By Nick Hunter
ST. LOUIS PARK, Minn. – Isabella McCauley first gained notoriety among Minnesota golf circles when she advanced to the finals of the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship at Augusta National Golf Club in 2017.
She asserted herself as one of Minnesota’s best junior golfers in recent years with a dominating 10-stroke victory at the Class AAA state tournament in 2019 as a freshman, and followed with three wins over the next two seasons at both of the state’s top junior tournaments—the Minnesota State Girls’ Junior Championship and the Minnesota Girls’ Junior PGA Championship.
The University of Minnesota commit entered the record books once again as the youngest Minnesotan to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open earlier this season, pitting her game against the best women’s golfers in the world at The Olympic Club in San Francisco.
But McCauley’s latest feat at this week’s Minnesota Golf Champions was as impressive as it was significant. Since the tournament’s inception in 1975, no female golfer had ever led the event. McCauley fired a 6-under 66 at Minneapolis Golf Club Friday to sit alone atop the leaderboard.
Entering Sunday’s final round in a share of the lead with professional Trey Fessler, McCauley posted a 2-under 70 to earn a wire-to-wire victory to become not only the first female winner in the tournament’s 47-year history, but the youngest as well.
“After shooting 66 [Friday], it was a bit of a turning point because I thought I could compete here,” said McCauley, a senior at Simley High School. “Going into the tournament, I had no expectations. Shooting that number early in the tournament was key.
“I’ve always said I love playing this tournament because you get to play against the guys. It’s really fun because they have a different game—they hit it so far, so it’s fun to watch them and compare yourself. This is my fourth time playing this event, and there’s never a lot of girls in it, but it really means a lot to be able to win it.”
McCauley finished the last three holes of her second round early Sunday after rain delayed play Saturday, eventually suspending play due to darkness. McCauley carded one bogey during her final three holes early Sunday to post a 1-under 71 sit tied for the lead with Fessler before a two-hour break prior to the final round.
“It was a grind this morning because it was really cold and still wet,” McCauley said. “I was glad to get a break for it to get a little warmer out so the ball would go a little further. I was able to see the green speeds, too, so it was nice to be out here early.”
In a three-way tie with Fessler and Trent Peterson through 10 holes Sunday, the 17-year-old McCauley showcased her steady iron play, hitting approaches inside of four feet at the 13th and 14th to pull away with back-to-back birdies to take a two-stroke lead.
McCauley failed to get up-and-down after missing the 16th green, cutting her lead to one, but she would make par at each of the last two holes to clinch a two-stroke victory at 9-under 207.
“The biggest difference out here this week was my driver—I didn’t miss many fairways and haven’t been in the fairway bunkers, which is key out here,” McCauley said. “I’ve also been able to position myself by hitting quite a few greens. I didn’t make any doubles this week.”
During her only previous state championship appearance in August, McCauley led the Minnesota Women’s State Open during the final round before a treacherous back nine, where she would play her final eight holes in 7-over to place fifth at Minnesota Valley Country Club.
“At the State Open I put too much pressure on myself the last round,” McCauley said Sunday. “My goal was to do the exact opposite today. Just think about putting down a number and not comparing myself to other players. At one point, 4-under was the goal today—obviously a little short of that, but I just wanted to keep putting down good scores and hitting good shots.”
McCauley improves on a 15th-place finish from a year ago at Golden Valley Country Club, while her previous best finish at the championship came in 2019 after a first-round 69 to sit one shot back of eventual winner Trent Peterson, going on to finish in a tie for ninth place at Edina Country Club.
Up next, McCauley will travel to Kinder, La., to compete at the Notah Begay III Junior Golf National Championship at Koasati Pines at Coushatta Nov. 13-15. McCauley posted a 5-under 211 at last year’s championship to finish in second place, three shots behind Texan Allyn Stephens.
Fessler converted his birdie chance on the opening hole Sunday to keep pace with McCauley before sinking his eagle putt from eight feet at the par-5 third to jump out to a two-stroke lead. He would fall back into a share of the lead with McCauley following back-to-back bogeys at the fourth and fifth holes.
Trailing McCauley by one stroke heading to the final hole Sunday, Fessler’s chances were dashed when his tee shot sailed right of the 18th fairway, leading to bogey and a runner-up finish at 7-under 209. Finishing as the low professional Sunday, Fessler earned a check of $1,650.
“My goal today was to hit driver a lot, which I did,” said the long-hitting Fessler, who is playing in his third event as a professional. “On 18, the one time I missed it, I didn’t have a shot. The only time all week I hit off line and didn’t have a shot.
“I had a good start, but then was kind of on cruise control and couldn’t get anything going. I’m not complaining. I had a lot of fun—tournament golf is so fun.
A final-round 70 moved 2006 champion Jeff Sorenson into a share for third place with Peterson at 6-under 210. Sorenson trails Derek Holmes by less than seven points in the Minnesota PGA Player of the Year standings, which will be decided at Monday’s Luther Pro-Series Tour Championship at Midland Hills Country Club.
THE 47TH MINNESOTA GOLF CHAMPIONS
MINNEAPOLIS GOLF CLUB
ST. LOUIS PARK, MINN.
7,026 YARDS, PAR 72 (MEN)
5,804 YARDS, PAR 72 (WOMEN)
SUNDAY’S FINAL RESULTS
1. Isabella McCauley, Southview CC, 66-71-70—207
2. Trey Fessler (p), Albion Ridges GC, 67-70-72—209
T3. Jeff Sorenson (p), The Minikahda Club, 72-68-70—210
T3. Trent Peterson, Fountain Valley GC, 71-67-72—210
T5. Andrew Israelson (p), Vintage GC, 72-71-68—211
T5. Michael Schmitz (p), 2nd Swing, 70-72-69—211
7. Thomas Campbell (p), 2nd Swing, 67-73-72—212
8. Troy Johnson, Edinburgh USA, 71-70-72—213
T9. Ross Miller (p), Sundance GC, 71-73-70—214
T9. Gunnar Broin, Chaska TC, 69-72-73—214
For complete tournament results go to: https://mnpga.bluegolf.