USGA MEN'S STATE TEAM
Big Friday Performance Leads to First State Team Title for Michigan September 30, 2016 | Birmingham, Ala. By Scott Lipsky, USGA

Michigan posted a final-round score of 5-under 137 to win by three strokes at the Country Club of Birmingham. (USGA/Chris Keane)

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A hot start by Tom Werkmeister and a clutch closing birdie by Evan Bowser allowed Michigan to erase a four-stroke deficit and win the 12th USGA Men’s State Team Championship on the par-71, 7,044-yard West Course at the Country Club of Birmingham.

The title is the first in the championship’s history for Michigan, which posted a final-round score of 5-under 137 to secure a three-stroke victory over Arizona and North Carolina with a 54-hole total of 4-under 422.

Werkmeister, 48, notched five birdies over his first 12 holes on Friday to allow Michigan to climb past the other contending teams and build what was at one point a four-stroke advantage. The Grandville resident was able to keep his card devoid of bogeys through that stretch, getting up and down from a tough spot on the par-3 eighth hole thanks to a 12-foot par putt. He followed that up with an 8-foot birdie on No. 9 to make the turn in 3-under 32. He went on to post a 4-under 67.

“I missed a couple of putts early in the round. I'm like, well, at least I'm hitting it close. I've got chances, right? And then the putts started falling and I started kind of getting in the groove,” said Werkmeister, who made six birdies during his round. “It was just really, really cool, waiting for the last groups to come in, hanging out with our teammates, fist bumping and hugging and slapping high fives. At that point I thought, win or lose, this is really cool.”

Bowser carded one birdie and 12 pars over his first 13 holes to give the Wolverine State a cushion heading into the closing stretch. However, a bogey on No. 14, coupled with Werkmeister’s first bogey of his round on No. 15, opened the door for two of their closest pursuers, Arizona and North Carolina.

Arizona’s Ken Tanigawa made his fifth birdie of the day on the par-5 15thto move to 3-under on his round and put his squad at 3 under for the championship, just one back of Michigan. Meanwhile, North Carolina’s Justin Tereshko, who was playing with Werkmeister, struggled out of the gate with an outward 3-over 38, but poured in five birdies in a six-hole stretch to move his team to within one stroke of the lead. 

Tom Werkmeister's 4-under 67 on Friday carried Michigan to its first Men's State Team title. (USGA/Chris Keane)

“I knew on 15, 16, 17 and 18 that we were one back. I was trying to make some birdies coming in,” said Arizona’s Cory Bacon, who shot 1-over 72 in the final round. “On this golf course you can try to play for par or you have to push it a little bit to make birdie. So I definitely was trying to make some birdies.”

Bogeys by Tereshko and Bacon on No. 18, and Tanigawa on No. 17, coupled with Werkmeister birdieing No. 17 and Bowser draining a 15-foot birdie putt at the last, finally gave Michigan the cushion it needed for victory.

“Tom shot 67, and I had to watch it,” said Tereshko, who posted a 1-under 70. He credited his turnaround with changing his putting grip on his inward nine. “It was very frustrating when I thought I may get a leg up on him and he’d make an 8- to-10 footer for par, and he did it all day, he played well.”

Bowser’s birdie on No. 18 completed a 1-under 70 for the 21-year-old from Dearborn. The recent graduate of Oakland University helped his mother fight ALS before she succumbed to the disease in 2011, and the perspective he gained on life from that experience has helped him embrace an achievement like this even more than he might have before her death.

“I have been kind of a different player ever since then. Just more relaxed. I appreciate things like this much more now. Life, you never know what can happen,” said Bowser. “I'm happy to win. I'm happy to play a great course.”

The victory in the Men’s State Team was a big leap for Michigan, which finished tied for 36th in 2014 and had never finished in the top 10 in the championship. The state’s best performances came in 2005 and 2012, when it placed 11th. Werkmeister envisions the impact that he, Bowser and Anthony Sorentino will have when they bring the James Hand Trophy back to their home state.

“It's great. Each time I've played in this, I've seen other states getting recognition for being previous winners or seeing the pictures with them celebrating,” said Werkmeister, who has represented his state five times. “It's like, I want to do that, I want us to do that. This is big for the state of Michigan. Really big.”

Werkmeister’s 54-hole total of 5-under 208 tied him for the low individual score in the championship, with Jay Whitby of Delaware. Whitby was able to compete in the final round despite his team missing the cut, since he was within five strokes of the individual lead after 36 holes. His 66 on Friday was the lowest score posted by an individual in the championship. 

Florida finished in fourth place at 2-over  428. Connecticut, the 36-hole leader, finished in a tie for fifth with Minnesota and Washington at 430.

The United States Golf Association conducts the USGA Men’s State Team Championship on a biennial basis. It features teams of three players from all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Eighteen holes of stroke play are conducted over three days, with the two lowest scores of the three individuals counting as the team’s score for the round.

Scott Lipsky is the manager of websites and digital platforms for the USGA. Email him at slipsky@usga.org.

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