by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Elk River’s top golfer, Chase Hahne, took himself out of contention for the Section 7AAA medal early with a 42 on Tuesday.
But Hahne’s final shot of the 27-hole tournament at Bunker Hills was a huge factor in the Elks’ barely capturing the team title to earn a second straight trip to “state.”
“I’m glad I didn’t know,” said Hahne, meaning he didn’t know how important his 25-foot putt would turn out to be.
That birdie on West No. 9 helped the No. 7 ranked Elks tie No. 9 Forest Lake with 469 strokes each on a very windy day, sending the verdict to the fifth-best score for each team.
And that made Elk sophomore Cooper Bleyhl a hero as his 130 beat the Rangers’ fifth shooter by two strokes.
“Awesome,” beamed Bleyhl, a spot varsity player whose score has seldom counted.
Elk River was led by senior John Butler with 37-37-40–114 (third place) junior Alex Kline with 37-37-41–115 (fifth place), and Hahne, a senior with 42-37-38–117 (ninth place). The fourth counting score was eighth-grader Garrett Turnacliff’s 41-42-40–123.
Bleyhl shot 44-43-43–130 (his Ranger counterpart Drew Massey had 132) and the sixth Elk score was Sawyer Springman with 45-46-42-133.
“I can’t say enough about them, playing well on a terrible day for golf with the wind,” said Elk coach Dave Conley, whose hometown is Forest Lake. “Everybody chipped in. This was a great win for us. It was great to have Chase make that shot at the end. That was huge.”
The Elks started the season with three standout veterans in Hahne (sixth at state last year) and Butler and Kline (who tied for 21st at state). They would have had four, but Hahne’s brother Conrad, a sophomore, elected to attend a golf academy in South Carolina.
Conley was searching for a No. 4 all season, not to mention reliable fives and sixes, and by tournament time found him in young Turnacliff.
“The eighth-grader came to the front,” said Conley. “We have confidence in him. He was hitting the ball great today and made a lot of long putts … We were worried about No. 4 most of the year but he wound up helping us tie for first place today.”
Forrest Lake had Max Kelly with 111 (second place), Shane Sampair 115 (fourth), Drew Massey 119 and Trent Thompson 124. Kelly and Sampair qualified for state.
Finishing third among 13 teams with 479 was Anoka, which had tied the Elks for the Northwest Suburban championship. Duluth Central was fourth with 492 and St. Michael-Albertville fifth with 496.
Anoka had the individual medalist in David Flom with 34-39-37–110, by one stroke over Forest Lake’s Kelly.
Hahne, the Elk’s five-time all-conference player and longtime No. 1, had trouble with club selection in his first nine and hit the ball too long on five holes. His driving was more on target in the second nine for a 37.
On the final round he was spraying the ball all over but scrambled to make pars and got 38. On West No. 2 he drove into the woods and hit his second shot into the adjacent fairway, then recovered with a terrific shot through the trees and within 12 feet of the cup, from whence he two-putted to salvage a par.
On the final hole of the day, Hahne was 25 feet from the cup, just off the green, and decided to putt for a birdie. And he made it.
“That was the only putt more than five feet I made all day,” he grinned.
“I could have chipped, but I would rather putt, because if you miss-putt, you’re a lot closer than if you miss-chip.”
Butler said he was driving strongly with the three-wood while his putting was shaky with three or four three-putts. His best hole was North No. 6 where he hit a strong drive, punched a four-iron to the green and nailed a 40-foot putt for a birdie. He avoided any blowups — a double-bogey on No. 8 West (hooking his drive left) was his worst.
Considering the daunting winds, he was very satisified. “This was by far the toughest conditions I’ve played in here,” said Butler.
Asked if the Elks had fun playing as marked team — highest ranked, and defending champions — Butler said, “Oh, yeah. Sure. We had a lot of fun. Of course we want to win and go to state, but we tried not to have too much pressure.”
Kline said his putter was problematic but his irons were right on.
“I was hitting my irons great,” said Kline. “I’ve been struggling with that all season but I found it today.”
On No. 4 East, he hit a seven-iron within eight feet and had a chance for an eagle. He missed the first putt by four inches and still got a birdie.
“I hope I get lucky and get into the state tournament,” he said as he walked from the course to the tent where the scores were being accumulated.
Kline will indeed be there as Elk River makes its 10th trip to state, and second in a row, at Bunker Hills on June 14 and 15.