With nine holes to play in the second Pine to Palm qualifying round, the battle for medalist was between a pair of North Dakota State University Bison golfers Andrew Israelson and Lucas Johnson Wednesday, Aug. 7 at Detroit Country Club.
"It was almost like a match play between us, even though we were playing stroke play, because I looked at the scoreboard after nine holes and I didn't see anyone going 63 or anything," said Israelson.
Johnson held a one-stroke lead after day one and both golfers shot 3-under 33's on the front nine. Israelson was 3-under again with a 32 on the back side to Johnson's 1-over 36 to secure medalist honors.
"I hit some really good putts but misread them," said Johnson. "I went low on the back yesterday. To go 1-over today is pretty disappointing, but this tournament isn't about the qualifying rounds; it's about the match play. I've got nothing to hang my head about; match play is a different animal."
Israelson attacked the greens with two putters in the bag and it worked as even his misses left little but tap-ins during his run despite blustery conditions at times as the rounds reached late afternoon.
"I was pretty confident on the greens," he said. "I always think, even when it's not windy, you should shoot a good score out here because it's so short. The wind picked up, especially around hole No. 7. Some of those holes playing downwind are really tough because it's hard to judge where the pin is at. Over the green here is jail."
Particular holes had difficult pin placements also, like the par-3, 141-yard, 14th. The pin was placed at the back of the up-sloping green and is guarded by a steep hill off the backside that made golfers over the green play a tricky high chip with little room to work and a slope trailing down and away.
Israelson babied an eight-iron rather than hit his wedge and managed par.
"I held off a lot and it still almost went over the green," he said.
Johnson had a birdie opportunity on 14 after flying his ball nearly to the lip of the hole before back-spinning away. His birdie putt just missed.
It finished off a tough three-hole stretch for the first round leader. On 12, Johnson found trees to the right and had to punch out into the fairway between two dangerous ponds. He managed a nice par save from 10-feet before seeing a short, birdie putt on 13 lip out.
The duel was not the first this summer for the Bison teammates.
"He got me at the Birchmont and I got him here," said Israelson. "It's a good time and at least we got to play in the same group. We don't really play a lot of competitive rounds together, so it was a little different."
The two golfers were tied heading to the par-4, dogleg right, 16th hole. Israelson's drive was down the middle, Johnson had to punch out again to get away from trees.
"I definitely thought he was still going to hit par so I hit a nice wedge in there to about four feet," Israelson said.
For Johnson, the greens were far more trouble than the rare drive off the fairway.
"My putter was just about in the pond," said Johnson. "It was a little cold today. That was my downfall. I hit my tee balls really well."
The duo was pushed by a three-pack of familiar names at the Pine to Palm. Erik Weiss of Moorhead, Cody Cook of Hawley and Bill Carlson of Minneapolis all shot matching final scores of 137 (-5).
One stroke back of the trio was last year's record-setting medalist Will Czeh of Roseau and the ageless wonder Rick Kuhn, the 2018 runner-up.
"I started off horribly," said Kuhn. "I couldn't hit a fairway on the front nine and actually got it going on the back nine."
After going out with a 1-over 36, Kuhn matched Israelson for the best nine holes of the day with a 32 (-3) on the backside.
Rounding out the finishers under par were Fargo's Matt Kulla and Grand Forks' Ryan Ames with 140's (-2).
Two Detroit Lakes golfers finished in the top 20: Nathan Ginnaty at even par 142 and Tanner Schnathorst 144 (+2).
Nine golfers will compete in a playoff Wednesday evening for the final six spots with matching scores of 149 to compete the field of 64. Match play and the quest for the title begins Thursday at noon.
"This is my favorite week of the year," said Johnson. "Seeing all the names up on the board. There are some big names up there. Tom Hoge comes to mind and greats like Rick Kuhn too. To have my name among those lists would be cool. It's been a childhood dream."
Israelson will try to snap a five-year championship drought for the tournament medalist. Jon Trasamar was the last to sweep both qualifying and match play in 2013. Hoge also competed the feat in 2009.
Pine to Palm championship qualifying (Top 20)
1 ANDREW ISRAELSON, FARGO, ND 67-65 132
2 LUCAS JOHNSON, MOORHEAD, MN 66-69 135
T3 ERIK WEISS, MOORHEAD, MN 69-68 137
T3 CODY COOK, HAWLEY, MN 69-68 137
T3 BILL CARLSON, MINNEAPOLIS, MN 68-69 137
T6 RICK KUHN, BISMARCK, ND 70-69 139
T6 WILL CZEH, ROSEAU, MN 70-69 139
T8 MATT KULLA, FARGO, ND 71-69 140
T8 RYAN AMES, GRAND FORKS, ND 69-71 140
T10 NATE ADAMS, MAPLE GROVE, MN 70-72 142
T10 CADE MONTPLAISIR, MESA, AZ 69-73 142
T10 JOE CHRISTIANSON, WALCOTT, ND 71-71 142
T10 NATHAN GINNATY, DETROIT LAKES, MN 69-73 142
T10 NICK EVIN, WEST FARGO, ND 68-74 142
15 NATE VARTY, BISMARCK, ND 70-73 143
T16 TANNER SCHNATHORST, DETROIT LAKES, MN 75-69 144
T16 BLAKE KAHLBAUGH, MAHNOMEN, MN 72-72 144
T16 JACK OLSON, FARGO, ND 71-73 144
T16 KEATON LAUSCH, FERGUS FALLS, MN 72-72 144
T16 ADAM VAN RADEN, GRAND FORKS, ND 69-75 144
T16 AUSTIN RENE, JAMESTOWN, ND 70-74 144