By Nick Hunter
NEW RICHMOND, Minn. – Following his opening round at the 47th Minnesota Senior PGA Professional Championship at New Richmond Golf Club Wednesday, Thomas Vizina planned to head straight to the practice facility at Brooktree Golf Course and get some work in with his putter, hoping to find more confidence.
Helped by multiple clutch putts down the stretch Thursday, Vizina carded a final-round 72 to finish in a three-way tie for first with Don Berry and Eric Chiles, surviving a two-hole playoff to claim his first victory in the state since 2018.
“Yesterday I was shaky with the putter. I went and worked on it last night and I putted very well today—I was making everything.,” Vizina said Thursday. “I saved everything I had to save. The four or five decent birdie putts that I had today, I capitalized on the ones that were really makeable. That’s not normally my forte, but I putted very well.
“This means everything—the last time I qualified, I made it all the way to the Senior PGA Championship. That was a great experience and I’d love to do it again. It was one of the best weeks of my life.”
With his win Thursday, Vizina advances to the 2021 National Senior PGA Professional Championship Oct. 21-24 at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Fla., and will be joined by Berry (Edinburgh USA), Chiles (Chaska Town Course), Jeff Kringen (Spring Hill Golf Club) and Bill Israelson (Vintage Golf Club).
Vizina was one of seven qualifiers to advance from Minnewaska Golf Club in 2018 before shooting 2-over 289 to finish tied for 29th to earn an exemption into the 2019 KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club in Pittsfield, N.Y., where he shot 80-83 to miss the 36-hole cut.
Playing his first seven holes in even par Thursday, it was a crucial 15-foot par save at the eighth that gave Vizina the confidence he’d been searching for.
“The par on eight was everything,” he said. “That kept the momentum going and then I birdied nine and we were off and running.”
After rolling in a 10-footer at the ninth, Vizina took a double-bogey at the par-5 11th, falling into a share of the lead with Kringen at even par, but tweaked his back in the process, something that’s given him past issues.
“On the back side my right hip was useless at that point,” Vizina said. “I could hardly posture up and I was stabilizing and trying to hit it and not make much of a weight shift. I was just hanging on at that point.
“I was getting muscle spasms and fatigued in my back last night, but I don’t play a lot. It’s a little hard on my body to go after it like this. Casual golf is fine, but when you’re playing competitively, you’re trying to make aggressive moves and I just don’t do it anymore.”
The 59-year-old Vizina answered by rolling in a 12-footer for birdie at the 13th to get back to 1-under for the tournament before a spectacular sand save at the 15th.
“That was huge because I had an idea of what I had to do and where everybody was at,” Vizina said. “That was a big putt—from 15 feet, there was no doubt, it went right in the middle.”
Finishing in a three-way tie for first, Vizina would defeat Berry on the second playoff hole with a par to win his first championship since the 2018 Minnesota Senior PGA Match Play Championship at Island View Golf Club.
Berry opened with a 1-over 73 Wednesday and would play his first 15 holes in even par during the final round Wednesday. The four-time champion Berry moved up the leaderboard with a birdie at the par-5 16th and would earn a share of the clubhouse lead at 1-under with a birdie on the final hole.
Chiles entered Thursday’s final round three shots off the lead and would roll in five birdies over his final 10 holes to card a tournament-low 3-under 69 to finish tied for first at 1-under 143.
“Yesterday was really tough and I was having trouble reading the greens,” Chiles said Thursday. “Scotty Cole, who lives on the course and was the pro out here for years, I texted him and said I need a caddie to read putts. He was easily responsible for five shots—if I don’t have him, I shoot 2-over today. No chance.”
“I just wanted to get one of the five spots and go on. It’s cool because you’ve got a chance to go to the national tournament. I’d love to sneak a spot in the PGA Senior Championship—you know you’re going to get drummed by Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els, but to hit balls next to those guys would be pretty cool.”
Officially turning 50 next week, Chiles was unable to contend for the Minnesota Senior PGA Championship title, but will be eligible to compete at his first national event as a senior in October.
THE 47TH MINNESOTA SENIOR PGA PROFESSIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
NEW RICHMOND GOLF CLUB
NEW RICHMOND, WIS.
6,726 YARDS, PAR 72
THURSDAY’S FINAL RESULTS
1. Thomas Vizina, Brooktree GC, 71-72—143 (won playoff)
T2. Don Berry, Edinburgh USA, 73-70—143
T2. Eric Chiles, Chaska TC, 74-69—143
4. Jeff Kringen, Spring Hill GC, 75-70—145
5. Bill Israelson, Vintage GC, 76-70—146
T6. Derek Stendahl, Rush Creek GC, 75-73—148
T6. Craig Brischke, Tanners Brook GC, 75-73—148
T6. Mike Barge, Hazeltine Nat’l GC, 72-76—148
T9. Erik Toftner, Hiawatha GC, 74-75—149
T9. Brad Schmierer, Hastings GC, 71-78—149
For complete tournament results go to: https://mnpga.bluegolf.com/bluegolf/mnpga21/event/mnpga2155/contest/5/leaderboard.htm?848