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Only four remain in Pine to Palm title field

Tom Hoge watches his approach shot to the par four 11th hole. Hoge won his quarterfinal match against Ben Welle 5 and 3 Saturday afternoon.1 / 6
Travis Ross tries to lean his ball into the 12th hole during his Saturday match against Rick Kuhn.2 / 6
Wade Walters stares down his tee shot on the par four 13th hole Saturday. He beat Kenny Rucker 1-up in 19 holes.3 / 6
Todd Hillier watches his approach to the 11th green Saturday. He defeated Tanner Lane 3 and 2 to advance to Sunday morning's semifinals.4 / 6
A gallery of about 50 spectators followed the lead championship group of Tom Hoge, Ben Welle, Tanner Lane and Todd Hillier during Saturday's match play.5 / 6
Kenny Rucker and Wade Walters share a laugh during a pause in their championship match Saturday afternoon.6 / 6

Don't worry, Todd Hillier already knows about his age.

The Hoople, N.D., farmer knows he is the only golfer over the age of 30 left standing in the Pine to Palm Golf Tournament at the Detroit Country Club in Detroit Lakes.

He also knows he can become the oldest Pine to Palm champion at 51-years of age, eclipsing George Lee, who won it in 1968 at 48.

But, the fact is, Hillier doesn't care about his age, he's just is worried about his next opponent in the Pine to Palm semifinals, which will be played Sunday morning at 8 a.m.

"To me age is just a number, it doesn't mean much," Hillier said, after advancing with a 3 and 2 victory over tournament fan favorite and hometown golfer Tanner Lane. "The course is conducive to my game and I don't get into the age thing.

"I'm going into my match focusing on hitting the fairways and greens."

In his quarterfinal match, Hillier had the 18-year-old Lane by 33 years in age, but it was his putter which made the difference -- not years.

Hillier had seven one-putt greens in his first seven holes, thus building a 5-up lead by the turn.

"I was putting extremely well," Hillier said. "I was making all my eight to 10 foot putts and didn't have any trouble hitting my fairways."

Lane, who beat Luke Davison 2 and 1 in his Sweet 16 morning match, didn't go away quietly by winning three holes by 15, to chisel the deficit down to 1-up in favor of Hillier.

Lane was able to drain a couple of birdies on 12 and 13, the latter a long 15-footer to push the hole.

But Hillier won a crucial hole on 15 with a par and took 16 after Lane had an errant drive to end the match 3 and 2.

"I give Tanner a lot of credit, he kept coming and coming," Hillier said of Lane's late-match comeback. "A lot of good things have happened to me this week to make it back to the final four and the putter has helped me so much."

Hillier made his first Pine to Palm final four in 2006, as well.

"I'm not taking this for granted, at all," Hillier said. "It's very hard to get to this point, very hard."

Hillier downed Logan Palmer 1-up in 20 holes, something which his next opponent is familiar with.

Co-medalist Wade Walters had to survive a 19-hole affair to advance to semifinal play by outlasting Kenny Rucker.

The 27-year-old from St. Paul and Rucker were literally nose-to-nose throughout the match, halving 12 holes in the process.

Rucker broke a five-hole even string between the two by taking par on 15, but Walters pushed the match back to even with a par on 17.

After the two halved 18, Walters drilled his tee shot 164 yards from the green in mid-fairway.

"That was my best drive of the week," Walters said.

He laid a nice nine iron approach near the hole, while Rucker remained out from Walters' shot.

Walters eventually won the hole with a two-putt birdie and punched his ticket to the final four.

"There were a lot of pars between us and there are a lot of birdies on this course, but there are also bogeys out there," Walters said. "I just tried to keep the ball below the hole and stayed aggressive."

But this wouldn't have been a normal Pine to Palm Tournament without a rain delay, which happened around hole 12 for the duo.

"The rain made it tough, again," Walters included.

Walters made it to the quarterfinals with a 5 and 3 win over Sean Barrett earlier in the day.

Now that Walters is in the semifinals and already will have his name up on the board as the co-medalist, putting his name up on the clubhouse wall would double the pleasure.

"That would be a dream come true," Walters said. "Getting my name up there next to the medalist, that would be very exciting."

But there is still a very large obstacle looming for anyone to be putting a claim in for the Pine to Palm championship.

Defending champion Tom Hoge once again finished earlier than most in his two matches Saturday, but he was pushed for the first time this week.

After a 4 and 2 win over Thomas Strandemo in the round of 16, Hoge fell behind in a match for the first time this week.

The 16-year-old from Moorhead, Ben Welle, won the first hole of the match to go 1-up.

The score stayed the same up to the fourth hole, where Hoge made birdie to even the match.

"I started off struggling," Hoge said. "I made some mistakes."

Hoge still shot a three-under par on the front nine, eventually taking a 1-up lead at the turn.

Welle hung with the strong play of Hoge, but couldn't maintain by losing holes 12 through 14 to fall 5 and 3.

With Hoge two wins away from defending his crown, he knows it won't be a cakewalk.

"I know I need to keep playing more great golf to win," Hoge said.

His opponent, 22-year-old Travis Ross -- who plays for the University of New Mexico -- will be more than a challenge for Hoge.

Ross downed Caleb Ketterling 2 and 1 in the morning round and beat two-time Pine to Palm champion Rick Kuhn 2 and 1 in the quarterfinals.

"I definitely feel like I can beat him, I just going to keep doing what I am doing," Ross said of his match against Hoge. "It really comes down to a matter of who's playing better."

Ross was able to capitalize on some rare mistakes by Kuhn and created some separation by winning holes 14 and 15 to go 2-up.

"I felt after I went 2-up that late in the match, if I could just make pars the rest of the way out, I would win," Ross added. "I've been hitting a lot of greens this week and have been putting well."

The semifinal tee times for Championship is at 8 a.m. and 8:10 a.m., while the championship match will start at 2:45 p.m.

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