BEMIDJI -- Morgan Hetletved is advancing to her first Birchmont Golf Tournament championship. She just had to go through a friend to do it.
“We’re really good friends,” she said of her Friday opponent, Abbie Kelm. “I would have been happy either way. It’s kind of tough to beat your teammate.”
Hetletved defeated Kelm, a University of North Dakota women’s golf teammate and a Bemidji native, 4-and-3 in Friday’s semifinals at the Bemidji Town and Country Club behind a furious back nine. Hetletved was 1-up at the turn, but she won four of the next five holes and clinched the match after 15.
“My putting this week has been the best I’ve ever putted out here. It’s kind of crazy,” she said. “I’ve struggled off the tee a little bit. It probably doesn’t look like it, but I can feel it. It’s not 100%, so hopefully it will be tomorrow.”
If Hetletved wants to win the whole thing on Saturday, she’ll have to go through a Birchmont titan. Emily Israelson, the three-time defending champion, is looking for her fifth overall title on Saturday. Israelson defeated Madison Herzog 2-and-1 in Friday’s semifinals with a back-nine surge of her own.
“She’s a great player. She is the best out here,” Hetletved said of Israelson. “It’s a challenge for myself. … If I can beat her, great. If not, it is what it is.”
Israelson could become just the second woman to ever four-peat at the Birchmont, matching Julie Gumlia’s feat from 1972-75. No man has ever done it. Israelson’s fifth overall title would also make her just the third woman to accumulate that much hardware at the Birchmont.
But Hetletved, who this year will be on the Birchmont’s championship stage for the first time, downplayed the history at stake for her opponent. She just wants to play the best round she can for herself.
“I’ve been playing pretty well this week,” Hetletved said. “If I can just keep playing the way I’m playing, and then if she ends up beating me, I’m not going to be mad. Because if I play good golf and lose, it is what it is.”
Hetletved and Israelson will tee off from hole No. 1 at 1 p.m. on Saturday for the title.
Men’s division down to final 4
On the men’s side of things, the championship field is down to four worthy candidates.
Of the bunch, Jim Foss was the one with the most vocal support on Thursday, as he often received a spirited “Way to go, Jimmy!” from the gallery after a good shot.
“I had some buddies come out and some buddies from my hometown of Roseau down in the area,” Foss said. “Having people come out to watch you, it gives you moral support and it’s fun. It definitely does affect how you play.”
Luckily for Foss, his following cheered him into the semifinals with a 2-and-1 victory over Jake Skarperud, who had a hefty fanbase of his own. Foss is now on the brink of another championship appearance, and he hopes to avenge three career runner-up finishes that have piled up since he started playing the Birchmont in 2007.
“You can’t have an off round out here right now,” Foss said. “If you’re not on your game, it’s game over for you. We’re going to go one match at a time, one hole at a time, one shot at a time. We’re just trying to enjoy it.”
Foss will play Andrew Israelson in the semifinals, as Israelson triumphed 5-and-4 over last year’s runner-up in Danny Menton. The other semifinal showdown features Jay Gregory against Nate Adams, as Gregory topped Chris Swenson 2-up and Adams defeated Nick Schaefer 4-and-3.
The semifinals will tee off at 8:10 a.m. Saturday from hole No. 1. The winners will then reconvene Saturday afternoon for the championship match.
No matter how things shake out, Foss is going to milk all he can out of championship Saturday.
“It’s just a tournament that we all look forward to,” he said. “All of the guys that I graduated with or am buddies with, this is one of the staples on our calendar.”
Championships await in other divisions
The men’s and women’s divisions aren’t the only ones ready to compete for top honors on Saturday.
The championship in the men’s executive division has defending champion Joe McKean and Troy Johnson headlining the event. McKean topped More Fore 1-up with a winning par on No. 18, while Johnson never trailed against Joe Burgess en route to a 4-and-2 win.
Saturday’s men’s executive championship tees off at 12:45 p.m. from hole No. 1.
In men’s senior play, Paul Daman dethroned defending champion Paul Court 3-and-2. Daman will try for his first championship against Mark Lindberg, who scored an impressive 7-and-6 semifinal win over Todd Schaefer.
Daman and Lindberg square off at 12:30 p.m. Saturday from No. 1.
In the masters division, Jeff Tweeton will try to defend his title after securing his spot back in the final. He topped David Lee 3-and-2 in the semis and will next face Jack Seiberlich, who came up clutch on the 20th hole to finally oust Mike Antonovich.
Tweeton and Seiberlich will go for glory starting at 12:15 p.m. from No. 1 on Saturday.
The Junior 13-17 division was idle on Friday, while the Junior 10-12 field held the first championship match of the week. However, Junior 10-12 results between Logan Motzko and Beckett Grand were not available late Friday evening.
The 97th annual Birchmont schedule
Monday: Qualifying rounds for men’s, men’s senior, men’s executive and junior divisions.
Tuesday: Qualifying rounds for women’s, masters divisions; second round for men’s, men’s senior, and men’s executive divisions. Match play begins for Junior 10-12 division.
Wednesday: Match play begins for all championship divisions. (Men’s letter C, D, E flights, men’s executive regular and Junior 10-12 divisions do not play.)
Thursday: Match play continues for all championship divisions. (Men’s letter A and B flights, senior regular, masters regular and junior 2nd and 3rd flights do not play.)
Friday: Match play continues for all championship divisions. (Women’s regular, junior champ, and junior 1st flight do not play.)
Saturday: Match play finals for all divisions