By Nick Hunter
MAPLEWOOD, Minn. – In search of his first win in five seasons, professional Derek Stendahl posted a 1-under 71 Tuesday at Keller Golf Club to share the opening-round lead at the 38th Minnesota Senior Open presented by Yamaha Golf and Utility and Twin Cities Orthopedics.
A field of 109 of the state’s top senior players battled challenging conditions Tuesday, during which Stendahl moved out front by playing his first 13 holes in 3-under before tallying a pair of bogeys late to sit tied with fellow professional Chris Borgen and amateur J.T. Johnson for the 18-hole lead.
“It was a fun day, but it was windy. Sometimes you get out there and try to figure if you can control your ball flight,” Stendahl said Tuesday. “You’ve got to know that par is a good score. If you are in good position and you don’t convert, at the end of the day, you know that on days like this par is good.
“It was a grind. I took advantage early, hit some good shots and had some good up-and-downs. I gave a couple back during the back nine, but also saved a few.”
Stendahl quickly climbed the leaderboard Tuesday by rolling in two birdie chances during his first three holes. Converting again at the par-4 eighth, Stendahl reached 3-under for the round but gave back a shot with bogey at the ninth to turn in 2-under.
He quickly got back on track with a birdie at the 10th, but as winds picked up across the course late during the opening round, Stendahl carded two bogeys over his final eight holes to manage a share of the lead.
Stendahl, from Rush Creek Golf Club, posted back-to-back rounds of 71 at last year’s championship to finish tied for third, five shots back of eventual winner Mario Tiziani.
He began the 2022 season by qualifying for the PGA Professional Championship at Omni Barton Creek Resort and Spa in Austin, Texas, shooting 72-73 to miss the weekend cut by three strokes. Stendahl has a pair of top-25 finishes at state events this season.
Winless since tallying two section victories in 2017, Stendahl has had close calls on a number of occasions, posting 22 top-5 finishes since.
Returning to familiar confines led the defending Minnesota Public Golf Association Senior Public Links champion Johnson to a share atop the leaderboard Tuesday.
“It’s always nice to come to a place where you’ve got your name on the wall a couple of times,” said Johnson, a Keller Men’s Club member for seven years.
Johnson started quickly with back-to-back birdies from five feet to begin the championship but took a step back with a three-putt bogey at the fourth. He then recovered from a wayward tee shot at the eighth by chipping in for birdie to turn in 2-under.
Johnson took advantage of the par-5 10th, getting up-and-down for birdie before carding bogeys at the 12th and 13th holes to join Stendahl and Borgen at 1-under 71.
“For the most part it was my driver, but it was probably the best putting round I’ve had in five years,” Johnson said. “I made a putt that shouldn’t have gone in on 17 and probably had 26 or 27 putts.”
Making his birdie putt on the final hole at Eastwood Golf Club last season helped Johnson secure his fourth MPGA Senior Public Links title since 2014. He has 10 more state victories to his credit, including wins at the MPGA Four-Ball Championship (2006, 2013, 2015), the MPGA Mid Public Links (2005, 2008) and the MPGA Combination Championship (2009, 2010, 2013).
Cruising through a bogey-free front nine with a pair of bogeys Tuesday, Borgen turned in one of the cleaner scorecards on a breezy day, carding a lone bogey at his 17th hole to share the first-round lead with a 71.
Borgen claimed two victories during the 2021 season, and already has a pair of top-15 finishes to begin his 2022 campaign, including his 15th-place finish last week at the ROCKSTAR Pro-Am at Cragun’s Resort. He’s making his first start as a senior championship this week.
Vizina, a professional at Havana Hills Golf Course who won in 2016 at Minnesota Valley Country Club, played his final four holes in 1-over par Tuesday to post an even par 72 to sit tied for fourth with Mark Lindberg, an amateur from Alexandria Golf Club. When the tournament resumes Wednesday, a total of nine players will begin the final round two shots off the lead at 1-over 73.
The final round of the 38th Minnesota Senior Open is scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. Wednesday at Keller Golf Club.
Russ Simenson, who carded a 5-under 67 to take the opening-round lead in 2021, carded a 1-over 73 to sit tied for sixth with eight others, including 2005 champion Mike Barge (Hazeltine National Golf Club), 2010 champion Bill Israelson (The Vintage at Staples) and 2020 Minnesota PGA Professional champion Dale Jones (Mendakota Country Club).
Don Berry, a seven-time champion, posted a 2-over 74 Tuesday and will begin the final round three shots off the lead.
THE 38TH MINNESOTA SENIOR OPEN
KELLER GOLF CLUB
6,677 YARDS, PAR 72
TUESDAY’S FIRST ROUND RESULTS
T1. Derek Stendahl (p), Rush Creek Golf Club, 33-38—71
T1. J.T. Johnson, Olympic Hills GC, 33-38—71
T1. Chris Borgen (p), Lost Spur GC, 36-35—71
T4. Thomas Vizina (p), Havana Hills GC, 34-38—72
T4. Mark Lindberg, Alexandria GC, 35-37—72
T6. Mike Barge (p), Hazeltine Nat’l GC, 35-38—73
T6. Matt Vandelac (p), unattached, 37-36—73
T6. Russ Simenson (p), Castle Highlands GC, 36-37—73
T6. Mikkel Reese (p), unattached, 35-38—73
T6. Tom Helgeson, White Bear YC, 34-39—73
T6. Dale Jones (p), Mendakota CC, 34-39—73
T6. Tony Brown, Rush Creek GC, 36-37—73
T6. Bill Israelson (p), Vintage at Staples, 35-38—73
T6. Troy Johnson, Edinburgh USA, 36-37—73