INDEPENDENCE, Minn. (June 21, 2012) -- It is a testament to the changes in golf over the last couple of decades that Andy Jacobson, who averages about 275 yards off the tee, could have been outdriven by every opponent he faced this week at Windsong Farm Golf Club in the MGA Players' Championship.
"One guy (Nicholas Olsgaard, his first opponent) was hitting his driver 80 yards past me," Jacobson noted.
The way things worked out, however, being consistently outdriven was an advantage for Jacobson, because it gave him a chance to hit his approach to the green first. If you go first, and you hit the green time after time after time, you can put a lot of pressure on the other guy. And Jacobson hit a lot of greens.
That was basically the story of how he won six straight matches -- and the championship.
"Sometimes I think that I just annoy the people I play into submission," Jacobson said, after he defeated Tim Hamm 4&3 Wednesday afternoon in a rain-delayed final.
It would proably be more accurate to say he frustrates them ino mistakes, because he almost never gives his opponent at opening.
In the title match, for example, Jacobson never missed a fairway, he hit 13 out of 15 greens, and he also putted very nicely. That's a tough combination to beat.
"He kept putting me in positions where I knew I wasn't going to win the hole with par," Hamm said. "So I was trying to make birdies, and I made some bad swings in the process."
Earlier in the day, Jacobson and Hamm had prevailed over two University of Minnesota players. Jacobson won the ninth, 10th and 11th holes (birdie-birdie-par) on the way to a 2&1 victory over Colton Buege. Hamm had won four of the first five holes against Robert Bell on his way to a 4&3 victory.
This was Jacobson's first state title, but the 32-year-old Eagle Creek member hasn't played in all that many state events.
"I play mostly in local tournaments around Willmar," he said. "I like match play. It seems relaxing to me, and it allows you to be more aggressive."
Match play certainly seems to suit Jacobson. Last year, he entered the MGA Mid-Players' Championship and went all the way to the final before losing to Erik Christopherson. He didn't play in the Players' last year, but he was back at the Mid-Players' this year and had another good run, making it to the quarterfinals before losing to Jesse Larson, a friend of his. Larson then made it to the final, where he lost to Sammy Schmitz.
In Wednesday's final against Hamm, Jacobson was 3 under for the 15 holes that he played. He got off to a quick start, winning the first hole with a par to Hamm's bogey, but Hamm won the second with a par when Jacobson returned the favor with a bogey of his own, one of only two bogeys that he would make in a match on a course that measured more than 7,300 yards, and on a day when the wind blew fairly hard (15 to 20 miles per hour) -- and from two different directions.
At the third hole, Jacobson was conceded a birdie. But once again Hamm responded by getting the lost hole right back, this time by stiffing his tee shot at the 201-yard, par-3 fourth hole.
The fifth was one of the few holes they tied. It was also the last one they played before rain, lightning and thunder interrupted the proceedings.
After a delay of a little more than an hour, the match resumed, and Jacobson, true to form, gave himself another birdie chance, hitting a pitching wedge to 20 feet. Hamm was in the bunker to the right of the green. He hit a sporty little bunker shot to within 4 feet of a tucked pin, but he never got the chance to putt it, because Jacobson made the 20-footer for birdie.
Judging distances was difficult all week because of the wind, and the task was made that much more difficult when the match resumed.
"When we went back out," Jacobson said, "the wind was blowing in the opposite direction from the one that we had been playing in all week."
That may help to explain why Hamm flew the green with his 7-iron tee shot at the 191-yard, par-3 seventh hole. Jacobson, who was 15 to 20 yards shorter than Hamm with his driver throughout the match, also hit a 7-iron and ended up just short of pin high. He two-putted from 30 feet and won the hole with a par to go 2 up.
The pin on the green at No. 8 (446, par 4) was no more than a dozen feet beyond the false front. Jacobson made a rare tactical error there. From just over 180 yards into the wind, he hit his 5-iron second shot about 10 feet too short, and the ball backed 30 feet off the green and ran another 30 feet down the fairway. He failed to save his par, which might not have mattered, because Hamm hit a gorgeous cut 7-iron shot from a hook lie to 3 feet.
His birdie putt was conceded.
In assessing his loss, Hamm lamented not making any putts, and getting a couple of bad breaks. The worst of them was burying his tee shot in a fairway bunker. He couldn't even see the ball, after it plugged into the upslope and covered itself with a 1/2-inch blanket of sand. There was really no option. Hamm had to take an unplayable lie (one stroke penalty) and then drop it, still in the bunker.
Naturally, it nestled down into the sand when he made the drop, and his next shot caught the bank above the bunker, which meant he couldn't get to the green with his next shot. He eventually reached the green with his fifth shot. Meanwhile, Jacobson had hit his third shot to within 10 feet of the hole. Hamm would have had to make a 60-foot putt just to get a 6; so he conceded Jacobson's birdie.
The 10th (181 yards, par 3) and 11th (422, par 4) sort of summed up the way the match went for both players. On each hole, one player had a 25-foot putt for birdie, and the other had one in the 7- to 8-foot range. Hamm was the one with the short birdie putt at the 10th, and he missed. Jacobson had the nearie after a very nice wedge shot at the 11th, and he made the putt, to go 3 up.
"That was a big putt," he said. "When you're playing against someone that good, you have to take advantage of those chances when you get them."
The birdie at the 11th gave Jacobson a little extra cushion going into the 599-yard, par-5 12th hole, which Hamm could reach in two -- and did -- but he couldn't. A 255-yard 3-wood shot by Hamm put him within 35 feet of the hole, and he two-putted for a birdie. Back to 2 down.
Hamm made a nifty par save at the 376-yard 13th, and Jacobson just missed his birdie putt from 15 feet.
The green on the 470-yard, par-4 14th hole at Windsong is one of the trickiest -- maybe the trickiest -- at Windsong.
"They had the pin on the back right yesterday," Jacobson recalled, "and both of the guys I played (in the Round of 16 and quarterfinals) putted off the green."
On Wednesday, it was more in the left center of the green, but perilously close to the false front. Either left of the hole or short was dead. Hamm played to the right of the hole, and his shot wasn't that bad, but the wind got it, and he wound up with a 70-foot putt. Jacobson hit an 8-iron from 155 yards that landed exactly where he was aiming, 20 feet to the right of the hole and -- characteristically -- pin high.
He made that putt, too.
Jacobson made it 12 for 12 fairways hit with his tee shot at the 499-yard 15th. His second shot from 200 yards was 60 feet left of the hole, but once again he was pin high and putting slightly up at the hole.
"That was the key thing this week," he said. "If you could just get it on the green, on the correct side, you were OK. I had the feeling that it didn't matter how far I was, it was always going to be a fairly simple two-putt. "
Hamm, who needed to make birdies at this stage of the match, went for too much and ended up in the right front bunker. He couldn't get it up and down, and when Jacobson holed his 2-footer for par, the match was over.
The final was the sixth match for each of the contestants in three days, meaning they played roughly 108 holes in a span of about 56 hours.
Jacobson, an insurance salesman with what you might call a stocky physique, conceded afterward that there was no way he could have survived the three days -- let alone with the championship -- if it hadn't been for his caddy, Nate Zaffke, a recent dental school graduate.
"He's caddied for me a lot in the last few years," said Jacobson, who is now exempt for the both State Amateur and the State Open, "and he knows how to keep me going. When I need a little kick in the behind, he does it; and when I need to calm down, he knows how to do that, too. I definitely couldn't have done this without him."
As for Hamm, who was carrying his own bag (and has another 36-hole day scheduled for Thursday, when he plays in the U.S. Amateur Public Links Qualifying at Baker National), he said he thought about using a caddy for the three-day ordeal at Windsong.
"Unfortunately," he said, "all my friends have jobs."
View results for Minnesota Players Championship Golf Tournament