By Nick Hunter
CHASKA, Minn. – Rebounding from back-to-back bogeys early in his round Thursday, Cecil Belisle drilled his birdie chance from 12-feet on his 54th hole to force a playoff with two-time champion Ben Greve and Pepperdine University golfer Derek Hitchner, before sinking a second birdie opportunity on the first playoff hole to win the 104th Minnesota State Open at Chaska Town Course.
Following his win at the Minnesota Golf Association Players’ Championship last season at Hastings Golf Club, Belisle now becomes the eighth player in state history to claim wins at both events, and just the second golfer since Ryan Peterson to win the Players’ Championship and State Open in consecutive seasons.
“I thought I hit the ball great the first two rounds,” Belisle said Thursday. “The ball-striking and getting better at being unattached to the outcome and focusing on each shot before I hit it. I kept telling myself it’s not over until the ball drops on the 18th hole, so I just kept going.
“This is the biggest tournament my brother [Fritz] has caddied for me. This win is good for my resume, but it’s more important for the relationship between me and him.”
Entering the final round one shot off the lead, Belisle stumbled trying to reach both the second and third greens, which led to a pair of bogeys. Belisle would hit his second from 230 yards at the par-5 seventh to three feet and rolled in his eagle to draw even for the round and within two shots of the lead.
Left with six feet for par at the par-4 10th, Belisle made what he called the most important putt of his final round.
“That putt was big and it changed my mindset—I didn’t really see a putt go in like that on the front nine and that really got me going,” he said.
After getting up-and-down to save par from four feet at the 14th, Belisle reached the par-5 15th in two and two-putted for birdie to pull within one shot of the lead.
With Greve in trouble at the 18th, Belisle quietly stepped up and made a 12-footer for birdie at the 18th to force the playoff. On nearly an identical line at the 18th in the playoff, Belisle again sank his putt, this time from six feet to claim his seventh win in the state.
“I wasn’t very confident early this morning. I was thinking too far into the future and was putting too much pressure on myself,” Belisle said Thursday. “It got better when I got to the course and around this environment and then kept getting better every hole.
“I was behind pretty much the entire day. I was steady, but I just didn’t think I hit it as well and wasn’t as focused as the first round. Even yesterday—I made my putts and hit some shots, but it wasn’t like the eight birdies I made [Tuesday].”
Belisle claimed his first three state wins in 2017, winning the Class AA individual title to close out his sophomore season at Red Wing High School. He claimed the MGA Junior Team Championship later that summer, earning medalist honors as well.
Capping off his senior season with a second Class AA individual title in 2019, Belisle then added a Resorters win to his credit. He defeated Ryan Conn, 5 and 4, at last June’s Players’ Championship for his most recent win in the state before beginning his collegiate golf career at South Mountain Community College in Phoenix.
Capping off an impressive freshman season, in which he claimed three wins and two top-10 finishes, Belisle won the NJCAA Division II National Championship in Indiana earlier this spring.
Belisle fired an 8-under 136 at Lake Panorama National Golf Course in Panora, Iowa July 8 to earn a trip to the 2021 U.S. Amateur Championship at Oakmont Country Club.
Hitchner, who rallied from nine strokes back during the final round of the 2021 Trans-Mississippi Amateur Championship Friday before beating Derek Busby in a two-hole playoff, wrote a similar script Thursday when he entered the final round four shots off Greve’s lead.
The ever-steady Hitchner carded four birdies during his front nine to turn in 11-under for the championship. The former Blake School standout earned a share of the lead with his birdie at the 15th and took the outright lead on the ensuing hole with his sixth birdie of the round. A three-putt bogey at the last would put Hitchner into a three-way playoff at 12-under.
On the first playoff hole, Hitchner was unable to sink his birdie opportunity from six feet to finish in a tie for second by shooting a final-round 67.
“I played great today, but just had an unfortunate last hole,” said Hitchner, who earned a trip to his third U.S. Amateur Championship earlier in the week. “I don’t think I’ve had a week like this—I’m playing great and it’s been a lot of fun.
“I love having these opportunities and I was close today, but it was a great week. Today doesn’t take away from how the week has been.”
Greve, who looked to become the eighth player to win at least three State Open titles, entered the round with a one-stroke lead over Capan and Belisle and would play a steady front nine with three birdies against one bogey.
A three-putt bogey at the 10th dropped Greve to 12-under for the championship, but he would make a key up-and-down for par at the 14th to maintain a slim lead. Trailing Hitchner by one heading to the 16th, Greve chipped to three feet and converted birdie to earn a share of the lead at 13-under.
Finding the rough right of the 18th fairway with his second, Greve was left with an awkward stance and proceeded to put his approach into the hazard. The former Gopher rolled in a 6-footer for par to force a three-way playoff.
“I wasn’t that sharp today, but it was fun. That’s why we play competitive golf—to have a chance,” the two-time winner Greve said Thursday. “I can’t complain. You keep getting older and still being able to compete and have a chance at the end with a field like this is a lot of fun.”
Professional Andrew McCain fired a 1-under 71 Thursday place fourth with Florida Gulf Coast University golfer and defending Minnesota Golf Association Amateur champion Frankie Capan at 10-under 206. McCain earns low-professional honors with his efforts and a paycheck of $9,500.
CHASKA TOWN COURSE
6,817 YARDS, PAR 72THURSDAY’S FINAL RESULTS
1. Cecil Belisle, Red Wing GC, 66-68-70—204 (won first playoff hole)
T2. Derek Hitchner, The Minikahda Club, 69-68-67—204
T2. Ben Greve, Olympic Hills GC, 67-66-71—204
T4. Andrew McCain (p), Dellwood CC, 70-65-71—206
T4. Frankie Capan, North Oaks GC, 67-67-72—206
T6. Jon DuToit, Chaska TC, 70-69-68—207
T6. Trey Fessler, Albion Ridges GC, 71-67-69—207
T6. Gunnar Broin, Chaska TC, 70-66-71—207
T9. Caleb VanArragon, Bunker Hills GC, 72-67-69—208
T9. Tristan Nelko, Windsong Farm, 71-67-70—208
T9. Michael Schmitz (p), 2nd Swing, 70-66-72—208For complete tournament results go to: https://mnpga.bluegolf.