Jacques Wilson, the 2017 Minnesota Players' Champion
By Nick Hunter
LAKE CITY, MN (June 21, 2017) – In most cases precision beats power, but at the 39th Minnesota Golf Association Players’ Championship at The Jewel Golf Club this week, Jacques Wilson showcased both.
He putted his way to victory over University of Minnesota golfer Charlie Duensing in the semifinals early Wednesday before overpowering Justin Burleson, 3 and 2, in the championship match.
“This win feels really good because there are a lot of good names on this trophy,” Wilson said after the final match Wednesday, “Tom Lehman, my fellow [Minnetonka Skipper] Donald Constable—it’s always fun being up there with him.
“I think I’ve been playing pretty well so far this summer, so going forward I have a few events before the [MGA State Amateur] so my schedule is pretty busy, but I hope I can keep it going.”
During the final match Wednesday, Wilson’s length off the tee was evident on the opening hole as he played his second shot just short of the green and chipped to within a foot for a tap-in birdie to take a 1-up lead.
A three-putt bogey from 20 feet by Burleson at the par-4 second gave Wilson a quick 2-up lead, but gave back a hole at the third when his short approach found the woods behind the green and he was unable to get up-and-down for par.
“I got into a bit of a groove with my drive on the first two holes, but got a little greedy and short sided myself on three and Justin took advantage and made two birdie putts to go up by one,” Wilson said.
At the par-3 fifth Burleson would square the match, sticking his 9-iron from 129 yards to six feet and converted birdie before rolling in a second birdie at the short par-4 sixth. Hoping to keep his tee shot low into the wind, Burleson’s shot at the par-3 seventh fell short of the green and he would be unable to save par to even the match. Leaving his approach short into the wind at the par-4 ninth, Burleson again was unable to save par as Wilson regained a 1-up lead heading to the final nine holes.
Wilson pulled his tee shot left into the water at the tenth and struggled to find the fairway after dropping in the tall fescue. Conceding the hole with Burleson sitting two in the fairway and the match would draw even again.
“I just got back up by one and decided to hit it in the water at ten and that didn’t help anything, but I had to regroup and when I stepped onto the 11th tee I told my caddy that this is an eight-hole match so let’s find a way to win a couple early.”
The long, par-4 12th gave players headaches all week and Burleson was a casualty during the final match Wednesday. Going right off the tee, Burleson played his provisional and knocked it over the green where he would concede the hole to give Wilson a 1-up lead and Wilson would cruise from there.
Rolling the perfect line at the 13th, Wilson dropped his birdie putt from the front of the green 20 feet away to take a 2-up lead with just five holes to play. Burleson was able to get up-and-down at the 14th to save par, while Wilson had a simple two-putt to remain two up.
With Wilson in for bogey, Burleson let an opportunity to trim the deficit on the 15th, but his par putt slid past the cup.
“I was more focused on the conditions than the situation,” Wilson said as he was nearing his first state title late Wednesday. “All of us have been playing competitive golf for so long that you kind of get used to it. There’s always pressure playing in the final match in something like this, but I took nerves out of play by hitting 2-iron on a couple of holes and keeping it in the fairway.
“I’ve played 16 and 17 really well all week—birdied 17 every time I played it and made just one par on 16—so I was pretty confident going into those holes,” he said.
Reaching the left edge of the green at the par-5 16th in two, Wilson lagged his third to within two feet to card an easy birdie, while Burleson’s third rolled eight feet past the flag. His putt wouldn’t fall and Wilson claimed his first MGA Players’ title, 3 and 2.
“My mindset stayed the same for the last 18 holes. I figured with the wind being in the direction it was and picking up a little bit, that I would have a good advantage on some of the holes, but to be careful and keep it in play. My main focus was to keep it out of trouble and know that pars are going to win holes this afternoon.”
After six rounds of golf over the past three days, the difference this week for Wilson turned out to be his putter.
“There were times where this week I lost a little momentum and would make a 10 or 15-footer that in the past I wouldn’t always make,” he said. “Even a couple of the short par putts like the one on 12 and 13—either stopped his momentum or kept mine going, which is the big thing in match play.”
Wilson jumped out to a big 5-up lead after nine holes in the semifinals Wednesday against University of Minnesota golfer Charlie Duensing before Duensing clawed his way back to within one after 14 holes. Wilson made a couple late birdies to hang on for the win to face Burleson in the finals.
“I started hot and a quick lead. My length was a big advantage on one and couple of the early holes—I think I shot 31 on the front,” Wilson said. “[Duensing] is a good player and he battled and came back with some birdies and pushed it to 17 and I was able to make a nice birdie putt there to close it out.”
After graduating from Minnetonka in 2013, Wilson played two years at the University of Kansas before transferring to Charleston Southern University where he will be a senior this fall. He has claimed victories at the 2012 Minnesota PGA Tournament of Champions and the 2014 Resorters Invitational. Along with two finishes inside the top-15 at the Minnesota State Open the past two seasons, Wilson also notched two top-25 finishes at the MGA State Amateur in 2015 and 2016.
Wednesday’s result is another disappointing finish for Burleson, who finished runner-up to Trent Peterson on Saturday at the MGA Mid-Players’ Championship before his runner-up finish to Wilson Wednesday.
His performance this week did earn him exemptions into both the MGA State Amateur at Interlachen Country Club as well as the Minnesota State Open at StoneRidge Golf Club next month.
“That was fun this morning,” Burleson said of exacting revenge on Peterson early Wednesday. “I probably put so much into that it may have hurt me this afternoon. Trent and I have had some good ones over the years and it was nice to get back after last week. It was a better match this morning than the final last week. We both played better and both made some putts—it was just better golf. That’s what you play for is to play the best and to take him to 18.”
A style similar to Peterson’s, Burleson said his approach was to play simple golf in the final match against Wilson, hoping to force mistakes.
“I thought if I could keep making a lot of pars that I would be alright,” he said. “He played solid and I didn’t make enough pars—I had quite a few bogeys out there and a couple three-putts. At the end of the day we always come back to putting and this afternoon I didn’t putt that well. I couldn’t make anything over four feet. You’re not going to win many matches doing that, especially the way [Wilson] hits the ball.
“Over the last seven days I think I’ve realized that my game is good enough to play with the best amateurs in the state, especially if I can putt it like I did most of those days. Over the last few years I knew it was there, but it’s been nice to see some results at MGA events."
Since moving north from Beaumont, Texas less than five years ago, Burleson has quietly accumulated 13 top-10 finishes with one victory at the Minnesota Public Golf Association Mid-Public Links Championship last season.
Earning key player points early in the year so far, Burleson has his sights set on the MGA State Amateur and Minnesota State Open, looking for strong finishes to remain in contention with Peterson and Sammy Schmitz for Player of the Year honors. Schmitz has claimed five of the past six player of the year nods, while Peterson won the 2014 award.
View results for Minnesota Players Championship