By Bruce Strand, Sports editor
It’s been a long and interrupted golfing journey for David Christensen, who’s now easing back into a sport that once dominated his life.
The former Elk three-sport athlete picked up his second Elk River Golf Club championship on Sunday, 14 years after his first one. In between there were four NCAA tournaments with East Tennessee State and seven years on two pro golf tours, followed by three years where he seldom picked up a club.
“It was good to be back,” said Christensen, 34, who nipped young Nate Varty in a playoff.
The 1995 ERHS graduate played soccer, hockey and golf for the Elks and had an eventful senior year. The golfers were state runners-up, three strokes behind Grand Rapids, led by the Christensen brothers, Mark in third place with 72-77-149 and David in 14th with 76-83-159. The hockey team made Elk River’s first state trip. He got an assist when future NHL player Dan Hinote notched the Elks’ first-ever state goal in a 9-0 win over Austin. (They then lost twice and finished fourth). “Dan and I got our picture in the paper together, and then I wound up marrying his sister,” he chuckled.
Christensen took his clubs to Johnson City, TN, after ETSU coach Fred Warren spotted him at the U.S. Juniors in New Jersey. ETSU worked out great for him.
“My freshman year, we edged Stanford, and Tiger Woods, by a couple strokes and finished third in the nationals,” Christensen recalls with relish. His team went to nationals each year, and he made third-team All-America twice while earning a business management degree. His “all-time favorite” tourney was the 1999 NCAA’s at Hazeltine in Chaska.
Then came the nomadic life of a minor-league pro golfer. For seven years, he spent 275 days a year away from home, ranging from Vancouver to Newfoundland on the Canadian Tour, and around the U.S. plus Panama, Australia and New Zealand on the Nationwide Tour.
“I had a great time. No regrets,” said Chrisensen. “I got to see a lot of the world.”
He placed second four times in Canadian tournaments, including 2004 where he made a double-eagle and earned his biggest pro paycheck of $39,600 at Whistle Bear in Ontario. He twice played in the Canadian Open, a PGA tour event. In tour season earnings, he placed as high as fourth and low as 17th, and can’t recall what his incomes were but allows that he got some hometown financial support.
Christensen and Missy Hinote, a nurse, were married in 2004, and moved to Colorado. He played three more seasons, and decided that was enough.
“I was worn out. At a crossroads,” said Christensen. “We decided to start a family, which was a new chapter in my life meant a lot to me.”
He worked in a pro shop in Colorado before finding a customer service job with SunGard, a software and technology service firm. The Hinotes had two sons in Colorado. They moved back here when SunGard transferred him last year.
For three years he put away the clubs except for an occasional nine-hole spin with Missy. Last fall he entered a little scramble in Walker, and this spring rejoined ERGC.
Christensen, 5-foot-8 and 155 pounds since college, still plays sparingly, but extremely well. In his first tournament since 2006, he placed sixth in the State Amateur (75-67-69–211) at White Bear Yacht Cub in July (an event he won in 1997). He took third in his dad’s hometown International Falls, won at ERGC, and tied for fifth, with cousin Mike Christensen, at the MGA Four-Ball this week.
The Christensen’s are a premier local golfing family. When his father, Lyle, died in May, ERGC held a memorial tournament in his honor. His brother Mark was an all-stater for the Elks and a D-III All-American for UW-Eau Claire. Mom, Patty, who won the Companions Classic last month with Rickie Butweiler, says: “I started to play golf so I wouldn’t be home alone when all the guys were playing!”
The club tourney was a bit bittersweet.
“My dad was a wonderful person. I miss him terribly,” Christensen said. “I missed him this weekend. He’s the one who got me interested in golf. I feel like he still helps me.”
Being a father of two himself is why he doesn’t miss those halcyon years when all he had to do was get up and go golfing.
“My priorities changed,” he said. “Playing with my boys is what’s important now.”
THE CHRISTENSEN SCORECARD
Personal file – Age: 34 … Family: wife Missy; sons Caine, 3, and Dominic, almost 2 … Sports: golf, hockey … Occupation: customer service in IT industry … Past occupation: pro golf
Favorite stuff – TV shows: “Modern Family,” “Swamp People,” golf … Movies: “Hangover,” “Caddyshack,” “Slapshot” … Reading: Vince Flynn and Dan Brown novels … Food: Anything Missy makes, especially lasagna … Team: Vikings, Twins … Athlete: Fred Couples, Jack Nicklaus … Place he’d like to visit: “We’ve already been there, Ireland. We’d like to see Italy and France, too.”