ELK RIVER, Minn. (June 5, 2011) -- Leigh Klasse has been one of the most consistent players in Minnesota women's golf over the last decade and a half, during which time she has won three MGA Women's Player of the Year awards.
She had also won five consecutive MGA Women's Mid-Amateur titles (2004 to '08) in that span.
On Monday, at Elk River Golf Club, she was trying for her sixth Mid-Am crown, and she started the day with a two-stroke lead. Consequently, you can imagine that she was surprised to find herself 7 over par after eight holes -- and no longer in the lead.
She wasn't the only one in a mild state of shock over the way the round was progressing. Her son Zach, who was caddying for her, wasn't too impressed by his mother's untidy round up to that point.
"Zach told me to play better, although he didn't say it in those words," Leigh said later.
So what exactly did he say?
"I just said, 'Don't suck,' " Zach recalled.
That was the extent of the pep talk -- and it worked.
Klasse played the final 10 holes in 1 under, making three birdies and two bogeys, on the way to a 78, which gave her a 36-hole total of 155, and a three-stroke victory.
"I was kind of unlucky on the front nine," she said. "There were three putts that lipped out, and I got a couple of pretty bad bounces. These greens are small, and you don't have to be very far off line to miss them. It's a tough course. But I did play quite a bit better on the last 10 holes, after I got a little inspiration from my caddie."
Claudia Pilot, who shot the best round of the tournament, a 76, finished at 158 and tied Alison Hurley, who birdied the 18th hole for her second 79 in a row.
Pilot is a former three-time Mid-Am champ. Hurley was the one who snapped Klasse's string of five Mid-Ams in a row by winning in 2009.
Kristen Wagner had a 79, too, and ended up with a 161, alone in fourth place.
The lead was tossed around like a beach ball during the middle of the round. Despite a double bogey at the par-3 fourth, Hurley was able to move to the front of the pack when she parred the sixth hole and Klasse bogeyed it.
When Hurley doubled the par-5 eighth and Klasse made the last of her seven front-nine bogeys, Pilot took the lead, and she expanded the margin to two strokes over Klasse, and three over Hurley, with a birdie at the ninth.
Klasse began to reassert herself with a birdie at the par-5 10th, which put her back in a tie with Pilot, who bogeyed the hole. Pilot regained the advantage when Klasse bogeyed the par-3 11th, but then Klasse took the lead for good when Pilot made a double at the 12th.
"I played really well, except for No. 12," Pilot lamented. "I wish I could play that hole over."
The former seven-time Women's Player of the Year contracted an infection in her right eye about a week ago, and has been forced to play golf without a contact lens in that eye ever since.
"It's getting better, but playing without my contact is hard," she said. "I can't really tell what my lie is like unless I kneel down and get right next to the ball to look at it. And my short game has suffered because I can't see the breaks in the greens very well."
Nevertheless, she played well down the stretch on Monday, parring five consecutive holes after the double at 12, and she burned the edge of the cup on a couple of birdie putts in that stretch.
Klasse was even better with the tournament on the line. Having taken a one-stroke lead over Pilot and Hurley at the 12th, she expanded it with a birdie at the 13th. Then she watched Hurley hit her third shot stiff at the par-5 14th, for a tap-in birdie, and proceeded to hit her third shot even closer to the hole, for her second straight birdie.
That was probably the clincher.
The only bogey she made the rest of the way came at the 18th, and by then it didn't matter.
Besides this being Klasse's sixth Mid-Am title, it was also probably the sixth time that Zach has caddied for Leigh in various tournaments that she's won. But he probably won't be back on the bag Tuesday and Wednesday when she plays in the MWGA Four-Ball Championship (with Betsy Aldrich) at Interlaken in Fairmont, and he definitely won't be looping for her on Friday in the first round of the MWPGA (Publinx) Match Play tournament at Brookview.
Zach's graduating (from St. Anthony High School) on Friday," Leigh noted. "We've had two nice days for this tournament, but the weather needs to stay nice. Or at least it needs to be nice on Friday. I can't afford any rain delays, because I don't think they'll hold up the graduation ceremony just so that I can finish my match that day."
View results for Minnesota Women's Mid-Amateur Golf Championship