Jeff Roth, 63, to play Rocket Mortgage Classic – .

Jeff Roth, 63, to play Rocket Mortgage Classic – .

DETROIT – It was hard to miss Jeff Roth in a bright orange golf shirt, light blue shorts and a PGA-crested Titleist staff bag as he hit balls at Detroit Golf Club on Wednesday. He has a stocky, unchiselled build reminiscent of an earlier era, and is the only person on the pitch this week turned 63, making him the professional club equivalent of Bernhard Langer and the bookend of the big hitter. Bryson DeChambeau.

While DeChambeau and others have flirted with a ball speed of 200 mph, Roth is at 140. He will be playing a very different game when the Rocket Mortgage Classic begins on Thursday.

“The obvious – make the cut and play on the weekend,” he said of his goals for the week. “I have people coming from New Mexico, California, and of course I have family and friends here in Michigan. My daughters are making some Fatheads of me so this is going to be pretty cool. I am really looking forward to it. In total, he added, his gallery could have 50 to 70 friends and family.

Older players have a little time. Phil Mickelson won the PGA Championship at almost 51 years old. Tim O’Neal, 48, won the John Shippen tournament earlier this week to earn his spot on the field at Rocket Mortgage. Dick Mast, 70, qualified for this week’s DICK’s Sporting Goods Open on Monday on PGA TOUR Champions. And now we have Roth, who admires them all.

A resident of Farmington, New Mexico since 2010, Roth teaches at Boyne Golf Academy in Michigan during the summer. He is, to borrow a movie title from 10 years ago, a time machine in a human hot tub. He played collegially for Arizona in the 1970s and made his first start on the PGA TOUR at the 1983 Buick Open won by Wayne Levi at the nearby Warwick Hills Golf and Country Club. His game did not flourish until the 90s.

He qualified for Rocket Mortgage by winning the Michigan PGA Professional Championship 2019; his place in the field lasted for more than a year because of the pandemic.

If you haven’t heard of him, then maybe you’re not from here; Roth has won six Michigan majors. Tour pro aspirations? Yes, he had them, but once he settled in with his wife, Maureen, they started to fall. “Plus,” he added, “I just wasn’t that good. He made five of the 20 cuts on TOUR.

Yet not everyone has played in six PGA Championships in four decades, from 1988 to 2020. Roth has stood the test of time and will turn 40 with players like Davis Thompson and Joaquin Niemann this week.

“We thought when they met he was the oldest and the youngest in the field,” said Thompson junior Damon Green, who faced Roth at the 2011 US Senior Open in Inverness.

Memories of Green from this week are commonplace among those who have seen Roth’s magic up close. Green was further off the tee, sometimes a lot, but Roth didn’t want to go.

“I was 40 yards ahead of him,” he said, “and then he hit his hybrids on the inside of my wedges and short irons. It was impressive. My brother became a Jeff Roth superfan that week.

“He’s very precise,” Green continued, “and very disciplined. ”

It must be, because there is no margin for error. Roth is so small, relatively speaking, that when he played in the 2020 PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park, he couldn’t reach six of the par 4s in two.

“So it was a par 76 for me,” he said. He shot 74-75 and missed the cut by eight strokes.

And yet, it would be foolish to dismiss it this week.

“I’ve always been a long hitter,” said college friend and teammate Dan Pohl, who had a career spanning more than 30 years on the PGA TOUR before building the Pole Cat Golf Course at Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. “Jeff was a thinker who did very well on the course. He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes.

“Now at 64,” Pohl said with a laugh, “we make mistakes just getting up in the morning, but he still has the passion and the desire to play at this level. He has nothing more to prove.

Roth wears his endurance like a badge of honor.

“We grew up at a time when longevity was part of the formula to be a good player,” he said. “It’s only my opinion, but I don’t think players today see it that way. I think they envision a career of five to ten years. I don’t know if it’s the money, I don’t know if it’s that the physical part of what they put in is so much more than what we did.

“No one trained like this in my day, so there were probably fewer injuries,” he continued. “Or you’ve never heard of them because you just played through them. “

If he could be gifted with the career of Jay Haas or two-time US Open champion Curtis Strange, Roth added, he would take Haas, “because he always plays, keeps grinding, still loves it.

“For me, that’s what it is,” he said.

Roth will start from the first tee at 8.45am Thursday, with much younger Mark Anderson and even younger Daniel Wetterich. Roth will have a nice gallery in tow, Fatheads included. He thinks his staff par will be 73, which means he’ll have to shoot around 6 cents to get to the weekend.

He still plays, keeps grinding and still loves it.


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