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Hillier is steady to win championship over Hoge

Todd Hillier of Hoople, N.D., raises his hand in victory after defeating Tom Hoge 2 and 1 to take the Pine to Palm championship title Sunday afternoon. Hillier, 51, became the oldest Pine to Palm champion in the tournament's history. Brian Basham/DL Newspapers1 / 3
Todd Hillier watches his drive on the par five fifth hole during the Pine to Palm championship match against Tom Hoge. Hillier beat Hoge 2 and 1 and became the oldest Pine to Palm champion in the tournament's history.2 / 3
Tom Hoge of Fargo, N.D., watches his approach shot to the 16th green during Sunday's Pine to Palm championship match against Todd Hillier of Hoople, N.D. Brian Basham/DL Newspapers3 / 3

The Pine to Palm Golf Tournament has been a very fortunate week for Todd Hillier.

Eight years ago, the 51-year-old Hillier, who is a potato farmer from Hoople, N.D., met his eventual wife Jeannie at the Pine to Palm Golf Tournament.

Sunday, Hillier added another memorable moment during his Pine to Palm experience, by becoming the oldest player to ever win the 78-year-old tournament after posting the upset over defending champion Tom Hoge.

George Lee was previously the oldest golfer to win the tournament, at the age of 48 in 1968.

"It's overwhelming," Hillier said of winning the Pine to Palm championship. "Tom is a spectacular golfer and it's special beating someone of that caliber."

Hillier stayed true to what got him to the championship match, by not making mistakes, hitting fairways and sinking his putts.

With the winds whipping up a fury at the Detroit Country Club, Hillier was able to play fairway golf, while Hoge struggled keeping his ball in play.

A birdie on hole 15 was the final dagger in Hoge's chances, as Hillier went 3-up. He finished with a par putt on 17 to halve the hole, after Hoge won 16 with a par.

"Like I've been saying all week, my plan was to try and keep it in the fairways and make my putts," Hillier said. "On 15, I had a great drive and had a good shot with my eight iron. I really needed that one because you need a 3-up lead against a golfer like Tom."

Hillier started building his lead on hole six, where Hoge went out of bounds with an errant drive, which landed in the No. 7 tee box.

Although Hillier's drive was short and he ended up in the left-side bunker short of the green on his second shot, Hoge struggled making it up to the green and lost with a double bogey.

"I probably had a tough time gauging the wind and had a couple of bad shots," Hoge said. "But Todd putted well on the back nine and he's a great player.

"He definitely deserved to win today."

Hoge had more than several shots from behind the green, but was able to save par on the majority of them with solid chips, to put him close to the hole.

Hillier also missed on several opportunities on missed birdie putts on the front nine to put separation between him and Hoge, but was still able to take a 2-up lead on hole nine with a five-foot birdie putt.

But Hillier's putter was strong on the back nine, after Hoge's approach shot on 11 rolled over the green and the Hoople golfer's was on the green in regulation.

He sunk a six-foot par putt, while Hoge finished with a bogey.

The defending champion and two-time State Am champ sliced the deficit to 2-up after he drove his ball to pin high, just off the green on hole 13, before Hillier basically sealed his championship on 15 with birdie.

"My putter was steady and I didn't find a lot of trouble," Hillier said.

Hillier also was only the third Detroit County Club member to win the Pine to Palm.

Hoge was basically steamrolling through bracket play, after he shot a nine-under par 65-66 -- 133 during his practice rounds in qualifying (he received the automatic No. 1 seed in match play).

He downed Philip Haug 6 and 5 in the opening round, then ended Troy Klongerbo's run in round two, 3 and 2.

Thomas Strandemo lost to Hoge 5 and 3, before Ben Welle gave the TCU golfer a good match, ultimately losing 1-up.

Hoge made the finals over the University of New Mexico's Travis Ross -- who will join Hoge at the U.S. Amateur, which is coming up.

Hillier was steady, starting with a qualifying score of two-over par 144.

His path included wins over Tanner Jones (7 and 6), John Young (4 and 3), Logan Palmer (1-up, 20 holes), Detroit Lakes' Tanner Lane (4-up) and downed co-medalist Wade Walters in the semifinals.

With a field full of college and high school golfers, Hillier proved age doesn't discriminate in the game of golf.

What Hillier also proved is good things come to good golfers during the Pine to Palm Golf Tournament.

Pine to Palm notes

• Mother Nature made her presence felt throughout the week of Pine to Palm.

Thursday, Senior and Mid-Am first round matches were cut short due to two rain delays.

Then Saturday, another rain delay was had after another deluge of rain pelted golfers.

In Sunday's championship matches, the wind was a factor as well.

• DL's 18-year-old Tanner Lane made some headlines after he upset former Pine to Palm champion Ben Freeman in the second round 1-up.

Lane, who will be starting up with the USHL's Fargo Force soon, was also celebrating his birthday that day. He eventually fell to Hillier 4-up in the round of the final eight.

• It looks as if both Freeman -- who was co-medalist with Walters with a six-under par 136 -- and Hoge will not be back in next year's Pine to Palm, as both will graduate from college and turn pro.

Freeman plays for the Drake University men's golf team and Hoge for the Texas Christian University squad.

• The 2011 and 79th Pine to Palm Tournament will be held Aug. 8-14.

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