Defending Pine to Palm champion Andrew Israelson has bright memories of last year’s tournament and a positive outlook despite losing his senior season at North Dakota State University to COVID-19.
The 88th Pine to Palm is a plausible light at the end of the tunnel.
“Right now, it’s hope, kind of, just to play golf again and look forward to playing in a tournament such as that as soon as possible,” he said.
Israelson was impressive all week last August at Detroit Country Club completing a full three week run of the Resort tournament circuit.
“The biggest thing I took out of it was that I could play to my best day in and day out for long durations,” he said.
Israelson reached the final day at The Birchmont in Bemidji before taking the consolation title at Resorters in Alexandria completing 14 straight days of golf with only a day off before Pine to Palm qualifying.
He was concentrating on short balls outside of competition upon finding a rhythm from tee to approach on the course.
“I hit a few wedge shots and worked on my wedge game, but for the most part, my practice consisted of putting, chipping and maybe 50 yard and in pitches,” Israelson said. “I didn’t really work on my swing as much. I think it just got more compact and more like a muscle memory type of deal. It honed me in.”
Part of that practice routine was also due to the need to be on top of one’s short game to be successful at the Pine to Palm.
“It can get dicey around some of those greens, especially if you get an unfortunate lie,” said Israelson. “Those greens are pretty small for the most part and they can fool you.”
The run to the title was aided by a comfort level found in playing well consistently throughout the summer.
“I think you get really in tune with your game,” said Israelson. “You really start to understand what your shortfalls are, maybe what you can’t do, but really, what the strong parts of your game are.”
Israelson snapped a five-year championship drought since the last sweep of medalist and championship honors. Former Gopher Jon Trasamar was the most recent in 2013. Current PGA pro Tom Hoge completed the feat in 2009.
NDSU teammates were in the way for the top qualifying and match play title in what was a strong tournament for Bison golfers.
Teammate Lucas Johnson was the first day qualifying leader and battled Israelson to the end of day two.
Israelson never led in the championship match against Bison teammate Nate Adams until the final putt. Israelson trailed by three holes at the turn before rallying late to tie the match and capture the 87th championship on the first extra hole.
“It proved I could still play really well even if I was a little tired,” he said.
Israelson joined his father and three-time champion Bill Israelson (1976-77, 1980) on the big championship board at the Detroit Country Club as the first father-son duo to win at the Pine.
Israelson is a multiple Summit League award winner at NDSU and has been one of the top two golfers on the team his entire career. NDSU completed the fall season with three top two team finishes highlighted by a win in North Carolina where Israelson recorded the third-best 54-hole score in school history and his sixth career top five finish.
“I felt really good about our team,” he said. “It’s hard to make the national championship, but I think we could have won our conference and competed at the regional.”
The Bison were in Arizona at Grand Canyon University mid-March preparing for a practice round when the season ended. The NBA had suspended its season the night before so there was some lingering in the air about the tournament.
“We got the golf course and we were like hey whatever, we’ll probably play this tournament and be done,” he said. “Right when we got to the range three teams walked back into the parking lot.”
NDSU golfers hit the course for practice.
“Then coach told us they had canceled the tournament,” Israelson said. “We kept playing. Five holes later, the NHL suspended and all these other things. Then all of a sudden the NCAA cancels everything and we’ve probably got three holes left.”
Israelson and his teammates’ first thoughts were the situation was ridiculous.
“We were so uncertain about what was happening in the future and everything that was happening,” he said.
The severity of the situation quickly became apparent.
“I was like, I’ve only played one tournament this spring,” he said. “It’s one thing if they just canceled the championships, like basketball, but we pretty much had played half our season. That’s all we played, which kind of stinks. It sucks from my perspective, but I feel empathy for people like baseball and softball players because they got nothing. At least I got a little taste of my sport.”
Israelson noted the big difference in sports where he will be able to compete again, while some of his classmates might not.
“I just kept thinking of the positives,” he said. “I’m going to play golf again. These people might never compete again in their sport.”
The team began spring break and spent time together in Arizona in the early stages of the changes caused by COVID-19 before NDSU shut down.
“We all hung out so that was at least nice,” he said.
Israelson will graduate with a Finance degree this semester and is weighing the possibility of playing for NDSU next year with an extended year of eligibility. Those decisions are up in the air pending the stipulations of coming back. For now, the 87th Pine to Palm champion is hoping to get a chance to defend his title in August.
“I’m just waiting to play some more amateur golf this summer,” he said.
This year's Pine to Palm registration forms are on hold until May 15.