by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
With three men still in contention on the final hole, Matt Smerdon emerged as Elk River Golf Club champion on Sunday.
Smerdon, recovering nicely after dropping his final drive right under a tree, shot 73-73–146 for his second club title.
Right behind were Tim Kratzke at 77-70–147 and Cory Pike at 75-73–148 in probably the closest three-man race in the event’s history.
“This was really fun. We all played pretty good,” said Kratzke.
Smerdon agreed that it was a stimulating day on the course.
“Tim made it very interesting after trailing me by four (after 18). I felt bad for Cory after he got a bad break on No. 1 today, but he played really well after that.”
Kratzke was five-under-par after 10 holes on Sunday by nailing five birdie putts. He was even with Smerdon from holes eight through 10.
Smerdon parred 11 while Kratzke bogeyed. On 14, Kratzke hit the water for another bogey, and Smerdon birdied for a three-shot lead.
But Kratzke was back within one going into 18.
Smerdon’s drive landed close to a tree and he had to punch out with less than a full swing but got it close enough to two-putt for a bogey. Kratzke almost got the birdie to force a playoff but his chip shot lipped out.
“Matt made a lot of good recovery shots,” said Kratzke. “He always kept his composure and got out of trouble.”
Pike had a disastrous eight on No. 1 after losing the ball on his drive which probably hit a tree.
“I turned it around after that. Actually, it settled me down quite a bit. I got to even (par) at one point,” said Pike, who never caught the leader but made it a three-man race.
Smerdon, 32, an insurance professional with Doug Johnson Agency, won the 2008 ERGC title in a playoff with Steve Johnson after both shot 141. He has placed third and second since then before reclaiming the title Sunday.
Kratzke, the 1997 club champion, almost added a second crown 15 years after the first. He’s had “a lot of seconds” since then.
Mike Rucinski placed fourth with 78-73—151 among 12 in the championship flight.
Three-time champion Mike Bodnar was fifth with 80-72–152, shooting the best round Sunday after falling seven strokes behind Saturday.
The field was left more wide-open this year as three players with multiple club titles were involved in a state combo event at Bunker Hills. Brad Grupa and David Christensen, the defending champs there, placed sixth this year. Steve Johnson, with partner Tim Gordon, played in the first flight there.
In the past, ERGC’s tournament has been held in August. Chris Singer, club pro, and the members decided on the mid-September date rather than mid-August in part to leave the August weekend open for green fees.
“It worked out really well,” said Singer. “The course is in a lot better shape now and the weather was great. We didn’t lose anything in participation (numbers).”
Mitchell Nelson, ERHS senior-to-be, claimed the junior boys title. There were only two other entrants who shot 273 and 284 but Nelson’s round was a very solid 75-74–149 (from the white tees). He shot in high 70’s and low 80’s in the high school season and got that down to a 76 average this summer. His most memorable hole was No. 8 on Saturday when he landed a shot from a hazard to just off the green and got a birdie four.
Morgan White was men’s first flight winner with 143 net, and Mike Rydberg won the second flight with 134 net. Each group had 12 players.
Men’s championship flight
1. Matt Smerdon 73-73—146
2. Tim Kratzke 77-70—147
3. Cory Pike 75-73—148
4. Mike Rucinski 78-73—151
5. Mike Bodnar 80-72—152
6. Andy Lee 77-79-156
7. John Bistodeau 81-78—159
8. James Baldwin 82-81—163
9. Roger Lamp 83-82—165
10. Derek Faulkner 84-84–168
11. John Peterson 83-82—171
12. Jody Freeman 80-wd
Men’s 1st flight
1. Morgan White 143 (157 gross)
2. Jim Baldwin 144 (162 gross)
3. Jordan Lingman 148 (164 gross)
3. Mark Conrath 148 (164 gross)
Men’s 2nd flight
1. Mike Rydberg 134 (178 gross)
2 Chris A. Miller 139 (161 gross)
3. Gene Estey 140 (162 gross)
4. Mike Babneau 144 (190 gross)