Pine to Palm: Melhus joins elite company as back-to-back Mid-Am Division winner
Mike Melhus shook off a dicey front nine to beat Jeff Bernstrom 4-3 in the Mid-Am Division championship. He joined Perry Piatz and Kent Spriggs as the only ones to win the Mid-Am title in back-to-back years.
DETROIT LAKES – Mike Melhus is one year away from putting his name on the Pine to Palm tournament’s historic 25-year list. However, he’s already making history.
On Sunday afternoon, Melhus became the third back-to-back champion in the Mid-Am Division with a 4-3 win over Jeff Bernstrom.
“It feels excellent,” Mlehus said. “This is my 24th year playing in this. There are a lot of years of making it and sometimes not making it. I got into (The Mid-Am Division) and really found my sweet spot two years in a row. It means a lot because I love the tournament so much.”
Despite closing in on his second straight title, the front nine was dicey for the defending champion. Melhus took a 1-up lead with an eagle on No. 1 before Bernstrom’s birdie on No. 3 squared the match.
Bernstrom took a 1-up lead with a birdie on No. 5 before Melhus responded with a match-squaring birdie a hole later. Melhus evened the score for a second time on No. 8 with a par before taking a 1-up lead before the turn.
Melhus found his stroke on the back nine. He doubled his lead with a par on No. 10 before winning back-to-back holes on Nos. 12 and 13. Melhus finished off the win with back-to-back pars.
“In my semifinal match, I really had a nice putter,” Melhus said. “Today was pretty clean all the way around. I had a couple of tee shots that got a little squirrely, but other and that, I was pretty solid all day tee to green.”
Entering the field as the defending champion has pros and cons. While Melhus didn’t have to worry about qualifying for the lot of 16, he was concerned he’d have rust in the first round.
“I was a little worried,” Melhus said. “Sometimes, those two qualifying rounds put you in a mental spot for a match. I played with the leaders after the first day, so that was enough to rev my engine. It’s a little bit of a concern because you get an edge from qualifying. Once I put a tee in the ground on Thursday, it clicked just like any other match. Then it’s grind time.”
As the week went on, Melhus found the same rhythm he did a year ago.
“It helps to get that experience of what it takes to win under your belt,” Melhus said. “You don’t get too high or too low because there’s a lot of golf ahead of you.”
The Pine to Palm tournament turned Melhus from a visitor to a resident.
“When I first played high school golf, this was one of the first competitive tournaments I played in,” Melhus said. “My twin brother, Greg, and I started playing in it. We grew to love the tournament so much that we now both have a lake home here. Our love for Detroit Lakes started with origins of (playing in) this tournament. When we got a chance to buy lake homes here, we did because of what this course and these people mean to us.”
Next summer, Melhus will celebrate his 25th summer of playing in Detroit Lakes’ match play extravaganza. He will also look to be the first-ever three-time consecutive Mid-Am champion. He joined Perry Piatz (2017-18) and Kent Spriggs (2014-15) as the only ones to win it back-to-back years.
“Once you get two, you might as well go for three, right?” Melhus said. “It’s always a fun week about camaraderie with the people you meet in the competition. It’s great if you come home with the trophy, but at the end of the week, you look back on all of the people you met, which is what this whole thing is about. But I’ll try as hard as anyone to get a third next year.”