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MN Senior: Hall-of-Famer Wins Another

With Senior Am, Ehrmanntraut's Set of MGA and State Titles Is Nearly Complete

WHITE BEAR LAKE, MN (September 2, 2009)--Dick Blooston has been playing in MGA tournaments for nearly half a century, which means he's been a witness to a lot of the history of Minnesota golf. And on Wednesday, it was Blooston who summed things up at White Bear Yacht Club as Rick Ehrmanntraut claimed the championship in the State Senior Amateur.

"I can't help thinking of something Leo Spooner said about 30 years ago," Blooston recalled. He was referring to the legendary amateur from Northland Country Club, and 1990 Minnesota Hall of Fame inductee. "Some guy was telling him that when he became a senior, he was going to clean up and win everything. Leo just looked at the guy and said, 'The guys who beat me when me when I was 25 were still beating me when I was 35, and guess what? They'll still be beating me when I'm 55.'

"It seems to me we've got the same thing here, boys. This Ehrmanntraut was beating us when he was 21 years old; he was beating us 20 years later; and here he is beating us again this week. Things don't really change that much after all, do they?"

Ehrmanntraut secured the victory with a closing round of 1-under-par 71, which gave him a three-day total of 218 on a course that didn't play all that long but whose greens confounded nearly everyone in the field on a fairly regular basis during the tournament.

Bob Leaf, who won the Senior Am in 2003, came within a couple of mis-read putts of winning the title again. The 65-year-old Leaf, who was the '03 MGA Senior Player of the Year, started the day tied for the lead with Tom Smith, the '05 Senior Player of the Year, and he was still tied at the top of the leaderboard with Ehrmanntraut through 15 holes.

But then Ehrmanntraut birdied the par-5 16th hole to take sole possession of the lead. Leaf had cracks at the tying birdie from 12 feet at No. 17, and again from 10 feet at No. 18, but couldn't get either putt to fall.

Dave McCook of Hastings took third place, thanks to a 75 that put him at 223, just ahead of Steve Busch, who matched McCook's 75 and wound up with an overall 224.

"I just love this course," McCook said. "I could play this every day and never get tired of it. When you're hitting a wedge shot from 50 or 60 or 70 yards, you have to be so precise, or you won't be able to get your ball anywhere near the hole. That's the challenge, and that's what makes it so much fun."

Then came this year's likely MGA Senior Player of the Year, Gary Johnson, who shot a 72 and finished at 225, tied with '08 Senior Publinx champ Ray Sauer, who closed with a 77.

The '07 Senior Player of the Year, Randy Garber, was next at 226, after a 76. Blooston (76) tied John Wells (77) were another two behind, at 228, tied for eighth.

Neither Smith nor Tom Ryan had that much fun on the final day as they dropped back into a tie for 10th at 229. Smith was playing with an ankle brace, a result of having twisted his right ankle on a gas hose at a Super America on Sunday, but his back was actually more of a problem for him on Wednesday. It was painful just to watch him walk, and a triple bogey at the sixth hole certainly didn't make him feel any better, on his way to an 83.

Ryan shot the low score of the tournament, a 69, on Tuesday, to insert himself into the title chase. All of the putts that went in during that round stubbornly refused to fall in the finale, and his difficulty of his day was exemplified by the quadruple bogey 9 he made in the fourth hole. After getting into some really thick rough to the left of the fairway and needing three swings to extract the ball from there, he appeared to have limited the damage when he hit his sixth shot close.

"I had a putt like that for a 7," he said, holding his hands 2 1/2 feet apart. "But then I three-putted from there."

That took him out of contention, and he eventually signed for an 81.

If Ehrmanntraut didn't already have the most complete collection of Minnesota state golf titles before he picked up his victory in the Senior Am, he almost certainly does now. He won the State Amateur in 1972, the same year that he qualified for the U.S. Open, the U.S. Publinx and the U.S. Amateur. (No one had ever done that in the same year before, mainly because the rules said a player had to finish in the top four at the Publinx to be eligible to attempt to qualify for the U.S. Am. Ehrmanntraut finished fourth in the Publinx, and 12th in the Am.)

The following year, he won the State Four-Ball Championship, along with University of Minnesota teammate -- and fellow All-American -- John Harris. He also finished second in the Canadian Amateur in '73, behind George Burns, who would go on to win four events on the PGA Tour and nearly win the 1981 U.S. Open (he lost that one to David Graham in an 18-hole playoff).

In 1975, Ehrmanntraut turned professional. He won the State Open in '76, and bacame the head coach at the University of Minnesota that fall (he resigned the coaching job in '79, when he graduated from dental school). The first of his two TapeMark Charity titles came the next year, along with the championship of the Manitoba Open.

The second of the Tapemarks came in 1982. One of the few major state titles he's missing is the Minnesota Golf Champions, but he nearly won that one in '85, the last year he played as a pro. Jon Chaffee had to get up and down for a par from a scruffy lie behind the 18th green to tie Ehrmanntraut that year, but he did, and then won a playoff with a birdie on the first extra hole.

It wasn't until 1988 that Ehrmanntraut got his amateur status back, and he won the first of his two consecutive State Publinx titles in '89. Eight years later, at the age of 46, he won the State Mid-Amateur.

He turned 55 on March 15, 2006 (he was born on a Thursday) and promptly won the first senior tournament he played in, the Senior Players. There was some irony in the fact that his opponent in the final was Steve Johnson, because he is the only other Minnesota golfer to have won a comparable number of major tournaments, including an MGA senior championship (Johnson has won the State Am, State Publinx, State Four-Ball, State Mid-Am, Players Championship, plus the 2004 Senior Players).

(Ehrmanntraut and Johnson were both inducted into the Minnesota Golf Hall of Fame in the same year: 2006.)

Now Ehrmanntraut has the Senior Am in his resume, too.

His arrived at White Bear Yacht Club still kicking himself for "choking" away the Southview club championship on Sunday, and his confidence didn't get much of a boost when he hit his first shot in the Senior Am out of bounds.

He responded with two birdies in the next three holes, however, and wound up even par for the round, one shot behind the first-day leader, Bill Whitaker (who finished 23rd at 233). A second-round 75 put him in an almost identical position after 36 holes, except that now he was third, one behind Leaf and Smith at 147.

Although he was playing well, he still wasn't quite ready to be all that aggressive.

"I was hitting 3-woods off the tees on some of the par-5's, like 13, and laying up with my second shots at 9," he said. "That probably wasn't too smart. But you hit your first tee shot of the tournament out of bounds, and see if you don't have a few confidence issues going through your head during the rest of the tournament."

On Wednesday, he did get more aggressive, but for a while it didn't seem to matter what he did, because Leaf was running away from the other contenders. He made a pair of 12-footers for 2's at the third and the sixth, and drained a 6-footer for another birdie at the seventh to get to 3 under for the round, 1 under for the tournament.

"Bob was basically flawless for the first seven holes," Ehrmanntraut noted.

At the par-3 eighth, Leaf just missed the green, but his tee shot ended up in some gnarly rough and couldn't save his par. He was still four clear of the pack at that point, but then he gambled at the par-5 ninth, and the gamble failed when his tee shot went left and disappeared.

"It was my only bad shot of the day," he said, "and it really wasn't that bad. I don't hit my tee shots as far as Rick and Tom do; so I had to aim farther to the left than they did in order to reach the green in two. I pulled it a little bit, and we never found it."

The result was a double bogey 7.

Suddenly, Leaf was back to even par for the day, and so was Ehrmanntraut, who did reach the green at the ninth in two and made a birdie. He was one back. Smith, who had shot 40, was four back.

The only player who broke par on the front nine was Gary Johnson, who had a 34. But he started the day 9 over.

"By the time we got to the back nine, it was pretty much down to Bob and me," Ehrmanntraut noted. "Basically, it was match play, and this is a great course for match play. The back nine was fun, and we both hit some great shots."

Both Leaf and Ehrmanntraut hit good shots with their wedges at the 332-yard 10th hole, but not quite good enough. Their shots both got to within about 12 feet, and then sucked back off the green.

Leaf got his ball up and down to save par at 10, but he failed to save par from the left bunker at the par-3 11th. Ehrmanntraut swapped holes with him, missing his 8-foot par putt at the 10th, then making a 5-footer for par at the 11th.

For the first time in the tournament, Ehrmanntraut hit a driver off the tee at the 502-yard 13th. Consequently, he was able to get his second shot to within 10 yards left and short of the green, and hit a gorgeous pitch shot to 3 feet. Although he's never been known as a great putter and doesn't make many bombs, Ehrmanntraut rarely misses from inside 4 feet, and he converted the birdie putt at 13.

That gave him his first lead of the tournament, because Leaf hit his drive almost out of bounds on the right, and from a marginal lie next to a tree, he advanced the ball only about 70 yards and ended up making a bogey.

Leaf got that lost shot back on the next hole, the 14th, another short par 4 (336 yards), and the two co-leaders both made working man's pars at the 414-yard 15th, a tough hole to begin with that's made even more daunting by a complicated green.

"When I was on 16 (a 483-yard par-5), I was telling myself I needed to make a putt," Ehrmanntraut said later. "I hadn't made a putt all day, but I needed to make one coming in."

Or hit a wedge close, which was what he did at the 16th, from about 10 yards short on the left side, leaving himself another 3-footer, and he drilled it, dead center.

"You've got to be able to hit good wedge shots at this course," Ehrmanntraut said. "I can do that."

Leaf had a tougher wedge shot, from the right side to a left pin at the bottom of the lower tier, and although he got the speed right, he didn't quite get the line. His ball slid off toward the front of the green and left him 25 feet away. He two-putted for his par.

The 17th is the toughest par-3 at White Bear. It played 195 on Wednesday, and both players hit sensational tee shots. Ehrmanntraut's 4-iron ("That's as far as I can hit a 4-iron") ended up about 14 feet right and beyond the cup. Leaf's 3-iron was 12 feet left and slightly long.

Ehrmanntraut had his putt right on line but left it 2 inches short. Leaf, with a chance to tie, missed by 6 inches to the left.

"I completely mis-read it," he admitted. "I was playing it to go right, and it actually went left."

At the 343-yard 18th, Leaf hit a wedge from 80 yards that landed 12 feet beyond the cup and spun back to 8 feet. Ehrmanntraut, who was coming from 70 yards away in the left rough, landed his shot 20 feet short, and the ball stopped quickly, trickling forward about 10 feet.

"I thought it was perfect when I hit it," he said. "I couldn't believe it stopped as fast as it did."

Once again, Ehrmanntraut went first and missed -- this one wasn't as close as the one on 17 -- which gave Leaf one more chance to tie.

"I hit that putt exactly where I wanted to," he said, "and it had perfect speed. It went a foot past, and that's just what you want. I thought it was going to break a little more than it did, and that was the difference."

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