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Welle returning to defend Pine to Palm championship

BEN WELLE will return to defend his Pine to Palm title, becoming the first defending champion to do so since 2011 champion Connor Holland. Brian Basham/DL Newspapers

For the first time in three years, the Pine to Palm champion will return to defend his title.

“Absolutely,” Ben Welle said. “I love it. It’s a good tournament to end the summer on. All the local kids play it. The course is always great and there is a lot of risk and reward out there.”

Jon Trasamar, the 2013 champion missed defending while playing on the Dakota tour. 2012 champ Beau Hanson qualified for the U.S. Amateur tournament which was held the same weekend in 2013 negating his chance to return.

Welle is coming off a tough loss at the 112th Minnesota Golf Association Amateur Championship at Northland Country Club in mid-July.

“It was pretty close,” Welle said. “It’s just golf. A couple shots got away from me on the back nine, but I had a really good week.”

Welle took a three-stroke lead into the final round but was caught by a surging Jon DuToit, the eventual champion, who came back from five strokes down to win. Welle had a lengthy birdie putt on 18 to force a playoff but missed.

DuToit finished 1-over for the tournament while Welle, who led Joel Johnson and Trent Peterson by three strokes going into the final round, finished second at 2-over.

Welle, a senior-to-be on the University of Kansas golf team in the fall, lost the lead after bogeying the par-3 12th and par-4 13th holes. He caught the right-side bunker on No. 13 and had to two-putt. On No. 13, his approach bounced off the back of the green, his chip out from the rough only reached the fringe and from there he two-putted.

Welle finished with four bogeys and one birdie for a final-round 74 after shooting 70 on Tuesday and 71 on Monday. It wasn’t the bogeys that haunted him, but the missed birdie attempts.

“Bogeys are going to happen out here. I just didn’t capitalize on the birdies,” said Welle, who finished second at the 2013 State Am by one stroke. “It was tough because even when you put it within 10 feet, sometimes you don’t know where it’s going with the lake. You land it next to the pin, you better have some spin on it or it’s bouncing right over.”

DuToit and Welle have history in that both golfers shared the Minnesota High School Class AAA state championship in 2012 at Bunker Hills.

“Jon is a really good guy,” Welle said. “Every time we golf together we have a lot of fun.”

Welle, a Moorhead graduate, will play in his upcoming senior season this fall and third overall year for the Jayhawks, after a year at Scottsdale, Arizona Community College fresh out of high school in 2012-13.

“I’ve kind of kept this summer low key and plan on amping it up for my senior year,” he said.

“I want to concentrate on my senior year and hopefully get a college tourney win under my belt.”

Welle got off to a hot start at Kansas after winning the Pine to Palm last summer being named the November Big 12 Conference Golfer of the Month recording three top-10 finishes in his first five meets of the 2014-15 season.

“Junior season went really well,” he said. “I started off the year in Michigan and Colorado and played well there. The spring season pretty well, a I had a good Big 12 tournament at Southern Hills in Tulsa until the last day.  It was a very fast year, went by really quick.”

Welle used a consistent approach to win the Pine to Palm in 2014 playing down the middle of the fairway and keeping risks to a minimum, sometimes putting the driver away on the tee box.

“That’s kind of the strategy for match play,” said Welle. “You don’t necessarily put the brakes on, but play smarter, and don’t make stupid decisions to give the other person momentum. Anybody with momentum can get something going. Hit the driver straight. Get on the green and make some putts.”

His strategy helped him win close matches down the stretch at the 2014 Pine to Palm defeating Coy Papachek 1-up in the quarterfinals, Mark Robinson 1-up in the semifinals, before defeating Matt Rachey 4 and 3 in Sunday’s championship final.

Welle will wrap up his summer golf season in Detroit Lakes before heading back to school, as the Jayhawks open the fall season at the Rod Myers Invitational Saturday, Sept. 12 in Durham, N.C. at the Duke University Golf Club.

While Welle’s concentration is on first defending the Pine to Palm crown and getting back to college, future plans also revolve around continue his golf career at the next level.

“After college, I plan to move somewhere down south, probably Arizona, to try out the pro golf life and see how it treats me,” he said. “If it doesn’t work out, I don’t want to look back and say I didn’t try.”

Forum News Service's Matt Wellens contributed to this story.

Robert Williams

Sports Editor at the Detroit Lakes Tribune. Williams worked prior as the Sports Editor in Perham for the Focus, a Forum Communications newspaper, from 2010-14. 

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