BOYNE FALLS - Andy Ruthkoski of Muskegon, the quiet mini-tour golfer with the loud clothes, emerged from a back nine logjam of golfers to win the 22nd Tournament of Champions Wednesday at Boyne Mountain Resort.
"I feel relief because you work hard, you play hard and you come to win, and so it means something to do it," he said after a closing 3-under-par 69 with a birdie on the par 3 17th left him at 10-under-par 206, one better than the foursome of defending champion Jeff Roth, 2011 champion Lee Houtteman, Barrett Kelpin and Jeff Cuzzort.
"I didn't know I had the lead until we were in the fairway on 18," he said after donning the traditional winner's green jacket that happened to match his colorful "Island Girls" pants from his clothing contract with Loudmouth Golf.
"I really appreciate this, but it hasn't sunk in yet. Probably on the ride home, I will be like, yes."
Ruthkoski, 30 and the 2007 Michigan Open champion, won $10,000, the Walter Burkemo Trophy, a crystal trophy and honorary membership in the Country Club of Boyne. He heads back to the NGA Tour for a few weeks later this month, and then plans to prepare for PGA Web.com Tour qualifying school.
He said his final round was keyed by par-saving putts at No. 7 and No. 15 each of about 15 feet. He told his caddy and friend Dan Farhat of Lansing, a Muskegon native, that 10-under would win at the start of the week. Farhat told him the key on the course was not making three-putts, and not to come back to the cart if he did three-putt.
"I didn't three-putt and that's because I've really worked on it and finally just trusted it and went with it," he said. "I played solid. I putted solid. I just kept trying to make birdies, and I was surprised I wasn't in a playoff at the end. I thought one of those guys would make birdie."
Roth, the five-time champion from New Mexico and a former Flint and Detroit area pro, shot 71 to close and repeatedly missed birdie putts, including a 18-foot effort at No. 18.
"It was just awful," Roth said. "I was grinding. I tried everything, and just nothing would go in. I was so busy trying to make birdies, I really didn't notice what was going on with the other guys."
Kelpin, a Kalamazoo mini-tour pro, closed with a 69 and just missed an eagle-putt at No. 18. Cuzzort, a mini-tour pro from Grosse Ile who shot 67, also missed a final birdie from about 20 feet, and Houtteman, head pro at Manitou Passage in Traverse City, missed the green with his third shot at 18 to shoot 71.
The logjam happened when Drew Preston of Grand Rapids, the leader the first two days, lost a two-shot lead with back-to-back three-putt greens at Nos. 10 and 11 and struggled in for a 75 and 210 finish.
"It wasn't a good back nine at all," Preston said. "I blew up I guess you could say. After those three putts I lost my focus when I shouldn't have."
Ruthkoski said he was especially pleased to emerge the victor at Boyne Mountain. He has worked on his game, including this week, with Brian O'Neill, the director of golf instruction at Boyne, and he said he always feels comfortable at the resort.
"I can relax, everything is great about this place and there's great golf," he said. "It's great to be a champion here. I'm so appreciative of the chance to do it."
Suzanne Green-Roebuck, a former LPGA player from Ann Arbor, shot 72 for 215 (tie for 10th overall) to finish as the low women in the field that brings together seniors, juniors, men, women, professionals and amateurs who have major Michigan titles on their resumes.
Jeff Champine of Rochester Hills, who shot 68, and Jared Dalga of Grand Rapids, who shot 70, tied as low amateurs at 217 (tie for 16th), and Mike Raymond was the low senior amateur with a 74 for 222 (tie for 35th). Roth and Houtteman were low seniors. Low junior honors went to 17-year-old Henry Do of Ypsilanti, who shot 73 for 218 (tie for 22nd). A female amateur did not make the 36-hole cut.