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Walters and Freeman are co-medalists

Former Pine to Palm champion Ben Freeman grits his teeth as he watches his tee shot headed towards the bunker in front of the green on the short par four seventh hole. His ball bounced over the bunker and rested short of the green. Freeman went on to shoot a 6-under par 65 Wednesday to take co-medalist honors with Wade Walters.1 / 4
Wade Walters watches his tee shot on the par four 13th hole Wednesday.2 / 4
Tom Hoge watches his 300-yard monster tee shot on the par four 13th hole during a practice round Wednesday afternoon. His tee shot landed about 30 yards short of the green, where he chipped up and putted in for birdie.3 / 4
Pat Deitz of Fargo hits an approach shot to the par five 12th green during Wednesday's Pine to Palm qualifying.4 / 4

For the 17th time in the 78 years of the Pine to Palm Tournament, the two-day qualifier ended with multiple medalists at the Detroit Country Club.

After St. Paul's Wade Walters shot a 66 Tuesday, thus winning lowman honors after the first day of qualifying, he shot one-under par 70 for a final score of 136.

Fargo's Ben Freeman played the opposite, after he carded an even-par 71 the first day, he then came with his best game Wednesday with a six-under par 65 to earn co-medalist laurels with Walters.

For Walters, his third try in the Pine to Palm, inking his name in the tournament's storied history is an honor.

"I'm very satisfied with getting medalist honors," Walters said. "I came into it looking at it as two tournaments, one stroke play and the other as match play.

"It's very rewarding getting my name up on the medalist board on the clubhouse. That was my one goal when I came here, getting my name up on one of those boards, be it either for winning medalist or winning it all."

Freeman already knows the feeling of seeing his name on the Pine to Palm boards, after he won the championship in 2008 when he beat Brandon Hartzell 4 and 2.

"It feels good finishing on top of qualifying, but that's done now, it doesn't matter much for match play," Freeman said. "I'd love to win it again, I know I have to just keep plugging away."

Ironically, one of the main reasons the 27-year-old Walters is playing in the Pine to Palm is his cousin, who happens to be the player Freeman beat for his championship in 2008 -- Hartzell, who also qualified for match play with a 146.

"Brandon told me I have more game here at the Pine to Palm than he had when he made the championship in 2008," Walters said.

That showed at least in the qualifying rounds, as Walters shot for a field-low 66 Tuesday and basically had only one bad hole Wednesday.

Walters had the opportunity to play with defending champion Tom Hoge, who shot a rousing 65-66 for a terrific 10-under par 131 in his practice rounds.

"His resume' speaks for itself," Walters said of Hoge. "It was fun playing in the same group with him and it was a chance to see him play for the first time, just in case we have to play each other in match play."

Walters was even par after nine, after he rebounded from a bad shot in the rough behind a tree on hole nine.

He was able to loft a shot over the tree and complete the birdie bid with a 20-foot putt.

Walters was sitting at three-under par by the 14th hole, but a double bogey on 15 set him back a bit.

"I also missed a short birdie putt on 16, but was able to finish out with two pars on 17 and 18," Walters said. "I thought I could come close to shooting another 66, especially after being three-under par after 14."

Freeman made birdie on two of the three par five holes, while making eagle on 16 to key his 65 Wednesday.

But for the most part, Freeman's game was steady, as he sunk the majority of his putts.

"It was good to go out and have a good round and get a good feel for the course," Freeman said. "Now, I just have to take it one hole at a time and never count out an opponent, because I've learned in match play, you're never out of it."

Travis Ross, who is a junior on the New Mexico State men's golf team and hails from Crookston, came in with a 139 after he carded a three-under par 69 Wednesday.

He tied with former University of Minnesota golfer and two-time Pine to Palm champion (1991 and 2005) Rick Kuhn, who shot a consistent 69-70.

Needless to say, all the other 63 golfers are well aware of No. 1 seed Hoge, who has been playing lights out as of late.

Some of his conquests this summer included winning his second consecutive State Amateur championship and qualifying for the U.S. Amateur a couple of weeks ago.

His 131 stroke play score in his practice rounds shows that Hoge hasn't slowed down at all.

"I've been hitting the ball well the last three to four weeks," Hoge said. "I just hope to keep it going through six matches this week."

Hoge hit 16 greens in regulation Wednesday during his second practice round, which he said he will need with another tough field at the Pine to Palm.

"The field is great and probably as strong as it has been since I've been playing," Hoge said. "The course is in great condition, too."

Overall, a total of six former Pine to Palm champions qualified for championship match play, including Hoge, Freeman, Kuhn, Corey Blenkush (2007), Greg Melhus (2003) and Russ Newman (1992 and 1994).

Detroit Lakes will also be well represented, as five former Lakers made the cut, which was 148.

Ben Bergquist shot a 69 Tuesday and a 74 Wednesday for a final 143, while Ryan Kuehne fired a final 145, Tanner Lane a 146, Nic Wagner a 147 and Adam McArthur a 148.

McArthur survived a 14-man playoff for the last 11 spots, which took place after the Championship qualifying round.

For Kuehne, his goal is to make it past the first round after making the cut the last three years in a row.

"The last couple of years, I had some tough draws in Russ Newman and Jim Strandemo (two-time Pine to Palm champion)," Kuehne said. "But I'm hoping to take that first step now and make it out of the first round."

Lane will be using his Pine to Palm Tournament experience as his last gusto of summer, before he reports to the Junior League USHL hockey team Fargo Force in a couple of weeks.

The high school senior shot a 74-72 for a 146 to qualify for match play.

"I'm not looking to do anything stupid and just shoot for pars," Lane said of his outlook for match play. "I don't want to get down early and try to put the pressure on my opponent."

The first round of Championship match play will start Thursday afternoon, with the first group teeing off at 12:15 p.m.

Big playoff fills final 11 spots

There were 14 golfers with a score of 148 fighting for the final 11 spots Wednesday evening.

The 11 golfers who survived the playoff included Coy Papachek, Jon Stecher, Jon Miller, Connor Holland, Phillip Haug, Adam McArthur, Jeff Lamp, Nick Gillam, Newman and Mitch Buboltz.

The three who lost out were Matt Rubis, Chris Clark and Nick Schaefer.

Brian Wierima
Detroit Lakes Newspapers Sports Editor for the last 15 years. St. Cloud State University graduate, who hails from Deer Creek, MN.