By Nick Hunter
HOPKINS, Minn. – Rattled by two bogeys over the first three holes Monday at Oak Ridge Country Club, Valparaiso University golfer Caleb VanArragon quickly began to doubt his chances during the opening round of the 106th Minnesota State Open presented by Yamaha Golf and Utility.
“I felt so completely lost with my game and hit a few really terrible shots,” VanArragon said. “I didn’t think it was going to be a very good tournament at all, but then I made two 30-footers in a row on the first day and that was the big turning point.”
He went on to finish his opening round with a 2-under 68 before getting a boost from a pair of eagles during his second round Tuesday, carding a 5-under 65 to share the 36-hole lead with former University of Minnesota golfer Jon DuToit.
VanArragon turned in a dominant performance on the final day Wednesday by shooting a 6-under 64 to claim a nine-stroke victory over professionals Andrew McCain, Trey Fessler and Ross Miller—the third largest margin in tournament history.
“Today was probably the best round of my life,” he said. “This means a lot to get a win since I finished second at the [Minnesota Golf Association Amateur Championship] two years ago and second at this event last year, and especially considering the quality of the players in the field.
“Winning is really hard—I’ve seen that plenty over the past few years. I think I’ve finished second or lost by one shot about 12 times since my last individual win at a college event last February.”
VanArragon carded three birdies during his front nine Wednesday, including back-to-back birdies at the eighth and ninth holes to turn in 10-under for the tournament, holding a four-shot advantage over Miller with nine holes to play.
As other players began to falter during their final nine, VanArragon executed flawlessly by sinking four consecutive birdies beginning at the par-4 12th to separate himself from the field.
He rolled in a 6-footer at the 13th before tapping in a pair of 3-footers at the 14th and 15th, but would card his fourth bogey of the week at the par-4 17th after missing the green short.
Dropping his par putt from three feet at the 18th gave VanArragon his fifth state victory, and second win of the 2023 season.
“I wanted to do what I could to put myself in the best position instead of trying to win the tournament,” he said. “The two state tournaments I won as a junior were both really close, so I’ve never had a big lead like that. It was a completely different experience for me, and I definitely didn’t feel comfortable knowing who was behind me.”
During his first four seasons at Valparaiso, VanArragon has collected three collegiate wins, more than 15 top-5 finishes and nearly 30 top-10s.
As a freshman he shattered the single-season scoring record and has since beaten it twice. The former Blaine High School standout will return for a fifth season this fall.
VanArragon’s first state victory came at the 2017 Minnesota Boys’ Junior PGA Championship at Chaska Town Course, and he would win the Minnesota State Junior Boys’ Championship the following season at The Bridges.
A two-time MGA Player of the Year, VanArragon won the 2021 Twin Cities Championship by seven strokes at Hastings Golf Club, and teamed with younger sister, Kathryn, to win the MGA Mixed Amateur Team Championship at Brackett’s Crossing Country Club in late June for his most recent victory.
As a result, VanArragon will earn an exemption into the 2023 PGA Tour Canada’s CRMC Championship at Cragun’s Resort in Brainerd, Minn., Aug. 31-Sept. 3, as well as a spot in Monday qualifying for the 3M Open.
Wally Ulrich’s win by 15 strokes over Joe Coria and Bill Waryan in 1951 at Interlachen Country Club remains the tournament’s largest margin of victory, while George Smith claimed a 10-stroke victory over Jack Burke in 1924 at Minneapolis Golf Club, when the championship played 72 holes.
More recently, Ben Greve claimed his second straight win at the championship in 2017, five shots better than DuToit at StoneRidge Golf Club.
McCain, who became the fourth player in tournament history to win as an amateur and then as a professional, fired his best round of the week Wednesday, a 4-under 66 to earn a share of low-professional honors with Miller and Fessler.
“I finally got under the hole and had some simple birdie putts for the first time in the tournament, really,” said McCain, who bounced back from a bogey on his front nine by carding five birdies over a six-hole stretch during the back. “It’s a difficult task even making par after hitting a good shot on some of these holes.
“A good finish—I haven’t played a ton of golf this year, but it’s nice to get back and play and see familiar faces. I enjoy playing competitive golf and it’s nice to get into the swing of things and have some fun.”
Fessler entered the final round two shots off the lead in a share of third with Miller, and holed out from 116 yards for eagle at the first to earn a share of the lead with DuToit and VanArragon at 7-under.
But three double-bogeys on his final-round scorecard, including the final hole, kept Fessler from catching VanArragon, posting a final-round 71 to finish at 4-under 206.
Miller carded one birdie during his opening nine Wednesday to reach 6-under, but stumbled mid-round with two bogeys and a double at the 12th. He rallied with back-to-back birdies at the 15th and 16th to split a paycheck of over $7,900.
Professional and former Winona State University golfer Michael Schmitz opened the championship with a 1-under 69, and closed out the tournament with a 69 Wednesday to place fifth at 2-under 208.
Don Berry (Edinburgh USA), a winner in 1992 and 1999, made his 42nd start at the championship this week and, more impressively, has made the cut in all 42 appearances.
Christopher Meyer (Southview CC), fired a final-round 72 Wednesday to place tied for eighth at even par 210, while 2021 Twin Cities Open champion Jack Hiemenz finished tied for 10th at 211.
Jeff Sorenson (The Minikahda Club), a seven-time Minnesota PGA Rolex Player of the Year, notched a top-15 finish thanks to a second-round 68 followed by a 69 Wednesday.
Tyler Leach (Minakwa GC), University of Minnesota assistant coach Robert Bell, Lucas Johnson (Suite Shots) and 2019 champion Brady Madsen (Eagle Creek GC) also finished tied for 15 at 2-over 212.
THE 106TH MINNESOTA STATE OPEN
OAK RIDGE COUNTRY CLUB
6,781 YARDS, PAR 70
WEDNESDAY’S FINAL RESULTS
1. Caleb VanArragon, Bunker Hills GC, 68-65-64—197
T2. Andrew McCain (p), Dellwood CC, 69-71-66—206
T2. Ross Miller (p), Le Sueur CC, 69-66-71—206
T2. Trey Fessler (p), Fox Hollow GC, 67-68-71—206
5. Michael Schmitz (p), 2nd Swing, 69-70-69—208
T6. Conor Schubring, Bent Creek GC, 68-69-72—209
T6. Josh Galvin, Rush Creek GC, 69-68-72—209
T8. Brady Arnett, White Bear YC, 69-71-70—210
T8. Christopher Meyer (p), Southview CC, 72-66-72—210
T10. Jack Hiemenz (p), Victory Links GC, 70-71-70—211
T10. Muzzy Donohue, North Oaks GC, 75-63-73—211
T10. Brock Winter, Indian Hills GC, 69-69-73—211
T10. Ian Simonich, Moorhead CC, 66-70-75—211
T10. Jon DuToit, Chaska TC, 65-68-78—211
For complete tournament results go to: https://mnpga.bluegolf.com/