Walter Hagen was first. Steve Brady is next.
The incomparable Hagen, golf’s great champion and showman, was the first golf professional at Oakland Hills Country Club. The hiring of Hagen in 1918 was designed to give Oakland Hills and its new Donald Ross course instant credibility as an American golf institution. It did, and the decision to hire the Haig continues to resonate today.
When the venerable private club in Bloomfield Township celebrates its centennial next year, it will have a new head golf professional.
Brady is that man. What that means is that the 56-year-old native of Saginaw, a fixture on the Michigan golf scene since his teenage years, will inexorably become a part of the game’s lore. That’s how special Oakland Hills is in the world of golf. And, let’s be honest, it can be an intimidating responsibility.
Oakland Hills is the Monster. So christened by Ben Hogan in 1951, the South Course has been host to six U.S. Opens, three PGA Championships, the Ryder Cup … and that’s just for starters. OHCC has two classic Ross designs, with a much underrated North Course the perfect complement to the Monster.
Brady knows all that and he admits that when he was offered the job about a month or so ago, he was “over the moon” with equal doses of delight and appreciation.
Brady has been the popular teaching professional at OHCC for 19 years. He will be moving from his office at the Learning Center, on the edge of the South Course driving range, to the big office in the professional’s shop at the north end of the massive clubhouse. It’s not a long walk but it’s a very long walk. Brady accepts the distinction in that apparent contradiction and he’s ready for it. Those who know Brady never doubted he would be ready when the time came.
The 2013 inductee into the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame has all the requisite skills for the role, challenging as it will be. He’s a three-time Michigan Open champion, twice champion of the state PGA, a former NAIA All-American at Saginaw Valley State University and winner in 1987 on what’s now the Web.com Tour. He’s a national champion, too – the only Michigan professional to win the national tournament for assistants. That was in 1993 at PGA West on the Nicklaus Private Course while he was an assistant at Detroit Golf Club, another area gem that features two Ross courses.
Brady grew up in the Saginaw area running carts, picking up range balls and doing whatever else needed to be done at Bay Valley, a resort layout just off Interstate 75, where his bosses were Tom Stewart and Rick Quellman. His first experience at a private club was DGC, where John Traub, a winner of the national club pro championship, was his boss and gave Brady the opportunity to teach.
Pat Croswell, who is stepping down after 30 years, gave Brady his shot at OHCC. Croswell will remain as golf professional emeritus through 2016, when his experience in merchandising and all things running tournaments will provide major support during the 2016 U.S. Amateur and the yearlong centennial celebration.
Brady will rely on “a quality staff” of holdovers and expects to do “a fair amount of teaching” in his first year as the professional on a trial basis before settling into a routine. But it won’t be anything like the 10 or 11 hours a day he spends on the range now, working with members of all abilities and all ages.
“I enjoy teaching,” said Brady, who relies on a pragmatist’s approach. “The membership doesn’t want me to stop and the board doesn’t want me to stop.”
Brady once believed teaching was “all mechanics.” Now he knows that listening to the student is just as important as almost anything, with the exception of the grip. In the teaching gospel according to Brady, that’s where it all starts and if you don’t believe him, just ask. He’ll share enough words about how the hands hold a golf club to fill a major volume on the subject.
“You can learn a lot from the students and from other teachers,” said Brady, who twice played in the U.S. Open and three times at the PGA Championship. “You learn from experiences, not from more seminars.”
His new role begins Jan. 1 and will be different, but exactly what that translates into he’s not entirely sure. Certainly it will focus on the club and its members.
Brady’s first inkling that something was up came in February when Croswell told him that he was considering retirement. Croswell gave Brady his blessing, as he has often through the past two decades.
“Pat Croswell hired me after the ’96 U.S. Open,” Brady said. “I didn’t know anybody at Oakland Hills. Pat was looking for someone and he took a chance on me. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”
And it’s about to get better.