Golf: Johnson, Walz enjoy ‘two solid days’ and Companions Classic crown at ERGC

Craig Walz (left) and Gary Johnson did a great job grinding it out Sunday to pull out the Companions Classic title at ERGC. (Photo by Bruce Strand)

 

by Bruce Strand, Sports editor

Gary Johnson and Craig Walz, longtime golfing buddies, are usually back a ways in Elk River Golf Club’s tournaments. But they had their breakthrough this weekend.

Johnson nailed a 30-foot putt in front of a cheering crowd on No. 18 Sunday to finish two solid days of golf. Walz followed with a tap-in, and when the scores were tallied and posted on the board minutes later, the pair saw they had won the Companions Club championship by three strokes.

Gary Johnson gave no indication he had just sank a 30-foot putt but his partner Craig Walz celebrated a little bit. (Photo by Bruce Strand)

“It all came together and we just had two solid days,” said Johnson. “Just steady golf. We didn’t get into trouble much.”

They prevailed among 45 two-man teams (there were also 13 women’s teams) in one of ERGC’s two biggest events of the year along with the club tournament slated for early September this year.

Johnson and Walz shot 59 net on Saturday in the best-ball format, tying Steve Johnson and Brad Grupa, two of the club’s most accomplished golfers, for the lead.

On Sunday, Gary Johnson shot  84 and Walz 81, with handicaps of 17 and 11 respectively, for a net 137. Grupa shot 71 and Steve Johnson 74, with handicaps just one and four, respectively for a 199 net.

“I’m just an average golfer and today we played with two of the nicest guys, and two of the best golfers, in the club,” said Gary Johnson. “We had a really good time …. Their handicaps are so low, we were playing two different games.”

Johnson, an engineer for Donaldson Company, and Walz, a truck driver for LeFebvre, have been ERGC members for about 15 years and have played this tournament together about five times. This was their first time as contenders.

Brad Grupa chipped unto the No. 18 green on the way to a 71. He and Steve Johnson were runners-up. (Photo by Bruce Strand)

“Today was the stressful day,” said Walz. “Saturday is more of a fun day when you can just ham-and-egg it. Today, both scores count, so it’s more stress. We just got through it. We kept getting through it.”

The winners were low-key. When Johnson made that dramatic final putt, the gallery of players and guests watching from the patio tables applauded boisterously. Johnson was poker-faced as he strode to the cup to retrieve the ball. His partner gave a little bit of a fist pump on his behalf.

“It was nice to have that one on the last hole,” acknowledged Johnson. Asked about the crowd, he said, “That was a little nerve-wracking.”

Steve Johnson of the runner-up team putted on No. 18. (Photo by Bruce Strand)

Brad Grupa paid tribute to the winners, noting they were not nearly as accustomed to pressure golf as he and his partner.

“Everyone struggles a bit on the second day,” said Grupa, “and for the guys carrying higher handicaps it’s usually more difficult, because they don’t play a lot of competitive golf. So those guys did really well.  I can’t think of any hole that stood out because they were just grinding it out all day … They really deserved to win.”

Grupa added, “We played pretty well to get into the money we are happy about that.”

Cory Grupa of Elk River and Gregg Barbeln of Zimmerman placed third with 200 net, shooting 64 in best ball Saturday, then 136 on Sunday.

Cory, 10 years younger than Brad and not as good a golfer, was elated to finish high on the leader board, just one stroke behind his brother’s team.

“I was hoping for a playoff, so we could go head-to-head,” he grinned.

The third-place team among 45 was Gregg Barbeln (front) and Cory Grupa. (Photo by Bruce Strand)

Both shot 82 on Sunday. Barbeln has a 15 handicap and Grupa 13.

“The big thing is, how consistent we were,” said Barbeln. “With handicaps like we have, you typically have one good side and the other not so good,  but we were pretty good today on both sides.”

Barbeln had one previous third-place finish, with another partner, in about 2003. It was Grupa’s first high finish.

The best gross round on Sunday was 70 by Corey Pike, followed by Brad Grupa’s 71, and 72′s by Mike White, Tim Kratzke, and Pat Klaers.

Top 14 teams among 45

Craig Walz, Gary Johnson ……………………. 59 – 137 – 196

Steve Johnson, Brad Grupa …………………. 59 – 140 – 199

Gregg Barbeln, Cory Grupa ………………….. 64 – 136 – 200

Mark Dallman, Rick Dallman ………………… 64 – 138 – 202

Terry McLeann, Bob Catron ………………….. 63 – 139 – 202

Chris A. Miller, Tim Kratzke ……………………….. 63 – 140 – 203

Roger Lamp, George Sanford ……………………. 63 – 142 – 205

Tom Hellerstedt, James Baldwin ………….. 68 – 137 – 205

Paul Granning, Pat Klaers …………………….. 64 – 142 – 206

Curt Jenson, Bob Deiley ……………………….. 62 – 144 – 206

Chris Prosser, Mike Rucinski …………………….. 64 – 143 — 207

John Lindeen, Bruce Baron ………………….. 65 – 143 – 208

Matt Smeardon, Ryan LaPointe ……………. 65 – 143 – 208

Pete Nielson, Keith Rains ……………………… 67 – 142 – 209

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