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Veterans keep youth movement in check

Adam Gronaas of Fargo, N.D., blasts a shot out of the greenside bunker of the 8th hole at Detroit Country Club during Thursday’s Pine to Palm match play (above). Gronaas beat Trevor Swangler of Fargo 6 and 5 to advance in match play Friday. BRIAN BASHAM/DL NEWSPAPERS

With the look of the Pine to Palm Golf Tournament getting younger and younger each year, there still is a good balance of age and wisdom scattered throughout the field of 64.

That was very evident Thursday during the first round of the 81st Pine to Palm match play at the Detroit Country Club, as all four former champions claimed victory over their much younger counterparts.

It started with the return of the 2000 champion Chad Skarperud, who hasn’t played in the Pine to Palm in at least seven to eight years and continued with victories by 2010 champ Todd Hillier, two-time winner Rick Kuhn and 2003 champion Greg Melhus.

All four are past the age of 35 and all have been tough outs during match play, no matter how good or young their opponents have been.

“I think with the older guys, we have an easier time brushing off a bad shot, we don’t let one bad hole bug us,” Melhus said.

“I just think we are more patient and never take anything for granted.”

For Skarperud, his 2000 championship match win over Tony Vincelli 2-up ranks right with his 1993 Birchmont title.

His run that year was marked by how he wore his tennis shoes during play, which were both untied. He also was 28 years old when he won the Pine to Palm.

Things have changed.

“I tie my shoes now,” Skarperud laughed. “But going back to 2000, I remember just taking it one shot at a time and one day at a time. I learned you can’t worry about who you play, you just need to stay in the moment.”

Skarperud used that formula to top 2011 champion Connor Holland 3 and 2 Thursday in the first round of match play.

Ironically, Holland became the youngest Pine to Palm champion at the ripe ole’ age of 17 when he scored the silver trophy in 2011.

The duo exchanged birdies through hole three, where Skarperud eventually took a 1-up lead at the turn.

An eagle on 12 upped the lead to 2-up, which came on a 220-yard punch-draw shot out of the rough, which landed within two feet of the cup.

Skarperud extended his lead to 3-up, this time sinking a 35-40 foot putt on the 14th green.

“It was a real nice match today,” Skarperud said. “I’m very good friends with Connor’s dad, Paul, and this was the first time I played golf with Connor. So it was a fun day.”

For the 37-year-old Melhus, he was able to cling to a 3-up advantage after hole 14 against Fargo’s Brock Ellingson and clinch it on the 18th green, winning 2-up.

Melhus had a streak of three bad holes on 14 through 16, before recovering with a birdie on 17 to go back up 1-up.

He was able to land his approach shot off the 18th fairway within five feet of the cup, as Ellingson’s long putt pushed passed to ensure the win to Melhus, who is playing in his 19th Pine to Palm.

“I have three kids and a full-time job, so I don’t get to golf as much as some of these younger guys,” Melhus said. “So that makes it that much more fun to compete and battle with them here.

“We older guys just have to go out and hope for the best.”

Thus far, the best is coming out, as Hillier – who became the oldest champion at 51 – won 3 and 2 over Michael Kosiek.

Two-time Pine to Palm champion Kuhn, who was 22 years old for his 1991 title and 35 in 2005, downed Nick Myhre 1-up to advance to the second round.

Even 33-year-old Detroit Lakes’ native Robert Wagner was triumphant, after he survived his match and clinched it on the 18th green to win 1-up over Caleb Ketterling.

With no Beau Hanson available to defend his title after he qualified for the U.S. Am, the top seed was medalist Jon Trasamar.

He didn’t let the top-seeded status deter him, as he handled local favorite Austin Rusness 3 and 2.

The lone extra-hole match went to Teddy Cox over Melhus’ twin brother, Michael, in 20 holes.

Further results from this weekend’s match play were not available at press time. The 81st Pine to Palm Championship winners will be determined today; look for a wrapup in Wednesday’s Detroit Lakes Tribune.

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