By RON BALICKI
When people first see Ryan Brehm hit a golf ball, they usually shake their heads and say, “Wow.”
That’s because the Michigan State senior can send a tee shot into orbit – 330, 340, 350 yards, and we’re talking air time. He’s what is known as a “bomber.” At 6 feet 4 inches and 210 pounds, Brehm fits the part.
But follow him during a round and watch closely. What you’ll also see is some impressive iron play and a magical short game. Put those ingredients together, and it’s a recipe for golf success. And that is exactly what the 21-year-old from Mount Pleasant, Mich., has done, especially during the fall season.
No longer playing in the shadow of Matt Harmon, a third-team All-American and Big Ten Player of the Year as a senior last season, Brehm now is casting his own shadow, and it’s spreading from the Midwest to the rest of the country.
Brehm finished the fall No. 9 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, and his head-to-head record was 289-31-5.
“Most people just see a big kid who hits the ball a long way,” said Michigan State coach Sam Puryear, who took over the Spartans this season after two years as an assistant at Stanford. “But he has a complete game.”
Brad Dean, director of golf at Crystal Mountain Resort and Brehm’s instructor of nine years, has watched his prize student mature and improve.
“For years he just hit it as far as he could,” Dean said. “He’s managing his game so much better now. It takes some maturity, and he’s getting there. His clubhead speed is about 130 (mph), and that’s impressive. But his short game has improved so much. I think it’s the best part of his game. He has a very good touch around the greens, is a good bunker player and an excellent putter.
“It just amazes me that not many people have heard of him.”
While that is changing, it’s not something Brehm worries about.
Brehm says his big breakthrough came this summer, not only on the golf course, but with his outlook and approach to the game.
He scored his first big victory at the Michigan Amateur, where he was runner-up the previous year. He also traveled to Thailand with former Spartans coach Mark Hankins – now head men’s coach at Iowa – for the World University Games.
“Spending over a week in Thailand was a very humbling experience,” Brehm said. “It made me realize how lucky I am to be in my situation. I definitely had a major attitude change when I got back.”
His summer success carried over into the fall college season. Brehm has led the Spartans, who were not among Golfweek’s preseason top 30 teams, to a No. 12 ranking.
In five starts, Brehm has four top 10s, including victories at Inverness, the Notre Dame Irish Gridiron and the Big Ten/Pac-10 Challenge.
“He gets better every year,” Hankins said, “and I think now he’s starting to realize he’s one of the best players in the country.”
After winning four state high school titles and being named Michigan’s Mr. Golf in 2003, Brehm had a host of big-name schools interested. Being very family oriented, he decided to stay close to home.
Away from the course, Brehm enjoys cruising around campus in his ragtop Jeep, as well as going hunting and fishing with his uncles and his father, Mike. He also plays the guitar and piano.
“I’ve got a lot of work to do there, especially on the piano,” he says.
“I like to play jazz, but I’m not very good. I guess you could say I’m trying to get a little more jazzy."
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Ron Balicki is a Golfweek senior writer. To reach him e-mail [email protected]