Text: Greg Johnson
Jeff Roth, an instructor for the Boyne Golf Academy at Boyne Highlands Resort in Harbor Springs, Michigan, won a record sixth Tournament of Champions at Boyne Mountain in Boyne Falls held July 29 through July 31, 2019 and said his success in the event is in part due to the host and his employer.
“I’ve won an awful lot of events here at Boyne,” Roth said. “I just think it is the lifestyle, the relaxed atmosphere you have when you come here. Everything kind of slows down. If I was going to win a tournament in the state of mind in the last month, this would have been the tournament to win. It just seems to kind of calm me down, and I was able to really stay on top with my focus and my mental game this week.”
At age 61-years-old, Roth admitted he had wondered if he had enough golf game to win another major Michigan championship. He did, shooting a 3-under par at 69 on The Alpine Course and topping 70-shooting Barrett Kelpin of Kalamazoo by one to win his record sixth TOC.
“It’s an emotional victory,” Roth said after winning the 28th version of the unique tournament that invites male, female, senior, junior, professional and amateur golf champions of significant Michigan events to compete for one title.
“I’m thrilled to have won again, and I’m going to keep trying to compete as hard as I can for as long as I can,” Roth added.
Roth, who won wire-to-wire and collected the $8,000 first-place check, was tied with Kelpin, a 30-year-old PGA Tour Latinoamerica player, to start the final round.
After Kelpin made bogey on the 10th and 11th holes, Roth, who birdied 10, had a three-shot lead. Roth made an uncharacteristic three-putt bogey on the 14th hole, and then Kelpin pulled within one shot at the 16th hole with a 15-foot-birdie putt.
It came to the par 5, 18th hole, where Kelpin bombed a second shot into the back of the green, while Roth played an errant tee shot out from under a tree to wedge distance and hit his third shot to five feet. Kelpin’s 40-foot-putt for eagle rolled close, but he settled for a birdie and Roth knocked in his birdie putt for the win.
“I knew [Kelpin] was going to go for it on 18, but I can only do what I can do,” Roth said. “I was fortunate to hit two nice shots to get that birdie putt and then make it. When [Kelpin] didn’t make eagle, I knew I was going to win. There was some pressure to make that putt in the moment, but I stayed in the moment and made it. If felt really good. It was really emotional.”
Kelpin said his bogeys at the 10th and 11th holes made it difficult for him to win his second TOC.
“[Roth] made a birdie on 10 while I was making bogey and that was a big momentum shift,” Kelpin said. “I made a good birdie at 16 and had to go for the eagle at 18. I came after him, but [Roth] hit the big putts and all the shots down the stretch he needed to win. He’s a great player and he pulled it out.”
Roth’s sixth victory knocked him out of a tie with Michael Harris of Troy for the most TOC wins at five first-place-finishes, and it put him into a tie at 16 with Scott Hebert of Traverse City Golf & Country Club for the most Michigan major championships in history.
Hebert, who was in the final group, shot 71 for 210 and a tie for third with Mike Nagy of Manistique, the 2017 TOC champ, who rallied with a closing 65 score. Henry Do of Auburn Hills, the low amateur in the tournament, was fifth with a 71 for 211, and Steven Cuzzort of Grosse Ile, now a Florida professional, shot 69 for 212 and sixth place.
Hebert, who is 50-years-old and played in the final group with Roth and Kelpin, missed several birdie chances inside 10-feet through the day.
“The putter and I didn’t get along too swell,” Hebert said. “[Roth] and Barrett made some putts. I didn’t.”
Suzy Green-Roebuck of Ann Arbor, a Michigan Golf Hall of Fame member, shot 71 for 213 and was the low female player in the field. Green-Roebuck tied for seventh with two-time TOC champion Andy Ruthkoski of Muskegon, who also shot 71; and Jeff Bronkema of Caledonia shot 73. Korey Mahoney, the 2016 TOC champion from Manton, rounded out the top 10 players with a 71 for 214; and the low senior amateur, Brian Miller of Fountain Hills, Arizona, shot 74 for 218 and a tie for 22nd.
Roth teaches at Boyne Highlands Resort in the summer and lives in Farmington, New Mexico—where his wife Maureen teaches—in the fall and winter, and recalled winning his first TOC in 1995.
“There’s a picture of me and [Bernie Friedrich] in the locker room at [Golf Club of Boyne]—me with my mullet and some fancy-dancy shirt and [Friedrich] looking like he is just out of college,” Roth said. “This place has meant so much to me and my family over the years. We used to bring our kids here. Now we’re here with our grandson Bryson. I get to work here as an instructor, and it feels so great to win here and to represent Boyne the way I did.”
In recent weeks Roth also admitted he took a break from golf and didn’t practice or play as much as usual.
“Playing in the pro-am helped me get some feels back and build toward the tournament, and then I just had a really strong mental game all week,” Roth said. “I was able to just play one shot at a time and play with a clear mind. That is something I haven’t done in the last few years.”
Roth was one of 18 Michigan Golf Hall of Fame members in the starting field of 119, and he wasn’t the only one that celebrated on the last day. Two other Hall of Famers made hole-in-ones during the final round. Ken Allard of Troy had an ace on the seventh hole in his round of 71, tying for 46th; and John Traub of Birmingham had a hole-in-one on the 17th hole in his round of 75, tying for 55th.
Photography by Greg Johnson