DETROIT – Jeff Roth, wearing a bright orange golf shirt, blue shorts and a Titleist PGA staff bag, was hard to miss as he hit the ball at Detroit Golf Club on Wednesday. He has a squat, raw physique that dates back to an earlier era and is the only 63-year-old in the field this week, making him the club pro equivalent of Bernhard Langer and a stand for the brilliant Bryson De Chambaut.
While DeShambeau and the others were flirting at 200 mph, Roth at 140. He will play a very different game when the Rocket Mortgage Classic kicks off on Thursday.
“The obvious is to cut and play on the weekend,” he said of his goals for the week. “People come to me from New Mexico, California, and of course I have family and friends here in Michigan. My daughters make a couple of Fatties out of me, so this is going to be pretty cool. I’m really looking forward to it. ”In total, he added, his gallery can have 50-70 friends and family.
Older players don’t have much time. Phil Mickelson won the PGA Championship at almost 51 years old. Tim O’Neill, 48, won the John Shippen tournament earlier this week to earn his spot on Rocket Mortgage. Dick Must, 70, qualified for the DICK’s Sporting Goods Open this week at the PGA TOUR Champions on Monday. And now we have a Roth who admires them all.
Roth has lived in Farmington, New Mexico since 2010 and teaches at the Michigan Boyne Golf Academy during the summer. It is, to borrow the title of a film from 10 years ago, is a time machine in a Jacuzzi. He played collegially for Arizona in the 70s and made his first PGA TOUR start at the 1983 Buick Open, won by Wayne Levy at nearby Warwick Hills Golf Club. His game didn’t flourish until the 90s.
He qualified for the Rocket Mortgage by winning the 2019 Michigan PGA Professional Championship; his place in the field has been held for over a year due to the pandemic.
If you have not heard of him, then perhaps you are not from here; Roth has won six major tournaments in Michigan. TOUR pro aspirations? Yes, he had them, but as soon as he settled with his wife Maureen, they began to fall away. Plus, he added, I just wasn’t that good. He made five of the 20 cuts on the TOUR.
However, not everyone played in the six PGA championships in the four decades from 1988 to 2020. Roth has stood the test of time and will face 40 years this week with the likes of Davis Thompson and Joaquin Niemann.
“When they met, we knew it was the oldest and youngest in the field,” said Thompson’s caddy Damon Green, who competed with Roth at the 2011 US Open in Inverness.
Green’s memories of that week are common among those who have seen Roth’s magic up close. Green was longer, sometimes much longer, but the Roth did not go away.
“I overtook him 40 yards,” he said, “and then he hit his hybrids in my wedges and short irons. It was impressive. That week my brother turned into superfan Jeff Roth.
“He is very precise,” Green continued, “and very disciplined.”
This is as it should be, since he has no margin for error. The mouth is so short, relatively speaking, that when he played in the 2020 PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park, he was unable to pass six par-4s out of two.
“So for me it was par 76,” he said. He shot 74-75 and missed eight shots.
And yet it would be foolish to write it off this week.
“I’ve always played a lot,” said friend and college teammate Dan Paul, who spent over 30 years at PGA TOUR before building the Pole Cat golf course on the mountain. Nice Michigan. “Jeff was a thinker who led the course very well. He doesn’t make many mistakes.
“Now at 64,” Paul said with a laugh, “we make mistakes by just getting up in the morning, but he still has the passion and desire to play at that level. He has nothing to prove. “
The mouth wears its stamina as a token of honor.
“We grew up in an era where longevity was part of the good player formula,” he said. “This is just my opinion, but I don’t think today’s players see it that way. I think they look at it where a career can last anywhere from five to ten years. I don’t know if it’s money, I’m not sure if the physical part of what they put in is much more than what we did.
“In my era, no one trained like that, so there were probably fewer injuries,” he continued. “Or you’ve never heard of them because you just lost them.”
Had he been able to gift the career of Jay Haas or two-time US Open champion Curtis Strange, Roth added, he would take Haas, “because he still plays, keeps grinding, still loves it.
“That’s everything to me,” he said.
Roth kicks off the first ball at 8:45 am Thursday with a much younger Mark Anderson and an even younger Daniel Wetterich. Roth will have a nice gallery in tow, including the Fatheads. He expects his personal denomination to be 73, which means that he will have to score about 6 points to make it to the weekend.
He still plays, still grinds and still loves it.