MEDINA, MN (October 5, 2016) -- It’s been four years since Sammy Schmitz won his second Minnesota Golf Association Mid-Amateur Championship by two shots at Midland Hills Golf Club and Town and Country Club.
Schmitz lost in a playoff to Josh Blackman in 2013 in Alexandria, Minn., before he withdrew from the 2014 championship during the first round at Chaska Town Course with an injury.
Trailing Joe McCormick by two shots entering the final round a year ago in Rochester, Minn., Schmitz carded a final-round 72 to come up one shot short of McCormick.
A determined Schmitz fired a 4-under par 68 to begin the championship Monday at Baker National Golf Club and held on for a wire-to-wire win, holding off a surging Troy Johnson Wednesday at Medina Golf and Country Club to collect a third MGA Mid-Amateur title, his biggest state victory since 2013.
“This win means a lot. I’ve been on a little bit of a drought in Minnesota tournaments,” Schmitz said following his win Wednesday. “I’ve won a couple team events here and there but I don’t recall winning an individual event in the last three years.
“I wanted to finish the year off strong and prove to myself that I could do it. [Johnson] was out there pushing me all day. He and I have had some great battles over the years. Most of the ones I remember he came out on top, so I was fortunate to come out on top of this one.”
Opening the final round with a three-shot advantage Wednesday, Schmitz knocked his approach at the par-5 fourth to five feet and converted birdie to move to 3-under for the tournament.
Sending his tee shot to the sand beyond the eighth green, Schmitz hit a spectacular shot from the sand that followed a ridge 15 feet down to the hole and in the cup for birdie to stay three shots ahead of the field.
“I made probably the best bunker shot of my entire life on 8. I was behind the green and had no green to work with and landed it softly on the hill and it kept trickling down and it went in the hole.”
Schmitz hit a 3-wood short of the green at the ninth and two-putted for birdie to turn at 5-under for the championship and a two-shot advantage over Johnson, who carded a 4-under par 32 on the opening nine Wednesday.
“The front nine was really steady; I hit the ball pretty good. I had two really good 50-foot lag putts to start the day. I got a good feel for the greens by doing that,” Schmitz said.
Reaching the green in two at the par-5 11th, leaving himself a daunting 12 foot, downhill eagle putt, which he left a foot short of the cup for a tap-in birdie.
Schmitz’s approach at the par-4 12th came to rest 12 feet from the cup and his putt trickled to the front of the cup and made one last rotation to fall into the cup as Schmitz moved to 7-under for the tournament.
Missing the green short-left, Schmitz’s second at the par-3 13th checked up short of the flag and he would leave his par putt short to drop a stroke with a bogey.
Carrying a two-shot lead late, Schmitz leaned on his putter over the final three holes as he sank a downhill 3-footer for par at the 16th and made another short but slippery downhill putt to save par at the 17th.
Still up two Johnson heading to the 18th Wednesday, Schmitz found trouble off the final tee to the right and was forced to punch out as he could afford to make bogey.
Schmitz hit his third to 40 feet, but sent his par putt eight feet past the cup. His bogey putt rolled up and in to claim his third MGA Mid-Amateur title, shooting a final-round 69 to finish at 5-under par 211.
“On 18 I thought I hit a pretty good drive. The wind was blowing hard left and my ball shot to the right and my ball hit a tree and kicked into the woods. I’m not really happy with how I played the final hole but made that 8-footer for the win.”
Seemingly in control of the tournament from start to finish this week, Schmitz admitted that Medina isn’t a course that sets up particularly well for him.
“The mindset was to get off to a good start at Baker National—it’s a tricky course, it was really windy but I’ve had some success there in the past and I hit a lot of irons off the tee. The strategy was to play very carefully and get over here to Medina and see what I could do.
“Medina keeps you uncomfortable. Hole 14 and 15 scare me—I hit 3-iron off both of them. My strategy was if I could get through those two holes at 5-under, I thought I’d be in good position. I got through them at 4-under and was still in good position. I made some good long putts today and that was a big part of coming away with a win.”
After his 68 at Baker National Golf Club to begin the championship Monday, he came back to shoot 74 at Medina Tuesday to take a three-shot lead over the field after 36 holes.
“Yesterday I struggled quite a bit. I think I was lucky to get out of here with a 74, it could’ve been worse," Schmitz said. "I knew I had to get off to a good start. There are some really good players behind me. I was playing with [Greve] and Jim Lehman, who is having one of his best years in a long time.
"I was able to watch those guys and I saw [Johnson and Hickey] ahead of me making putts and making birdies. I knew I had to step it up a little bit.”
With the victory Wednesday, Schmitz locks up his fifth MGA Player of the Year award in six seasons, earning his first individual state championship since he won the Minnesota Public Golf Association Mid-Public Links Championship and Twin Cities Championship in 2013.
The biggest win of his career came at the 2015 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship at John’s Island Club in Vero Beach, Fla., with the help of an ace on the par-4 33rd hole of the championship, which earned him an invitation to the 2016 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club.
Johnson, who was playing on his home course at Medina, fired a 2-under par 70 Monday to open the championship at Medina before carding a 3-over par 75 in challenging conditions during the second round at Baker National Tuesday.
Johnson started his final round with a bogey at the par-4 third before sinking three consecutive birdies beginning at the fourth, including a 25-foot birdie at the sixth, to quickly get back to 1-under for the championship.
Back-to-back birdies at the eighth and ninth holes, not only gave Johnson five birdies in a span of six holes, but thrust him into contention at 3-under and two shots behind Schmitz.
Johnson, who won his first MGA Mid-Amateur Championship in 2010 and added a second in 2014, rolled in back-to-back birdies again at the 12th and 13th holes, and following a bogey by Schmitz at the 13th, Johnson pulled within one of the lead.
But the two-time champion pulled his tee shot at the par-5 14th out of bounds and would take a bogey to drop two shots off the lead. Unable to save par on the final hole, Johnson would finish the championship in second place at 3-under par 213, firing a final-round 68.
“I wanted to come out and play some solid golf. I started out a little shaky but made a nice putt to get it going on [No. 4],” Johnson said after his round Wednesday. “I played solid in—birdied 9—to shoot 32 on the front and just kept it going.
“I made one bad swing that cost me, probably, the tournament. I had a couple birdie chances down the stretch and didn’t capitalize. I knew after nine that we were probably within a shot of each other. I made some good putts on 12 and 13, but couldn’t get anything to fall coming in. I played good—my putting wasn’t great—but, overall, I’m very happy with the tournament.”
Will Hickey began the final round tied for second, three shots off the lead before shooting an even par 72 Wednesday to finish in third place at 217, while 2016 Minnesota State Open champion Ben Greve finished fourth at 218.
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