FINDLEY LAKE – With a birdie on the first playoff hole, Ryan Brehm topped Tim Wilkinson to win the LECOM Health Challenge at 20-under 268 on Sunday.
Brehm double-bogeyed the final hole in regulation but rebounded with a birdie on the same hole (par-5 18th) in the playoff to take the title at Peek’n Peak Resort.
Each of the players took a different approach to the hole in the playoff. Brehm, who ranks fifth on Tour in driving distance, went for the green in two and landed it on the fringe.
Wilkinson, ranked 141st on Tour in driving distance, laid up to around 140 yards out with his second shot. Despite the difference in strategy, both players had around 10 feet for birdie. After Wilkinson’s putt lipped out, Brehm’s attempt rolled around the cup before dropping.
“The last time I won I had a tap-in,” said Brehm, referencing his 2016 win in Portland. “This was a lot more dramatic. I hit a pretty good putt, but all day I had been leaving my putts short, so I thought it was going to run out of speed again. I still don’t know how it went in.”
Even after squandering a two-stroke lead on the final hole in regulation, Brehm felt optimistic entering the playoff after an “unlucky lie” resulted in a double bogey. The 33-year-old hit driver off the tee again, despite pulling his previous drive into the trees.
“I knew that I had to play to my strength in the playoff,” said Brehm. “My strength is to get one in play with the driver and go for the green. I’m not going to beat Tim Wilkinson in a wedge contest.”
The Michigan State alum referenced feeling calm throughout the week, even in contention down the stretch. His sister had a son on Friday, Brehm’s first nephew, Brehm dedicated the win to the newest member of his family during the trophy presentation.
“He just came into the world and it’s the first time I’ve been an uncle,” said Brehm. “My family has been sending me photos all week. We were waiting around on Friday to see when he would be born. I think it’ll be more real when I get to meet him, but I’m excited.”
Brehm carded rounds of 64-68 on the weekend, despite the closing double bogey. He ranked second in driving distance and T4 in scrambling through the week. With the win, Brehm locked up his return to the PGA TOUR for the 2019-20 season. He jumped from No. 25 on the Korn Ferry Tour points list to No. 5.
“I’m ecstatic to be out on the PGA TOUR [next year], but my attitude has changed since the last time I was out there,” said Brehm. “I’m at peace with trying to play good golf. The Korn Ferry Tour is fantastic, the caliber of play is excellent, and I love the people that work out here. It’s just a small family. So I’m comfortable here and hopefully I’ll be comfortable on the PGA TOUR next year.”
Wilkinson, the 54-hole leader and 36-hole co-leader, carded his fourth consecutive round in the 60s to reach the playoff. He played his final 40 holes without a bogey and ranked in the top 10 in both driving accuracy (T10) and greens in regulation (T5). Wilkinson jumped to 14th in the Korn Ferry Tour standings with the runner-up finish and is closing in on a return to the PGA TOUR.
Chase Seiffert, Blayne Barber and Will Zalatoris tied for third at 19-under 269.