Two-time Pine to Palm champion and last year’s runner-up Rick Kuhn, a 48-year-old out of Bismarck, North Dakota, could be wreaking havoc in the Mid-Am division but after his 2018 result Kuhn is coming back for another run at the trophy.
“I think I have one more year in me,” said Kuhn. “I was pretty close last year to moving up to the Mid-Am but I ended up getting beat in a four-hole playoff. I’m still competitive. I enjoy playing against the kids and getting to know them and watch all their games. I know all the guys in Mid-Am. I’ve been playing against them for years. I enjoy both parts of it. I like watching the kids play and giving them what I’ve got that day.”
Kuhn gave eventual champion Jackson Foth all he could handle taking the championship match to the 22nd hole before Foth claimed the title.
“It was disappointing,” Kuhn said. “I felt like I had a couple really good opportunities to win it and I didn’t take advantage of it.”
Kuhn had a putt to win on the first playoff hole after a ridiculous approach shot to set up an eagle putt. His putt stopped one revolution from a victory. On the second playoff hole, he created more magic from the rough on two and from behind a tree to set up another potential winning putt that would not fall.
“I’ve never finished runner-up before,” he said.
Kuhn has spread out his victories winning in his first-ever appearance as a 21-year-old junior at the University of Minnesota in 1991.
“That was the first year our coach said, ‘I want you guys to get out and play in some of these local tournaments around the state of Minnesota,’” said Kuhn.
Kuhn defeated an incoming freshman teammate Mark Hanson in the championship match nearly three decades ago. Not surprising, much of Kuhn’s recollection of that run at Detroit Country Club has faded.
He won again 14 years later in 2005 defeating Bronson LaCassie.
“I had played with him three or four times in the tournament before we played each other and I watched him just destroy these guys,” Kuhn said. “I don’t think he lost a hole until the final match. He was routinely driving it on par fours. Not just on six, he drove it on 13. That match I remember a lot. Getting prepared for it, this kid hadn’t been down at all. I set my goal to get him down early and I eagled the first hole and birdied the second. I had him 3-down right away and honest to God, I was just hanging on for dear life.”
Kuhn plays golf with a free spirit and frequently makes the impossible shot not only doable but good. Taking on players in a mind game is not part of his regular strategy.
“As far as a mental advantage, that was just a weird situation with LaCassie,” Kuhn said. “I had to get him out of his comfort zone and I did.”
Where Kuhn’s mindset has opposing perspectives is the difference between qualifying and match play.
“The qualifying is completely different, probably by least two favorite rounds of the summer,” he said. “You’re just playing to not make a triple bogey. I’ve never even come close to being medalist because I’m not out there trying to make birdies in the qualifying. I’m trying to keep it inbounds at all times.”
Kuhn qualified 10th in 2018 out of 160 golfers.
“I think I’ve got a pretty good short game and you can always make par out there if you keep it in bounds. I’m a terrible ball striker,” he laughed.
Kuhn returns with the same qualifying strategy he’s used for years.
“I want to be in the top 64,” he said. “That’s it!”
The veteran does realize that there are drawbacks to a high finish.
“If you’re going up against one of the top five then you’re kind of at a disadvantage,” he said. “You kind of want to finish close to the middle of the pack to have a chance.”
Kuhn was champion in 2005, qualifying in the 35th position, after knocking two balls out of bounds on hole No. 15, a nemesis and round-changing hole for many players. He got off the green with a quad.
“That’s when my qualifying rounds changed for me and I started hitting a bunch of irons off the tee and just playing like a complete nerd,” said Kuhn. “It would be nice to be medalist but I’d rather win the tournament.”
While 15 might be a favorite hole for the demented few, Kuhn doesn’t think there are any slam dunk holes at DCC which is what makes match play so inviting at DL’s oldest course.
“I don’t think there is one of those holes out there for anybody,” he said. “You just never know what can happen. You can hit it over a green and just be completely dead. You can’t lose your focus at all. It’s my favorite golf tournament of the summer. It’s a week off of work and I really enjoy it. It’s a great golf course for a match play tournament. You’re not eliminating 90 percent of the field by being a 7,500-yard golf course. There’s a whole bunch of different golf games that can win. I’ve seen a guy who hooks it 40 yards every time win that golf tournament.”
One noticeable difference in the past 30 years for Kuhn is the difference equipment upgrades have made against the course.
“It’s gotten shorter,” he said. “Back then I couldn’t hit a drive 300 yards. The length is the same but the equipment isn’t.”
While Mid-Am players can breathe a sigh of relief again this year, the championship field will need to keep an eye out for the shot-making veteran looking for a third title in a third different decade.
“I’ve played enough matches out there,” said Kuhn. “We’ll just see what happens.”
The 87th Pine to Palm golf tournament will be held at Detroit Country Club Aug. 5-11.