(Concordia University (MN) Athletics Photo)
NORTH OAKS, MN (July 20, 2016) -- After watching his final-round lead evaporate on a sticky July afternoon Wednesday, Alex Uloth walked to the final green needing to make birdie to force a playoff with University of Minnesota golfer Riley Johnson at 6-under par 207.
Reaching the par-5 18th in two, Uloth did one better by sinking his eagle putt from 30 feet to clinch the 113th Minnesota Golf Association Amateur Championship at North Oaks Golf Club at 7-under par 206 to notch his first victory as an amateur.
“This gives me some confidence in my game and also going forward to next year. I’ve been working really hard to get more consistent and put myself in position and I knew that I could do this,” Uloth said Wednesday. “I’m relieved to be done—it was a pretty stressful week."
Uloth tied a tournament record during the opening round Monday, shooting an 8-under par 63 before carding a 70 during Tuesday’s second round to take a four-stroke lead over 2008 champion, Trent Peterson.
With a four-stroke lead to begin the final round Wednesday, Uloth got off to a solid start on the front nine despite taking a bogey at the seventh, hitting his tee shot out of bounds. He answered by rolling in a short birdie putt at the ninth to turn at even for the day.
“I was obviously a little nervous starting off and I thought I started really well and played the front nine really good and didn’t make any big mistakes,” Uloth said.
“I knew I needed to step on the gas a little bit,” he said after getting back to even par on the front nine Wednesday. “I didn’t give myself a lot of good opportunities early and those holes were birdie holes.”
Taking advantage of the short, par-4 10th, Uloth rolled in his second straight birdie before dropping six shots in a span of five holes early on his back nine.
With a hot putter during the first 36 holes, Uloth’s troubles began at the 11th where he left his birdie putt from 35 feet woefully short, missing his 10-foot par putt to fall to 9-under.
At the 13th Uloth’s tee shot found the fringe left of the flagstick where he would again leave his second well short before lipping-out twice, finally tapping in for double-bogey to slip to 7-under as his lead shrunk to two.
“I just hit a bad putt,” he said of his first double-bogey at 13, “I pulled my iron a little bit and then hit a few too many putts.”
Uloth’s approach reached the green in regulation at the par-4 14th, but his birdie attempt slid well right and stopped near the rough off the front edge of the green. His par putt came to rest four feet behind the cup to leave himself another slippery, downhill putt which slid past the hole. Tapping in for a second straight double-bogey, Uloth’s lead had vanished and he was tied with Johnson at 5-under.
“[No. 14] was a big flipping point for me and a momentum change in the group. I was only 1-up on [Christensen] at that point so I tried to stay calm and turn things around,” Uloth said.
He would pull his tee shot left at the par-3 15, hitting a flop shot past the flag and two-putted for bogey to relinquish his lead with just three holes to play.
Trailing for the first time in 49 holes, Uloth sank an important birdie at the par-5 16th after sticking his approach inside of five feet to draw even with Johnson before sinking his eagle chance on the final hole.
“My approach shot into 16 was maybe the best shot I hit all tournament. The tee shot was great—I had been hitting that tee shot poorly all tournament and to get up-and-down there was crucial for me,” he said.
“On 18 I hit the drive where I wanted up the left side—you don’t want to flirt with that water on the right. I had about [200 yards] to the pin and hit a normal 7-iron and it ran up to about 25-30 feet. I had a good look and fortunately made the putt. I didn’t think I putted bad today—I had a few bad putts, but overall I made a few good short ones on the front.”
Following his round Wednesday, Uloth admitted he was unaware and slightly startled that he was playing with two past champions when MGA President Kip Colwell introduced the players on the first tee box.
Johnson, a Fargo, N.D., native, who will begin his junior season with the Gophers this fall, opened the championship with a 3-under par 68 Monday and fired an even par 71 in breezy conditions during the second round Tuesday to enter the final round six shots off Uloth’s lead.
Rolling in consecutive pars on his first six holes Wednesday, Johnson moved to 4-under for the championship by sinking a 15 -footer for birdie at the seventh before adding back-to-back birdies at the ninth and tenth to move to 6-under with eight holes to play.
Failing to get up-and-down for par at the par-3 11th, Johnson would fall to 5-under with bogey but would pull even with Uloth following his double-bogey at the 14th. Johnson took a slim, one-shot lead to the final hole where he two-putted for birdie before Uloth sank an eagle for the win.
“[Uloth] had an outstanding lead on me, I didn’t know what the scores were at—I didn’t even look,” Johnson said Wednesday. “I just wanted to stick to what I do best and I knew on 16, 17 or 18 I needed something to happen. They were fairly easy holes today with the wind and I was hoping to get to six or 7-under and see where he comes in.
“I was striking the ball well and was in control today,” he said. “The bogey at 11 would’ve put a lot of people down in the dumps, but I had a lot of holes left and just tried to give myself a shot. Alex played an outstanding tournament and I’m really happy with how I played.”
Erik Christopherson carded a final-round 70 to finish in a tie for third place with Christensen, the 1995 champion, at 4-under par 209, while Peterson shot a 73 Wednesday to finish tied for fifth with Sam Foust at 210.
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