2015 winner Jon Empanger (MGA photo)
BREEZY POINT, Minn. — Carding identical scores in each of the first two rounds at the 94th Minnesota Golf Association Senior Amateur Championship at Deacon’s Lodge Golf Club, Jon Empanger and Don Howe entered Wednesday's final round four shots off the lead.
After 54 holes Empanger and Howe had erased the deficit, but still remained deadlocked on top of the leaderboard at 1-over par 217.
On the third playoff hole, after Howe narrowly missed his birdie attempt, Empanger rolled in a six-foot birdie chance to defeat Howe and claim his first victory in three years.
“I had no aspirations of winning this tournament and felt pretty calm today, I don’t know why because I’m usually a little nervous. I felt like I was composed the whole day,” Empanger said of his mindset entering the final round.
“At the 17th hole I felt like maybe I had a chance to win this thing, but it’s a struggle to not get ahead of yourself,” he said. “I’ve been working hard on my game and it all came together here this week.”
Empanger, Island View Golf Club, got his final round started by sinking his birdie opportunity on the second hole to move to 1-over for the championship before he dropped to even par by adding another birdie at the par-3 sixth.
A pair of late bogeys to finish the front nine put Empanger at even par for the round but he would answer with back-to-back birdies at the 12th and 13th holes to jump back to even for the tournament.
Empanger three-putted for bogey at the 15th but would finish the final round with four consecutive pars to card a 1-under par 71 and into a share of the lead with Howe at 217.
“I played pretty conservatively for the first two days. I shot worse on Tuesday but played a little bit better, I just didn’t make any putts,” Empanger said following his win Wednesday. “I was really happy with my ball striking the whole tournament.
“I got a little aggressive on some of my lines [on the front nine] and I think the pins today were a little more accessible so that allowed me to get those birdies early. Then I came back and made a couple of bad three-putts on eight and nine,” he said. “The back nine is tough here and I think most of the players had a tougher time on the back, but [shooting 1-under], I felt really good.”
With the victory, Empanger widens his lead in the MGA Men’s Senior Player of the Year standings to over 140 points.
“It’s been a great season—I got off to a great start at the [State Senior Open] on my home course and this is just topping on the cake,” he said. “If I end of on top of the standings, that’s fine and if I don’t, that’s fine too. There are a lot of good players out here.”
Empanger owns two Minnesota Public Golf Association Senior Public Links titles (2011, 2012) as well as a MGA Senior Four-Ball Championship victory in 2010.
Howe, Olympic Hills Golf Club, rolled in his birdie look at the par-5 second hole to move to 1-over for the championship Wednesday before giving back a stroke at the fifth with a bogey.
Howe would turn at 1-under for the round after sinking his second birdie at the seventh.
A bogey to open the back nine put Howe at 2-over for the tournament but he would play a solid final eight holes Wednesday, adding a birdie to the scorecard at the par-5 15th to get back to 1-over and finished the day with a 71, forcing a playoff with Empanger.
“The first day I hit 16 greens, birdied the first hole and made one bogey to shoot 72,” Howe said of the start to his week. “On Day Two I made bogey on the very first hole and I think it was the only fairway I missed all week. Today I just wanted to make pars and stay in the hunt and down the stretch, something could happen.
“I knew [Empanger] wasn’t going to make any mistakes in the playoff so I was just trying to hang in with him and hopefully something would fall. It was a really fun week and it was a great experience,” Howe said Wednesday. “I’ve played quite a bit in August so my game has improved.”
Patrick Vincelli, Brackett's Crossing Country Club, began Wednesday’s final round three shots off the lead and would card a 1-over par 73 to finish alone in third place at 2-over par 218, while David Haslerud, Southview Country Club, and Joseph Eichten finished the championship tied for fourth place at 3-over par 219.
View results for Minnesota Senior Amateur Golf Championship