In winning three Kenai Peninsula Open titles at Birch Ridge Golf Course, Palmer Golf Course pro Rob Nelson has developed a dichotomous relationship with the area.
The Kenai Peninsula and its people?
“I love it here,” Nelson said. “The people of the peninsula and the people who run this tournament are awesome. I feel like family. I really do.”
Birch Ridge Golf Course itself?
“It’s not an easy golf course,” Nelson said. “Sometimes you hit good shots and they don’t turn out good, sometimes you hit bad shots and they turn out good.
“It’s 100 percent defense. You’re just trying not to make a 10 and sometimes you still do it.”
Nelson finished the Saturday and Sunday event with a total of 9-over-par 149, taking $1,500. Nelson broke a tie with James Contreras for the most open division titles. The open division started in 2012.
Derek O’Neill was second at 150 for $800, Brandon Kaiser was third at 152 for $400, and Conteras and Rich Lundahl tied for fourth at 153 and each earned $150.
Nelson, O’Neill and Kaiser played in the lead group and were nipping at each other’s heels heading into the final nine, with Nelson and Kaiser 4-over for the tournament and O’Neill just a stroke off the pace.
“We were all within a shot at the turn and then we all went sideways — those two early and me a little later,” Nelson said.
Kaiser went 8-over on the last nine, while O’Neill and Nelson were each 5-over.
Nelson said everybody in the group was hitting good shots with a few exceptions, but the course just decided to show its teeth.
On the 415-yard, par-4 16th, Nelson appeared to be on cruise control to another crown when he hit two of his best shots of the day. He blasted a drive down the center of the fairway, leaving him 132 yards to the flag.
Nelson said he hit a perfect wedge into the green, but the green was softer than he expected. The ball spun back 40 feet down a hill to a difficult lie, leading to a double bogey.
Nelson then missed a par putt of 3 1-2 feet on No. 17.
On the par-4, dogleg left No. 18, Nelson thought he hit the perfect drive, but it bounded through the fairway and came to rest behind a tree. After chipping out, he thought he hit a great approach shot to a pin tucked at the back of the green, but this time the green was harder than he expected and the ball bounded off the back of the green, leaving him 12 yards from the pin.
O’Neill was on the front of the green and if he could two-putt, Nelson would need to get up and down just to force a playoff. Nelson said he had a landing area of a foot, or the ball would either be short of the green or roll down a hill to the front of the green.
Nelson was able to chip on within 7 feet of the pin. When O’Neill three-putted, Nelson drained that 7-footer for the victory.
“It was the best up and down in my life from that distance considering the circumstances,” Nelson said.
The crazy finish also produced another first for Nelson: “I was 4-over for the last three holes and still won. That’s the first time I’ve said that.”
Darell Jelsma, who lives on Birch Ridge Golf Course, produced an eye-popping 155 to run away with gross in the men’s division. Tyler Young was second at 167 and Brody Vecera was third at 169.
Jelsma’s score was good enough to beat three of the pros.
“Yesterday the best thing was I finished with the same ball I started with,” Jelsma said.
He said he normally shoots 84 or 85 at Birch Ridge. He said his 77 on Saturday and 78 on Sunday were probably his best two rounds of the year.
“Who knows?” Jelsma said when asked about why he played so well. “One day you’re hitting it good and the next day you’re not. I was hitting it really well.”
Jelsma, who has been playing the course since it officially opened in 1974, also said his familiarity with the greens helps. He said the greens were fast, just the way he likes them.
Gary Davis had low net at 140, while Sid Cox was second at 141 and Dave Matthews was third at 145, winning a scorecard playoff.
For the second straight year, Teresa Sibolboro won low gross in the women’s division. The difference this year was she had competition.
Last year, Sibolboro was the only woman, while this year she had to beat out three women for the title. She finished at 193 while Sue Stein was second at 197. Sally Hoagland had low net at 148.
Sibolboro said she is usually in the 80s, so she wasn’t happy with her game over the weekend.
“They played worse than I did,” she said. “It was brutal. We just all had a hard time. The putting was hard.”
Kenai Peninsula Open
at Birch Ridge Golf Course
Sa Su Ttl
Rob Nelson, $1,500 72 77 149
Derek O’Neill, $800 73 77 150
Brandon Kaiser, $400 74 78 152
James Contreras, $150 80 73 153
Rich Lundahl, $150 77 76 153
Zac Cowan 79 77 156
George Collum 79 78 157
Bill Engberg 78 85 163
Sa Su Grs Net
Teresa Sibolboro 94 99 193 149
Sue Stein 94 103 197 149
Carol Morgan 95 106 201 161
Sally Hoagland 100 102 202 148
Sa Su Grs Net
Darell Jelsma 77 78 155 127
Tyler Young 80 87 167 163
Brody Vecera 85 84 169 157
Gary Davis 85 85 170 140
Dave Matthews 92 79 171 145
Mike Hollingsworth 88 84 172 148
Ray Reekie 80 94 174 152
Jakob Brown 89 87 176 158
Sid Cox 90 87 177 141
George Stein 89 96 185 159
Pedro McCall 94 92 186 166
Khalid Jurdi 87 99 186 166
Earl Matthis 97 93 190 148
Steve Griglione 96 96 192 170
Jess Hall 100 95 195 175
Bill Haese 99 88 197 145
Gary Dawkins 97 100 197 145
Tim Bowser 98 99 197 159
Dave Geer 98 99 197 171
Kurt Gibson 99 103 202 174
Robert Stiver 101 103 204 174
Savaty Reutov 110 98 208 166
Isiah Reutov 115 114 229 185