Insider: Club pro Cairns symbolic of those looking for Champions Tour card

Courtesy of Michigan Section PGA
Brian Cairns recently won two major Michigan events, including the Michigan PGA Championship.

Brian Cairns knows all about the challenges of trying to qualify for the Champions Tour. With only five spots available at this week’s final, it’s no place for the faint of heart.

In his view, that’s as it should be.

“The people want to see (the legends),” Cairns said. “Do they want to see me? They do if I play well. You’ve got to earn your way out there. It’s a cool concept.”

That doesn’t mean Cairns won’t be grinding this week at the Champions Tour National Qualifying Final at TPC Scottsdale’s Champions Course. That’s in his DNA. He’s a throwback. He may not be particularly long but he’s very straight and feisty, and his short game has a special component to it.

In addition to the five players who will earn exempt status, seven others will gain conditional cards. Any players finishing T30 or better will be eligible to pre-qualify for most Champions Tour events.

Cairns has enjoyed an outstanding career as a club professional, leading instructor and winner of seven Michigan major championships. Splitting his time between tournament golf and teaching at the elite Fox Hills Learning Center in Plymouth, Michigan, Cairns is having one of his best seasons at age 49. He has won two state major titles in recent months, the Michigan PGA Championship and the Match Play.

Cairns, who will celebrate his 50th birthday in May, tied for 10th at the Regional Qualifying Tournament at Orange County National. He shot 69-69-73-72—283 to finish behind medalist Gene Jones’ 275 total. Cairns finished 1 stroke ahead of Damon Green, who is Zach Johnson’s caddie. Green also qualified for the final stage.

The field of 78 players at the TPC Scottsdale Champions Course offers interesting storylines. T.C. Chen, famous for his double-hit at Oakland Hills at the 1985 U.S. Open, is back again for another try to reach the Champions Tour. Spaniards Santiago Luna and Miguel Martin, both former European Tour winners, are in the field along with Doug Dunakey, who shot 59 on the Web.Com Tour in 1998 and finished third behind Jones and Bob Friend at Orange County National.

Willie Wood, twice a winner on the Champions Tour in 2012, leads the list of Champions Tour players looking to regain a spot. The list includes Bill Glasson, who finished No. 33 on the Champions Tour Money List this year; Steve Pate, No. 38; Jeff Hart, No. 40; Anders Forsbrand, No. 44; Tom Byrum, No. 45; Bobby Clampett, No. 52; and Bob Tway, No. 53.

Chen (Taiwan), Luna, Martin and Forsbrand (Sweden) lead the international contingent. It includes: Trevor Dodds (South Africa), Marc Farry (France), Marc Girouard (Canada), Phil Golding (England), Barry Lane (England), Mark Mouland (Wales), Eduardo Romero (Argentina), Jim Rutledge (Canada), Javier Sanchez (Mexico), Ken Tarling (Canada) and Steen Tinning (Denmark).

Cairns prepared for the regionals at nearby Orange Tree, a Joe Lee design in the heart of Orlando’s tourist activity. Orange Tree is a tight, tree-lined layout that demands accuracy off the tee.

“If you can drive it straight there, every course looks wide open,” said Cairns, who was ready to go when he arrived at Orange County National.

Cairns’ preparations moved to the Scottsdale area last week, where he experienced Whisper Rock and got in some practice at the TPC Scottsdale.

“I’ll take anything top 30 to have a chance to play a little bit out there,” he said. “I don’t have any expectations. I didn’t have any in the first stage, either.

“No expectations. Everything is just a bonus for me. I know what I am. I’m a club pro. I’m just very lucky to be here. I’ll just kind of putz along, hit it short and straight, and see where that ends up. I’m here. I feel great. I’m looking forward to just playing golf. The Champions Tour is a great deal. Just give me one spot, that’s all I want.”

Cairns is a Detroit native who grew up playing at Red Run Golf Club in suburban Royal Oak, one of the area’s finest clubs and courses.

After college, Cairns returned to Michigan and worked at some of the most prestigious clubs in the Detroit area, including the Country Club of Detroit, Orchard Lake Country Club and Dearborn Country Club. He has played in two PGA Championships, at Atlanta Athletic Club in 2011 and the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island in 2012.

His teaching methods focus on the importance of the short game and how excellence around the greens can elevate the entire skill set.

An accomplished junior player, he earned a scholarship and played four years of Division II golf at Barry University, a private Catholic school in Miami Shoes, Florida. Cairns majored in religious studies.

“It was just kind of an area of interest,” Cairns said. “I just wanted to know, just to find out. Ended up with more questions than answers after five years.”

That made his educational experience a little bit like golf, a game that usually leaves people with more questions than answers. But, hey, in pursuing a career as challenging as golf there’s nothing wrong with seeking a little divine intervention if you can get it, is there?

Champions Tour Insider Vartan Kupelian is a freelance contributor for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR.