By Nick Hunter
MAPLEWOOD, Minn. – Walking off the green following a two-putt par to close out the final round of the 38th Minnesota Senior Open presented by Yamaha Golf and Utility and Twin Cities Orthopedics at Keller Golf Club Wednesday, professional Derek Stendahl could think of only one word.
Stendahl navigated challenging conditions during the opening round Tuesday, shooting a 1-under 71 to share the first-round lead before piecing together a near-flawless final round, carding a 2-under 70 to claim a two-stroke victory over Tom Helgeson, J.T. Johnson and Troy Johnson.
“I thought I hit the ball much better today, and obviously, the conditions were better, but I had a lot of opportunities and thought I hit a lot of putts that just didn’t go in,” Stendahl said Wednesday. “My pace was really good all day. I was trying to stay in the moment and go at the middle of the greens. I knew putts would come eventually.”
The win Wednesday is Stendahl’s first since earning a pair of Minnesota PGA section victories in 2017, and makes him the fourth consecutive professional to earn medalist honors at the event.
“There’s no question this is the biggest thing I’ve ever won personally. I’ve been practicing a lot more and I’ve put in a lot of hard work for a club pro,” said the 51-year-old general manager at Rush Creek Golf Club, whose hard work in recent years has translated into 37 top-10 finishes since his last title.
During his final round Wednesday, Stendahl stuck his approach inside of four feet at the par-4 fifth and converted his birdie chance for his only birdie of the front nine.
Giving himself a myriad of birdie opportunities during the final round, Stendahl showcased his steady iron play at the par-3 13th by hitting his tee shot to 10 feet, where he’d sink his second birdie of the round.
Just off the green at the par-3 15th, Stendahl opted to putt from the rough and nearly dropped a 60-footer for birdie, but tapped in for par to erase painful memories from last season’s championship.
“Last year I made a double on that hole and that was it,” said Stendahl, who posted back-to-back rounds of 71 to finish tied for third a season ago. “When we finished, I was 7-over on the par-3’s last year but 2-under for the tournament. So that was a huge putt to save par on that hole today.”
Watching a late surge by Troy Johnson with his eagle at the par-5 16th, Stendahl countered by making his biggest putt of the championship, burying a 20-footer at the 16th to regain a slight advantage. Johnson would bogey his final two, while Stendahl’s only blemish of the final round came at the 17th, a three-putt bogey to trim his lead to two.
Another perfectly paced lag putt at the last gave Stendahl a tap-in par for the victory, shooting a final-round 2-under 70.
After his win Stendahl gave special recognition to fellow professional Steve Fessler, who has spent time with the entire Stendahl family both on and off the course.
“Starting to work with Steve has been amazing to me and my family. He’s such a special person—his positive attitude and his approach to things. Yes, a lot of stuff about the golf swing but it’s, ‘You’ve worked for it, now go get it.’
“Today was the day and it was fun.”
Troy Johnson, who carded a 1-over 73 during his debut in a senior championship Tuesday, converted on two birdie chances during his opening nine Wednesday to quickly to pressure on the leaders.
The defending Minnesota Golf Association Mid-Players’ champion pulled within one of the lead with a birdie at the 10th but gave back a stroke with a three-putt bogey at the par-3 13th.
At the 16th, Johnson’s second stopped four feet from the flagstick and he would momentarily share the lead after sinking his eagle putt to reach 3-under. Bogeys on each of his final two holes dashed Johnson’s chances of picking up his first win of the season, posting a 2-under 70 to finish tied for second at 143.
“I hit the ball well both days,” an optimistic Johnson said following his round Wednesday. “I hit great drives on 17 and 18, right in the middle of the fairway and didn’t capitalize on my iron shots and that was it.
“I need to clean up some short game and iron work, but my driver was great both days. All-in-all I’m feeling good about the game.”
Johnson defeated Paul Meyer, 2 and 1, last season at The Quarry at Giants Ridge to earn his fourth MGA Mid-Players’ title, his first victory over the past seven seasons.
A rocky start to the final round Wednesday saw defending Minnesota Public Golf Association Senior Public Links champion J.T. Johnson slip three back of Stendahl before chipping in for birdie at the ninth to pull within two, turning in even par for the championship.
But Johnson would find his footing during the final 10 holes, answering his birdie at the ninth by rolling in a birdie chance at the par-5 10th to pull within one before giving back a stroke with bogey at the 13th.
Sinking a lengthy birdie chance at the 17th helped Johnson move back to 1-under for the tournament, but it was as close as he would come to a second win in as many seasons. Posting a final-round 72 to finish tied for second at 143.
Following his opening-round 73 Tuesday, Helgeson sprinkled four birdies against one bogey over his front nine holes to quickly jump into contention Wednesday by turning in 2-under. He would reach 3-under for the championship with his birdie at the 13th but stumbled over the next two holes with bogey to place second at 1-under 143.
Don Berry, seven-time winner of the event, made a late-round surge Wednesday by carding a pair of birdies during his final nine holes to jump 10 spots on the leaderboard, finishing tied for fifth at even par 144.
Bill Israelson, champion in 2011, posted a final-round 74 to place tied for 12th at 147, while 2005 winner Mike Barge and Tuesday’s first round co-leader Chris Borgen each finished inside the top-15 at 148.
THE 38TH MINNESOTA SENIOR OPEN
KELLER GOLF CLUB
6,677 YARDS, PAR 72
WEDNESDAY’S FINAL RESULTS
1. Derek Stendahl (p), Rush Creek GC, 71-70—141
T2. Troy Johnson, Edinburgh USA, 73-70—143
T2. Tom Helgeson, White Bear YC, 73-70—143
T2. J.T. Johnson, Olympic Hills GC, 71-72—143
T5. John Spreiter, Litchfield GC, 74-70—144
T5. Don Berry (p), Edinburgh USA, 74-70—144
T7. Dave Carothers, Wild Marsh GC, 74-71—145
T7. Joel B. Johnson, Links at Northfork, 74-71—145
T7. Mikkel Reese (p), unattached, 73-72—145
T7. Tony Brown, Rush Creek GC, 73-72—145
T7. Mark Lindberg, Alexandria GC, 72-73—145