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Michigan pro not quite at home at Oakland Hills

Photo: Ping Golf

<p><strong>Ping Turns 50</strong><br /> <i>To mark the 50th anniversary of Ping Golf, the company has released a series of rare images featuring founder Karsten Solheim and some of his early creations.</i></p> <p>The first club that Solheim designed and sold was the Ping 1A putter. This patent drawing of the clubhead was created in 1959.</p>

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — Scott Hebert is the first club pro in 11 years to win the PGA Professional National Championship and earn the right to play the PGA Championship in his home state.

Hebert is the head pro at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa. The PGA Championship, which starts Thursday, is being held at Oakland Hills for the first time since 1979.

Home field advantage? Uh, not quite.

``This is my first time in the driveway,'' Hebert said Monday. ``I haven't seen it. When I get out of here, I'm going to look for the range. Shortly after that, hopefully I'll get to the first tee and play some holes.''

How could a six-time Michigan Open champion never have set foot at Oakland Hills, the most famous golf course in the state?

For starters, Grand Traverse is about 250 miles away. Then there's that small detail of his job.

``It's not because I haven't had invitations,'' Hebert said. ``Steve Brady is another great Michigan player who works here and has asked me to come down. And it's just never seemed to work out. But I hear wonderful things about it. A lot of my members grew up here and said, 'You're going to love the golf course.'''

That's the scouting report from his wife, too. She came to Oakland Hills in 2004 for the Ryder Cup.

Hebert is thrilled his wife and children will be able to watch him play.

A week before he won the PNC in Georgia, his daughter was born prematurely. But she is doing fine, and everyone is at Oakland Hills. Hebert will play the first two rounds with Rod Pampling and Sean O'Hair.

VACATION OVER Some introductions were in order last week at Firestone when David Toms walked onto the practice range. He hasn't been seen on the PGA Tour since he tied for 27th at the Travelers Championship, turning down his spot in the British Open.

The reason? Toms was in dire need of a vacation.

The 41-year-old from Louisiana had played nine out of 11 weeks, only twice finishing in the top 20, when he decided it was time to take a break. He headed off to his lake house with his wife and two children, with plans of returning to the John Deere Classic. But he was having so much fun, and his game was not in shape, so he passed on Royal Birkdale.

``I had a great time,'' said Toms, who had never taken such a long break in the summer without being forced out by injury. ``It was hard to force myself to come back.''

He did at a tough place - the Bridgestone Invitational - and got progressively better with a 70-69 weekend to tie for 48th. Toms was among the early arrivals to Oakland Hills on Monday, playing 18 holes.

Toms made some sacrifices with his game to spend time with his family. He has yet to record a top 10, meaning he most likely will not be part of the Ryder Cup team for the first time since 1999. And he is 130th in the FedEx Cup standings with only two tournaments remaining before the playoffs begin.

No matter. It was time well spent, and Toms already has looked at the fall schedule, at least those tournaments that don't conflict with his beloved LSU Tigers football games.

``We have an off week during Turning Stone, so I'll play there,'' he said. ``I'm not going to Florida, so I can play the Texas Open. And if I don't play in the Ryder Cup, I'll play in Jackson (Viking Classic).''

The man does have his priorities.

HOMETOWN FAVORITE Looking for a PGA Tour player who might be the local favorite? That would be Mike Weir.

The Canadian was born in Sarnia, which is only about an hour away from Detroit. It's so close that Weir grew up as a huge Detroit Red Wings fan. And he was getting plenty of cheers as he played nine holes Monday with Dean Wilson and Kenny Perry.

``It's closer to home than it was two weeks ago,'' said Weir, referring to the Canadian Open at Glen Abbey outside Toronto. ``There's a lot of Canucks in Detroit.''

PLAYING HURT Bart Bryant is 18th in the Ryder Cup standings and 27th in the FedEx Cup standings heading into the home stretch. His biggest concern was crossing the finish line, so the oft-injured Bryant had a cortisone shot in his right elbow two weeks ago.

It was his third such shot this year, and he hopes it will get him through September.

``It was 90 percent effective,'' Bryant said. ``Each one lasts a little bit shorter, but hopefully, I'll be taken care of through the FedEx Cup. That would be a bonus.''

And after that? Bryant said surgery is likely, which will be the fifth of his career.

``But the first time on the exterior,'' he said, pointing to a scar on the inside of his left elbow. He also has had surgery on the exterior of his left elbow, along with his knee and shoulder.

At least it's not brain surgery.

``That should have been done a long time ago,'' Bryant said with a laugh.

Bryant likely needs to be runner-up at the PGA Championship to earn one of eight automatic spots on the U.S. Ryder Cup team. He is equally interested in the FedEx Cup, considering he has not returned to the Tour Championship at East Lake since 2005, when he set the course record with a 62 in the first round and won by six shots over Tiger Woods.

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