By Nick Hunter
NEW RICHMOND, Wis. – In search of his first win since the 2018 season, Thomas Vizina’s 1-under par 71 at New Richmond Golf Club Wednesday put him in a share of the lead with Brad Schmierer following the opening round of the 47th Minnesota Senior PGA Professional Championship.
When the tournament resumes Thursday, Vizina and Schmierer will be chased by four-time champion Mike Barge, who carded an opening-round 72 to sit one shot back, as well as another four-time champion in Don Berry and George Smith, each shooting 1-over 73.
“I tried not to get out of position very often and the two or three times I did, I was able to recover and save a score,” Vizina said Wednesday. “I made a couple of good shots and a couple birdies.
“I didn’t particularly hit the ball really strong, but I didn’t compound any errors. That was the day—I hit a lot of squirrels, but I was able to recover from them. I was around the green and able to get up-and-down.”
A field of 38 golfers at this week’s championship are vying for five available spots to this year’s National Senior PGA Professional Championship, set to be played Oct. 21-24 at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Fla.
Vizina, a 59-year-old from Brooktree Golf Club, started the scoring Wednesday with a birdie at the par-4 second, sinking his birdie opportunity from eight feet before taking a step back with a bogey at the fourth. Chipping close at the par-5 sixth led to a second birdie as Vizina headed to the final nine holes of the first round in 1-under.
Dropping to even for the day after failing to save par at the 10th, Vizina dropped his birdie putt from 25 feet at the par-4 13th and would finish with an opening-round 71 to pace the field.
“I don’t play as much as a lot of these guys do, so to have a day like today was fun,” Vizina said. “If I make three or four putts, I’ll shoot around par. If I don’t, I’ll shoot 74 or 75—that’s where my game is. I’m still hitting it good enough that if I can roll a couple in, I’ll have a good chance.
“I’m going to sneak out when I get home and try to get a little more confidence with my putter.”
Since 2017, Vizina has claimed eight top-10 finishes with his lone state victory coming at the 2018 Minnesota Senior PGA Match Play Championship, defeating Daniel Callahan at Island View Golf Club.
Looking to build on a 12th-place finish at last year’s championship at Medina Golf and Country Club, Schmierer rolled in a birdie from 10 feet on the opening hole Wednesday to quickly move into red figures for the championship.
He would play his next 12 holes in 1-under before sinking his birdie chance from six feet at the 14th. Unable to save par from five feet at the 15th, Schmierer would finish his opening round in a share of the lead at 71.
“My iron play was exceptional today—I think I missed three greens,” the 68-year-old from Hastings Golf Club said following his round Wednesday. “I didn’t have any three-putts, but I hit it awfully close all day. I was pretty happy with just about everything. I had so many short putts, but I didn’t make them all.
“I’ve been playing well off and on. I switched irons and haven’t liked them, so I went back to my old set. Today is the first day I’ve played with them and it felt much better than the other ones. They don’t seem to go as far, but they fit my swing today.”
Barge, from Hazeltine National Golf Club, carded a lone bogey during his opening nine Wednesday, and would drop to 2-over following his second bogey of the round at the 14th. Barge rebounded by rolling in his birdie look at the 15th and finished his round with a birdie at the par-3 17th, shooting even par 72 to sit one shot back.
Barge’s first win at the event came at The Wilds Golf Club in 2005, adding a second win two years later at Valleywood Golf Course. Barge claimed his third title at Minnesota Valley Country Club in 2010 before his most recent win at Minnewaska Golf Club in 2018.
Rush Creek Golf Club’s Derek Stendahl bounced back from a 4-over 40 during his front nine Wednesday to finish tied for 10th along with Mike Flaherty (of Hastings Golf Club) and 2017 champion Craig Brischke (from Tanners Brook Golf Club).
Roger Fahrenkrug, of Braemar Golf Course, fired a 4-over 76 and will begin the final round in a tie for 14th with the tournament’s winningest player, five-time champion Bill Israelson (of Vintage Golf Course).
The 47th Minnesota Senior PGA Professional Championship concludes Thursday, with final-round tee times beginning at 8 a.m. at New Richmond Golf Club.
THE 47TH MINNESOTA SENIOR PGA PROFESSIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
NEW RICHMOND GOLF CLUB
NEW RICHMOND, WIS.
6,726 YARDS, PAR 72
WEDNESDAY’S FIRST ROUND RESULTS
T1. Thomas Vizina, Brooktree GC, 35-36—71
T1. Brad Schmierer, Hastings GC, 35-36—71
3. Mike Barge, Hazeltine Nat’l GC, 37-35—72
T4. Don Berry, Edinburgh USA, 37-36—73
T4. George Smith, Braemar GC, 35-38—73
T6. Eric Chiles, Chaska TC, 37-37—74
T6. Tim DeSormeau, Legacy Golf, 36-38—74
T6. Erik Toftner, Hiawatha GC, 37-37—74
T6. Shannon O’Neil, Worthington, 35-39—74
T10. Derek Stendahl, Rush Creek GC, 40-35—75
T10. Mike Flaherty, Hastings GC, 37-38—75
T10. Craig Brischke, Tanners Brook GC, 36-39—75
T10. Jeff Kringen, Spring Hill GC, 38-37—75
For complete tournament results go to: MN Sr PGA Professional Champ. – MN Senior Professional Champ. Leaderboard | Minnesota PGA (bluegolf.com)