By Nick Hunter
CHASKA, Minn. – Beginning the 104th Minnesota State Open even through his first five holes Tuesday at Chaska Town Course, professional Ross Miller carded six birdies over his last 13 holes to post a 6-under 66 to share the first-round lead with professional Brian Hills and NJCAA Division II National individual champion Cecil Belisle.
Miller, Hills and Belisle will enter the second round with a one-stroke advantage over Minnesota Senior Open champion Mario Tiziani, University of South Dakota golfer Ben Hicks, two-time champion Ben Greve, former University of Minnesota golfer Robert Bell and defending Minnesota Golf Association Amateur champion Frankie Capan.
“I hit the ball well today—probably as well as I have in a while. Quality iron shots and kept the ball in play,” Miller said Tuesday. “I’ve felt like a good round was coming because I’ve been putting well and I was solid inside of six feet today when I needed it.”
A birdie on the opening hole for Miller was negated by a bogey at the fourth before Miller closed out his front nine Tuesday with three birdies over his last four to turn in 3-under.
Miller moved to 4-under after converting his birdie from 12 feet at the par-4 10th and would give himself a pair of tap-in birdies late to post a 6-under 66 for a share of the 18-hole lead.
Miller, a professional at Medina Golf and Country Club, has started nine events on the Korn Ferry Tour since last August, where he finished tied for 28th at the Pinnacle Bank Championship presented by Aetna.
“It’s been a bit of a struggle lately, but a lot of rounds I feel like I’m close,” the 28-year-old Miller said. “One errant shot will throw you off and it’s been frustrating. Guys are so good on the [Korn Ferry Tour]. Shooting 71-71 doesn’t really do it.”
The former Minnesota State University, Mankato golfer bookended the 2018 season with a pair of victories—winning the Tapemark Minnesota PGA Pro-Am at Southview Country Club and finished the season with a win at the Minnesota Golf Champions at Golden Valley Country Club.
He successfully defended his title at the Tapemark the following season before nothing a runner-up finish at the event last season, as well as a top-10 finish at the Minnesota State Open at The Royal Club.
Hills, a professional at 2nd Swing, posted a near-flawless round Tuesday, carding a pair of eagles and three birdies to quickly climb the leaderboard to finish the opening round tied for the lead with a 66.
“I putted really well today. I made good putts on one and three to start and build some confidence with some longer putts that I wasn’t expecting to make,” Hills said. “I took advantage of some good iron shots for some makeable ones after that.”
Playing his first six holes in 2-under, Hills hit an 8-iron to five feet at the seventh, converting his eagle putt to jump to 4-under for the championship, and followed it with a birdie at the par-4 eighth.
“Going from 2-under to five pretty quick was a spot where I knew I had to keep pushing and not let up,” Hills said. “Overall, I kept it in play, didn’t get in any trouble and had a lot of tap-in pars, which makes it feel easier.”
Hills lost a stroke with a bogey at the 11th, but would chip in for his second eagle of the round at the 15th to earn a share of the lead at 6-under 66.
A string of three consecutive birdies to close out his opening round Tuesday allowed Belisle to climb into a share of first at 6-under 66, rebounding from a pair of bogeys early in his round.
“It was a rough start—I think I let the moment get to me a little at the start. I got a little ahead of myself instead of just playing,” Belisle said. “I told myself to stop pressing—it’s the third hole of three rounds.
“My game can always be better, but it could be worse. I’m grateful for what it is right now and we’re going to keep progressing every single day.”
Starting on the 10th tee Tuesday, Belisle bogeyed the 11th and 12th, but birdied three of his next four to quickly move into red figures, and would turn at 2-under following a birdie at the 18th.
“It was a good bounce back. I wanted to get to [1-under] after that start and I got to two, which was great,” Belisle said. “Then I wanted to get two more on the other side and we rolled in a few more putts and had some good up-and-downs that kept the momentum going.”
Rolling in a 6-footer at the par-4 third put the 2020 MGA Players’ champion at 3-under and he would roll in back-to-back birdies from inside of six feet at the seventh and eighth and closed out his round by nearly holing out for eagle at the ninth, tapping in for birdie.
Firing 6-under 282 at the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II championship in May, Belisle capped off his freshman season at South Mountain Community College with individual medalist honors.
In five appearances during his freshman campaign, Belisle won three events and finished inside the top-10 in each of his other two tournaments, posting a 70.36 scoring average along the way.
Michael Christensen bounced back from a pair of early bogeys with six birdies over his last 13 holes to card a 4-under 68 Tuesday and will begin Wednesday’s second round tied for ninth with defending champion and former Gopher golfer Angus Flanagan, two shots back.
Among Tuesday’s first-round highlights, professional Scott McDonald (Minnewaska GC) recorded an ace at the 220-yard 14th hole with a 4-hybrid.
Notable professionals Tuesday include: Cameron White (PXG Minneapolis) and Chris Borgen (Lost Spur GC), who finished the opening round tied for 11th at 3-under 69. Andrew McCain, winner in 2015 and 2018 (from Dellwood CC) posted a 2-under 70 to finish tied for tied for 18th.
The 104th Minnesota State Open continues Wednesday with second-round tee times beginning at 7:30 a.m. at Chaska Town Course.
THE 104TH MINNESOTA STATE OPEN
CHASKA TOWN COURSE
6,817 YARDS, PAR 72
TUESDAY’S FIRST ROUND RESULTS
T1. Ross Miller (p), Medina G&CC, 33-33—66
T1. Brian Hills (p), 2nd Swing, 31-35—66
T1. Cecil Belisle, Red Wing GC, 32-34—66
T4. Ben Hicks, Chaska TC, 34-33—67
T4. Mario Tiziani (p), Chaska TC, 33-34—67
T4. Robert Bell (p), unattached, 31-36—67
T4. Frankie Capan, North Oaks GC, 33-34—67
T4. Ben Greve, Olympic Hills GC, 35-32—67
T9. Angus Flanagan (p), University GC, 36-32—68
T9. Michael Christensen, Northland CC, 33-35—68
For complete tournament results go to: https://mnpga.bluegolf.com/bluegolf/mnpga21/event/mnpga211/contest/9/leaderboard.htm