Ben Greve (Minnesota Golf Association photo)
When it was said that golf tournaments cannot be won during the first round, Ben Greve
must not have been paying attention.
Behind his opening-round 66 Monday on his home course at Olympic Hills Golf Club, the former University of Minnesota golfer hung on over the final two days of the 119th Minnesota Golf Association Amateur Championship in grueling conditions to claim a one-stroke victory over Jack Ebner for his first state title in five seasons.
“I played fantastic on Day One. The course wasn’t as windy, but it was set up really difficult and it was long,” Greve said Wednesday. “I gave myself a big buffer coming in and, obviously, didn’t have to play great the rest of the way.
“I didn’t quite have it today like I did the other two days. I didn’t control the ball as well and the speed with my putter was off all day. My game plan changed throughout the day, and I thought I did a really good job the first 12 holes of playing against myself and the course.”
Entering the final round with a five-stroke lead, Greve posted a 7-over 79 to claim his first state win since his back-to-back titles at the Minnesota State Open in 2016 and 2017.
His win Wednesday marks the second consecutive wire-to-wire winner at the championship, and he becomes just the second player since 1948 to win the MGA Amateur Championship at his home course.
“It means a lot to win here,” said Greve. “It’s a fun place and we had six guys from our club play in the event and play well. I have a lot of friends out here and everyone was talking about the tournament the last few weeks going into it, so that part is really special."
Greve started fast Wednesday by carding a birdie on the opening hole to move to 6-under for the championship and then got up-and-down from a greenside bunker at the third to save par.
Despite a pair of bogeys over his next six holes to turn in 4-under, Greve still maintained a four-shot advantage.
Even after two more bogeys over his first three holes of his back nine, Greve was fortunate enough to hold a four-stroke lead over University of St. Thomas golfer Matt Armstrong.
“[Having a four or five shot lead] is not always easy—to be aggressive or not to be aggressive, especially with 30 mph winds. I’m not always a great wind player. I like to fade the ball and did a good job most of the time hitting small shots into the wind."
Greve gave away a stroke with a three-putt bogey at the 14th, but made a critical eight-foot putt to save par at the 15th to produce a bit of momentum.
“At the moment on 13 and 14 when it got a little close, part of me liked that because I quit trying to hit it middle of the green and away from everything,” he said. “I tried to attack a little bit more again, hit some good shots and was in some better positions.”
Unable to get up-and-down for par at the par-3 17th, Greve took a three-shot lead to the final hole, needing just double-bogey to win—and did exactly that, posting a final-round 79 to earn the victory at 2-over 2018.
“I didn’t do a good job on 17 and 18,” Greve said. “I took a look at the leaderboard, took a deep breath and got a little sloppy, to be honest.”
Greve won the 1999 Class A individual title while at Annandale High School before joining the Gophers, where he was a member of the 2002 Gophers national championship team.
Following a professional career during which he made four starts on the PGA Tour Canada, Greve regained his amateur status in 2014, where he has remained one of the state’s top players by notching 12 top-finishes during that stretch.
He won his first Minnesota State Open in 2016 at Bunker Hills Golf Club and successfully defended his title the following season at StoneRidge Golf Club.
Thanks to three top-10 finishes during the 2018 season, along with appearances at the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship, Greve was named MGA Men’s Player of the Year.
“I love to compete in this stuff,” Greve said. “Playing today with [Udovich]; the kid is so good and has all the talent in the world. We’re going to be watching him play on TV someday, I think. I’m 41 and competing against that.
“I’m a streaky player, so I’ll have stretches where if I get going, I’ll compete and be in the hunt. There’s nothing more fun than that.”
Ebner, a fifth-year senior at Miami University, posted a 75 during his opening round Monday and followed it with an even-par 72 during the second round to begin the final round eight shots off the lead.
Stringing together four birdies midway through the final round Wednesday, Ebner quickly climbed the leaderboard to challenge Greve at 1-over par. Three bogeys over his next six holes seemingly put the former Edina High School golfer out of contention, but a birdie at the last would put him into second place at 3-over 219.
“For me, the key this week was accepting the fact that bogeys were going to happen,” Ebner said Wednesday. “The greens are really tough and the course is long and you can’t let the bogeys derail rounds.
“You try to bounce back and take advantage when you can, and I did that really well this week. My last two events, I didn’t play great. I kept sticking with the process and trusting it and could still come out and contend.”
University of Iowa golfer Ian Meyer posted a final-round 74 Wednesday to place tied for third with Bethel University’s Conor Schubring at 4-over 220.
Udovich, who was looking to become the youngest MGA Amateur champion this week at 15-years-old, opened with a 73 Monday and fired one of five rounds below par during Tuesday’s second round.
Surging out of the gate early Wednesday with back-to-back birdies, the soon-to-be sophomore at St. Croix Lutheran stumbled with a pair of double-bogeys during his front before carding three bogeys over his final four to finish tied for ninth at 7-over 223.
“I thought I had a good week, I really did,” the 2022 Class AA individual champion said Wednesday. “The first two days I was chipping and putting well. Today, I played better on the second nine. I had a couple bad breaks that cost me.
“It was a great experience. I played with a great player—Ben Greve. I’m going to learn from this experience and be thankful for it.”