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Pine to Palm: Sauer's putting leads him to Senior championship

Pine to Palm chairman Bob Gorden poses with 2008 Senior's champion Joe Sauer.

Throughout the week of the Pine to Palm Senior bracket play, Joe Sauer's only struggle came in his putting.

But irony reared its head in full swing Sunday, as Sauer's weakness became his savior.

Sauer sunk a 15-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole to take the Seniors championship over co-medalist Pat Vincelli, whose 30-foot birdie putt came up short.

"My putt was right in the heart of the hole," said Sauer with a big smile on his face after winning the 41st Pine to Palm Senior's championship. "I was semi-confident before I putted and I just put my best stroke on it."

The putt was on a slight upgrade to the hole, but mostly a straight-on one.

"I birdied the first hole in every match this week," Sauer said. "So that helped with my confidence."

The 61-year-old golfer from Sauk Rapids is a Detroit Lakes graduate, with lots of family still in the area. This was his second try in Seniors play, the first resulting in a second-round loss.

Despite playing in the Pine to Palm just three times in the last 15 years, winning tournament silver has been a goal of Sauer's for a long time.

"It's a lifelong dream to win in the Pine to Palm," Sauer said. "It's been ever since I was a caddy in the 1960s and a lot of my friends and I were able to watch some good golfers play in the tournament."

Sauer's hopes were almost dashed leading up to the 18th hole and once again, ironically, it came due to his putter.

The eventual champion ended up three-putting on the Par 3 17th hole, all within 10 feet of the cup.

But fortunately for Sauer, Vincelli also three-putted to halve the hole.

On hole 18, both again missed putts which would have clinched the championship for either golfer, thus forcing a playoff, which started on the first tee.

Sauer played fairway golf, while Vincelli's chip on the green landed 30 feet from the cup. Sauer's approach was halfway closer, leading up to his clutch 15-foot putt for the win.

Vincelli came into the championship on a roll, after he earned co-medalist honors (at even par 71) -- his third at the Pine to Palm -- and wins over Detroit Lakes' Ted Hatlen 2 and 1, Bob Theriault 3 and 2, then over fellow co-medalist Clint Nelson in the semifinals 1-up.

Sauer shot just well enough in qualifying to earn a spot in the field of 16, finishing with a three-over 74 to earn the ninth seed.

His path included wins over last year's runner-up, T.L. Solien of Madison, Wis., 2 and 1, and a 1-up victory over John Hagge of Fergus Falls, who defeated defending champion Jim Bergeson of Barnesville in the first round 3 and 1.

Sauer downed Fargo's Tim Rubis 1-up in the semifinals to earn his berth in the championship.

The championship match between Vincelli and Sauer was a typical close match in the finals, as neither had a larger lead than 1-up throughout the entire day.

"My iron play was key all day," Sauer said. "I had a kick-in on 10 to go 1-up, which was big, but I lost 11 to go back to even."

The duo would halve the majority of their holes to lead to the playoff hole.

"I was playing as well as I have in a long time coming into the tournament, but my putter was goofy," Sauer said. "So I just worked hard on my game during the week and kept working on my swing.

"I just hung in there (Sunday) and kept grinding it out."

That grind and that one swing of his "goofy" putter was more than enough to earn Sauer a lifelong dream of becoming a Pine to Palm champion.