'A heap of fun:' Australia's Josh Robards beats former champion to win 90th Pine to Palm
Josh Robards, a sophomore at the University of Missouri-Kansas City from Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia, beat Ian Simonich 3-2, taking home the title of 90th Pine to Palm Champion on Sunday. Robards made seven birdies ion 16 holes with his mother alongside him the whole way.
DETROIT LAKES – Every Pine to Palm champion gets their name engraved on the trophy before it's mailed to their home. This year's shipping and handling will cost a little more than usual.
Josh Robards of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia, and a sophomore at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, defeated former champion Ian Simonich 3-2 on Sunday to win the 90th Pine to Palm Championship.
Robards made seven birdies in 16 holes in what he called his "best round of the week." Claiming the historic prize came down to finding "It" within him.
"It's been a heap of fun to come up here and play," Robards said. "It's honestly such an amazing course. It's awesome to cap off a win in my last summer tournament before I go back to school. I played solid all through summer, but I had not been able to find it. After my first two days, I knew it was somewhere in (me). I ended up finding it with the putter today, and I'm just really happy to be on top."
Robards took a 1-up lead on No. 1 with his first of five birdies on the front nine. After Simonich evened the match with a par on No. 3, Robards began a streak of four straight birdies on No. 5 to take a 3-up advantage. He added another to Simonich's deficit with a par before the turn.
Despite holding a lengthy lead going to the back nine, Robards knew a surge was coming. Simonich, a North Dakota State University sophomore, competed against Robards in Summit League play a few months ago.
"Ian played behind me at our conference championships, so I have met him before," Robards said. "When he started charging, I was like, 'Here we go. This is the golf I know Ian can play.' I just kept my head down and kept playing my game. I made a heap of birdies on the front nine. Let's just try and get a few more down that home stretch and close the door."
Simonich got a hole back on No. 11 with a beautiful approach on his second shot, leaving him a tap-in birdie. Two holes later, he sank a lengthy birdie putt to put the pressure on Robards.
On No. 16, Simonich put one a few feet from the pin again. Robards had a 15-foot birdie putt to the right of the cup after his second shot stayed on the edge of the green.
"I said to Mom walking up there, 'If there's any putt to hole, this is the one to go in,'" Robards said. "After I cleaned my ball and stepped back, it was straight up the hole. All I had to do was hit it firm and keep it solid up the middle."
Robards stunned the gallery, putting the pressure on Simonich after what looked like another hole that would cut into the lead. Simonich pushed his putt past the hole, ending his bid at a second Pine to Palm Championship.
Semifinals go down to the wire
Robards and Simonich needed all 18 holes to put away Carson Skarperud and Nate Deziel.
Robards took a 1-up lead with a birdie on No. 2 before doubling his margin with a par on No. 3. Skarperud, the 41st seed, got one back with a birdie on No. 6 before tying the match with his second birdie on No. 9.
Both players made back-to-back pars and a birdie following the turn before Robards retook a one-hole lead. After Robards' 1-up par, Skarperud squared the match again with a birdie on No. 14. However, another bogey on 15 put Robards 1-up for a third time.
Both players made par on No. 16 before Robards missed a par putt a hole later, squaring the match with one hole to play in regulation.
On No. 18, both players missed the fairway to the right side. Robards' second shot landed about 25 feet from the pin, while Skarperud needed an up-and-down from the rough in front of the green for par.
Skarperud's chip left him about 20 feet from the cup. After Robards tapped in a short par putt, Skarperud left his attempt inches short.
"Young fella up this way, Carson is," Robards said. "To be honest, I think (came down to) experience. He's only going into his senior year of high school. You could see he was a bit nervous there towards the end. I won it, but I think he also kind of lost it there towards the end. He certainly played a very solid game, and he's got a bright future ahead of him."
Simonich's match also ended on No. 18 after a round with 11 combined birdies against his teammate at NDSU.
He took a one-hole lead over Deziel with a birdie on No. 3 before Deziel squared the match with a birdie on No. 6. Deziel took his first lead of the day on No. 8 with his fifth birdie on the front nine, heading to the turn 1-up.
Both players made par on the first three holes on the back nine before Simonich evened the match with a birdie putt on No. 13. He took a 1-up lead with a par on No. 14 before doubling it on No. 16 with a birdie. Deziel, needing to win the final two holes, got one back with a par on No. 17.
On No. 18, Simonich found the middle of the fairway, while Deziel was in the rough on the right side. Deziel's second shot found the bunker to the left of the green. Needing to go up-and-down for par, he sailed his third shot into the other bunker on the right side. Simonich won the hole with a bogey putt to clinch a spot in the final.
From Australia to the lakes area
For many, the Pine to Palm is a chance to return to the Detroit Lakes area and see familiar faces in a friendly, competitive golf setting. A week ago, only a few people around the Detroit Country Club could put a name to Robards' face. Now, that name is etched in the Pine to Palm's illustrious history.
"Ever since I was about 14, I wanted to come to (America) to play college golf," Robards said. "I was always reasonably bright academically. In Australia, there's no student-athlete pathway. You're either a student or an athlete. When I found out about that here, I knew it was the place for me. I ended up in Kansas City, which is an awesome place to be. My coach down in Kansas City told me a good tournament to go to is in Detroit Lakes in the Pine to Palm. I figured it could be my last one for the summer, and here we are."
After beating Skarperud on Sunday morning, Robards wasn't convinced he was sharp enough to take down the champion from two years ago. After a trip to the Lakeview Golf Club driving range, he found a way to get in championship form.
"This morning, I didn't hit it great," Robards said. "I went to the range for a warmup. I told myself, 'I got 30 balls. Let's figure out what we can do with them and go make it work this afternoon.' I got in a bit of a groove. I warmed up on the putting green and felt really good. As I said before, it was the putter that was just unbelievable."
In the final days of match play, Robards mother, Karen, followed him every step of the way like a caddy.
"I carried my own clubs. You don't want to put that on your mother," Robards said with a laugh. "She walked with me and kept my head level. It was really good."
When he looks back on his first Pine to Palm, Robards will have fond memories. The one that will stick out the most was seeing his mother while he walked off the No. 16 green as a champion.
"Doing it with Mom there means a lot to me," he said. "Mom hadn't seen me play golf in a couple of years. Either Dad would come with me, or she'd be too nervous. I told her she has to come out for the match play. To do it in front of Mom, even though I know she was really nervous, was pretty cool."
In his first Pine to Palm appearance, Robards improved throughout the week. He finished in 37th place after two qualifying rounds before outlasting six opponents in match play. Next year will pose challenges only a defending champion can face. In going from unknown to revered, Robards looks forward to the second week of August in 2023.
"It will be pretty cool to come back next year and see my name on the board," Robards said. "I probably would've come back anyway because I enjoyed it so much, But now I'll certainly be back here next year."