After finishing his collegiate career at the NCAA Golf Championships, Barrett Kelpin made the decision to turn professional right away. Thirteen days later, that decision turned out to be a smart move by the recent University of Iowa graduate.
Kelpin, a Michigan native, decided his first tournament as a professional would be the 95th Michigan Open presented by DTE, June 11-14. He would be playing alongside golfers will full exemption on the Nationwide Tour, along with some of the best golfers from the state.
Not only did Kelpin hold his own, he won his first-ever tournament as a professional in record-setting fashion. Kelpin tied the Michigan Open scoring record that hadn't been touched in 64 years by carding a four-round total of -23.
Kelpin felt good entering his first tournament as a pro and his hard work paid off.
"I got back from the NCAA Championships and went right back to work," Kelpin said. "I really focused on my chipping and putting. I felt great entering the tournament and knew I could win if I played well."
To say Kelpin played well would be a gross understatement. He fired four straight rounds in the 60's, including a second round score of 63 (-9), tying a personal best 18-hole score. He opened with a 68 (-4), followed with the 63, and carded third and final round scores of 66 (-6) and 68 (-4), respectively.
"I just kept making putts all week," Kelpin said. "The putter was really great. The hole looked pretty big during that 63. I had the speed down and was confident."
Kelpin is proud that he won his first professional tournament, but even happier how he managed expectations after carding a 63 in the second round.
"It was actually tough to come back and play after shooting the 63," Kelpin said. "I had to manage my expectations. It can be easy to get discouraged without a lot of birdies after shooting a low round like that. I thought I did a good job of staying patient and kept things going in that third round."
Kelpin held a four-stroke lead over Jeff Cuzzort, a fully exempt Nationwide Tour player, heading into the final round. Iowa's most recent first team All-Big Ten player handled his nerves perfectly in the final round to seal the victory.
"I was nervous in that final round," Kelpin said. "I was playing against someone who was fully exempt on the Nationwide Tour and knew he was a great player. I just went out to make birdies because I knew I had to keep it going."
Kelpin's -23 tied Chick Harbert's 64-year scoring record at the Michigan Open. Harbert went on to win seven times on the PGA TOUR, including the 1954 PGA Championship, and was a Ryder Cup captain.
Kelpin said he wasn't aware of the record he was chasing until after his last putt dropped.
"I didn't have a clue," Kelpin said. "I left a 15-foot birdie putt on 18 just short and that would have been the record. I just wanted to make a par and win the tournament."
After that last par putt to guarantee the victory, Kelpin's name is now next to the likes of Walter Hagen as Michigan Open winners.
"There are some pretty special names on that trophy," Kelpin said. "Being a Michigan native, I know that this tournament is deep in tradition. It's special to have my name on that trophy."
Kelpin doesn't plan on resting after receiving his $8,000 first place check. He will play some events on the eGolf Tour, alongside former Hawkeye Brad Hopfinger. Kelpin will also try to Monday qualify for the PGA TOUR's John Deere Classic and some Nationwide Tour events. But that doesn't mean he won't enjoy the victory for a little bit.
"This is a great start to my professional career," Kelpin said. "It's nice to get off to a great start right off the bat. I didn't know what to expect heading into my first professional tournament. This gives me great confidence moving forward."