Jim Lehman (Minnesota Golf/Twitter photo)
By Nick Hunter
BEMIDJI, Minn. (Sept. 19, 2018) – After posting a round of even par Wednesday at Bemidji Town and Country Club, Jim Lehman
closed out a wire-to-wire victory with a three-stroke win over John Spreiter. It's Lehman's fourth Minnesota Golf Association Senior Amateur title.
While 19 players have won multiple times since the tournament began in 1922, Lehman joins Dave Tallman as the only players to claim four titles at the event. Only Runcie B. Martin holds more championship wins after collecting five victories between 1935 and 1944.
Asked if his win Wednesday solidifies his place among the best senior players the state’s rich golf history, a humble and emotional Lehman simply shrugged.
“I have no idea about that. I love playing tournament golf and I go around the country trying to get better and I’m not getting any younger,” he said. “I’m working harder and harder and I keep getting older and older and it’s not always easy.
“I feel very fortunate to have won four times in six years. I work really hard on my game and every once in a while, you get lucky and you win.”
Lehman fired a 2-under 70 to open the championship Monday as one of two players to post a round below par before he bounced back from a pair of early bogeys during Round 2 on Tuesday, carding a 1-over 73 to take a one-stroke lead over Mark Knutson to the final round.
Before the final round on Wednesday, Lehman said he wanted to keep playing aggressively, but as Knutson and Scott Hogan, who were playing in the final group with Lehman, began to struggle during the opening nine, Lehman admitted that he slightly shifted his focus.
“I was watching the scores all day and nobody was making a run,” he said of Wednesday’s third and final round. “I kept thinking I wanted to hit solid shots, but I wanted to keep the ball below the hole. The worst thing you can do at this course is to be above the hole, then you’re struggling to make par. That’s what I did most of the day—I kept the ball in the fairway and mostly below the hole.”
Lehman’s only mistake during the outward nine came at the par-3 seventh when he came up short of the green and was unable to get up-and-down to save par. He fell back to even for the tournament, but still held a two-stroke margin over Doug Taylor.
“I felt good about the start, just one poor iron on the par-3 [seventh hole] and thought I could make birdie at the ninth, but the pin position was harder than I thought. The front nine was fine, but then I got really lucky on number ten.”
At the 499-yard, par-5 10th, Lehman was perfectly in the fairway off the tee but pulled his second shot left of the fairway, certain to find trees before a fortuitous bounce kicked Lehman’s ball back into the fairway and leaving him with a short chip, which he converted into a birdie to pull even for the round.
“That was probably the worst shot I hit all tournament,” Lehman recalled. “The ball was going left, I don’t know where it was going to go, but it hits a tree, bounces out in the fairway and I make birdie. That really helped a lot. That’s about the luckiest break I’ve had all year.”
Lehman, a member at Windsong Farm, again came up short at the par-3 14th, leading to his second bogey of the day, but he came right back with a birdie at the par-5 15th after hitting his second over the green. Lehman chipped to three feet and sank his putt to take a three-stroke lead with three holes to play.
Landing his 8-iron short of the final green, Lehman putted to within a foot of the hole and tapped in to claim his fourth MGA Senior Amateur Championship over the past six seasons.
“I hit my driver great and I made a lot of five-footers,” Lehman claimed were his biggest assets this week. “I didn’t make all that many birdies, about two a day, but I made a lot of four and five-foot par putts to keep my momentum going.”
One of the strongest players in the state for a number of years, it’s no surprise Lehman came into the week riding some momentum.
Lehman finished tied for 15th at the Canadian Senior Amateur two weeks ago before falling in a playoff with partner Jerry Rose last week at the MGA Senior Amateur Four-Ball Championship at Northfield Golf Club.
Spreiter, from the Legends Club, began the tournament with a round of 75 Monday, but bounced back with a 1-under 71 to enter Wednesday final 18 holes three shots off the lead.
Carding a pair of early bogeys Wednesday, Spreiter answered by sinking birdie at the fifth before trading a bogey at the seventh with a birdie at the ninth to turn at 3-over for the championship.
After rolling in his birdie at the par-3 14th, Spreiter would make par on each of his final four holes to finish alone in second place at 2-over par 218.
“It’s nice to be in the hunt and I hit some nice shots,” Spreiter said Wednesday. “Yesterday was a little different, I putted well. I didn’t putt very well on the front side today, I had a little trouble with the speed. With [Lehman] being where he was, I knew I had to be at par or better and assume that he’s not going to make any mistakes.
“It’s been a while since I’ve been there coming down to the last few groups, so it was good to be a part of that and to get back into the hunt.”
Spreiter finished second at the MGA Amateur Championship in 2002 at Olympic Hills, but claimed the MGA Mid-Amateur Championship at Interlaken Golf Club a few months later. Spreiter claimed the MGA Mid-Amateur Championship again two years later at Somerby Golf Club.
More recently, Spreiter advanced to the semifinals of the MGA Senior Players’ Championship a year ago and notched a second-place finish at the MGA Senior Amateur Four-Ball Championship with partner Reed Kolquist.