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Hillier finds plenty of Pine to Palm fortunes

Defending Pine to Palm Champion Todd Hillier has only missed the championship cut twice in the last 12 years.

Since 1999, the Pine to Palm Golf Tournament has been a consistent part of Todd Hillier's life and it's been a very successful endeavor for the potato farmer from Hoople, N.D.

The annual golf tournament has produced some very prosperous fortunes for Hillier, who has only missed the cut in the tournament twice in the last 12 years.

He broke through last year, busting the competitive field of 64 by landing the 2010 Pine to Palm Championship to become the oldest champ in the tourney's history at the age of 51.

"It's hard to believe it's already been a year," Hillier said. "To see my name on the (Champions) board on the clubhouse, along with the other great champions, it's a pretty neat club to be a part of."

But Hillier's success on the Detroit Country Club's links hasn't been the only good fortune he has experienced during the week of the Pine to Palm.

In 2002, he met his eventual wife, Jeannie, during the tournament, which incidentally was her introduction to one of the area's best amateur golf tourneys.

"We met at the Hotel Shoreham and that was my introduction to Todd and the Pine to Palm Tournament," Jeannie Hillier said. "Now I'm committed to both."

The couple were married and eventually bought a cabin on Lake Melissa, near the Pine to Palm Golf Course, where Jeannie spends most of the summers.

"I just love the atmosphere during the tournament," she added. "It is run so well. I don't even golf, but I enjoy the tournament a lot."

Last year, Jeannie had the opportunity to watch history first-hand, as Hillier played his way through the bracket, on his way to the championship round, where he defeated defending champion Tom Hoge 2 and 1.

Hoge has moved on to play professional, where he has already won a Canadian Tour event his second time out.

But it was Hillier's putter which was his most dangerous club and it helped pave the way to eventual Pine to Palm gold.

"I was putting extremely well that week," Hillier added. "In my quarterfinal match against (Detroit Lakes') Tanner Lane, I had seven one putts.

"I just shook my head at him and he looked at me shaking his head."

Hillier also survived a 20-hole match against Logan Palmer in the third round, which keyed his momentum push through the rest of the tourney.

"I knew if I could get through that match, I could get through the rest of them," Hillier said. "That really got the ball rolling."

Hoge played well in the title match, but three mistakes eventually cost him, as Hillier stayed out of trouble and kept dropping his putts.

Hillier will take advantage of not having have to qualify for match play, with each division champion getting an exemption through the qualifying rounds.

"It will be different not having to have to play Tuesday and Wednesday for qualifying, but there are positives and negatives to that, too," the 2010 champion said. "First, you don't want to get lackadaisical heading into (match play), but you don't have to go through the grind of qualifying.

"I won't be complacent."

Hillier isn't a stranger to playing deep into match play, after golfing to the semifinals in 2006, before losing to eventual champion Kane Hanson, as well as more than several trips to the final 16 and the quarterfinals.

But last year, Hillier was sensing that this could be a special tournament.

"He was in a different mindset last year," Jeannie said. "He didn't talk too much, which I just let him be and play."

As far as this year's tournament, Hillier sees it being just as competitive as any other year.

"There will be 63 other golfers who are pretty talented," he included. "The seed doesn't mean a thing, either. I was No. 24 last year. But I'm just looking forward to another great week of golf. This is a special place for us and as long as I feel I can compete, I will keep playing (in the Championship Flight)."

The 80th Pine to Palm Golf Tournament will get underway Monday, with all divisions -- including Championship, Mid-Am, Seniors and Super-Seniors -- all qualifying through Wednesday.

Match play begins Thursday morning and will run through Sunday, when all the championship matches will take place.

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