. His lead was a small as one shot just once during the final round, and that was early. Things did get anxious on the back nine when he missed the green with approach shots at Nos. 14, 15 and 16, but he scrambled to save par each time.

“I gave myself a bad yardage and I hit a couple of bad shots, but I left the ball in places where you can get up and down,” he said. “I felt some pressure, but I had control of the golf ball.”

Lilleboe, 28, closed with a 69 for 279, and pulled within two shots dramatically at No. 13 when he holed out a 113-yard gap wedge shot from the fairway for and eagle-2.

“That gave me a chance, but (Bronkema) had to come backwards and didn’t,” Lilleboe said. “Then he made a great birdie on 17 to top it off. He just had a great week, but I had a great week, too. It’s my best finish in a Michigan Open, which I’m proud of, and moving forward it will only help me with confidence and playing in contention.”

Ruthkoski, 31, closed with a 70 to tie Lilleboe for second, and defending champion Jeff Cuzzort of Grosse Ile shot 69 for 280 to check in next.

Four golfers tied at 282, including two-time runner-up Matt Thompson of Royal Oak, who shot 71, Novi mini-tour player Wes Gates, who shot 74, amateur Evan Bowser of Dearborn, who shot 72, and 2013 champion and Grand Rapids amateur Tom Werkmeister, who shot 74. Werkmeister and Bowser shared low amateur honors.

Bronkema, who will head to Web.com Tour qualifying in the fall, said he was lightly recruited by college golf coaches when he finished high school in Plainwell, and he wanted to make some money.

“So I went to work at a golf course, moved up and thought I wanted to be a club pro,” he said. “After a few years I realized I wanted to play golf so I did it. I’m kind of behind because of a lack of commitment when I was younger, but this is what I want to do.”

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