Like many, Birch Ridge golf pro Rich Lundahl reset his priorities during the coronavirus pandemic.
That resulted in Lundahl playing more golf in the last two or three months than he had in the previous 10 years.
It also resulted in Lundahl winning his first Kenai Peninsula Open open title Sunday at Birch Ridge Golf Course in Soldotna.
Lundahl had a two-day total of 146 to top the 151 of runner-up and two-time champion James Contreras. Birch Ridge co-owner Zac Cowan was third at 153, recovering from a 10-over-par 82 on Saturday to post the low round of the tournament at 71 on Sunday.
“This COVID thing has done a number on a lot of people,” Lundahl said in a heartfelt speech during the awards ceremony. “I thought I was bulletproof, but I’m not.
“I came to realize how much I appreciate getting out to do this.”
In an interview after the tournament, Lundahl, one of the longest hitters the Kenai Peninsula golf scene has seen, said it had been four or five years since he won a stroke play tournament of any consequence. A big reason for that, he said, was being too injured to play much the past four years.
“It’s an absolute joy to play again,” Lundahl said. “And I’m grateful. I learned to appreciate the game of golf.”
Lundahl said his time on the course began decreasing 10 years ago before being pretty much cut to nothing due to injury.
Then came the pandemic, which found Lundahl working on the North Slope.
“Just sitting in the house, and working on the Slope in the dark and the cold,” Lundahl said. “I’ve learned to appreciate being outside and having the physical ability to play golf again.”
At the beginning of the summer, Lundahl quit his job on the North Slope and started helping out around Birch Ridge. Cowan said that when Lundahl played his first few rounds, many swings ended with Lundahl feeling some pain.
“I’ve just kind of been dedicating myself, a little bit, to the game of golf,” Lundahl said. “It’s definitely a blessing to be healthy, somewhat healthy, again.”
Lundahl said making the victory even more special was having his son, Richard, caddying for him most of the tournament.
“This was something about this year that I definitely learned — my kids are definitely my priority,” said Lundahl, who also has a daughter. “That, and my happiness and contentment.”
Lundahl said he will split his time between Arizona and the Kenai Peninsula. Money is not a priority.
“I’ll figure it out,” Lundahl said. “I’ve always figured it out.”
Lundahl fired a 74 on Saturday and was in second place, one stroke behind Contreras.
“Yesterday was just real tough conditions,” Lundahl said of Saturday. “It was just blowing, and the greens were firm and fast.”
Lundahl said the greens at Birch Ridge are small, and there is a high price for missing the greens.
“It doesn’t take much,” he said. “Just a 2-yard blow and that ball can trickle off the green and release itself.”
Sunday in perfect conditions, Contreras had a few bad holes on the way to a 78, while Lundahl held steady with a 72.
“I didn’t strike the ball very well,” Lundahl said. “I scrambled, made a few good putts at 6 feet, just hung in there and stayed patient.”
Lundahl said Bill Engberg did a great job getting the course in great condition. Lundahl also said Cowan ran a great tournament while also playing in the tournament and working in the pro shop after Saturday play.
In the women’s division, Danica Schmidt took low gross at 170, while Sally Hoagland was second at 201. Low net went to Sue Stein at 162, while Teresa Sibolboro was next at 175.
In the men’s division, Rick Boyles won the gross with rounds of 74 and 76 for 150, while Rob Nelson was second at 152. Nelson, who recently gave up his pro status, has the most Kenai Peninsula Open pro titles with three. CJ Henley was third in gross with 162.
In the battle for the net title, Steve Tachick played incredibly better than his handicap of 22. Tachick had rounds of 84 and 80 for a rock-bottom net total of 120. Patrick Reinhart was second at 145, while Pat Cowan was third at 146.
Kenai Peninsula Open
Saturday, Sunday at Birch Ridge
Player Sat Sun Grs Net
Rich Lundahl 74 74 146
James Contreras 73 78 151
Zac Cowan 82 71 153
Chris Wright 80 79 159
George Collum 88 76 164
Danica Schmidt 85 85 170 146
Sally Hoagland 96 105 201 163
Sue Stein 105 101 206 162
Teresa Sibolboro 104 105 209 175
Rick Boyles 74 76 150 148
Rob Nelson 77 75 152 156
CJ Henley 84 78 162 146
Steve Tachick 84 80 164 120
Jakob Brown 89 75 164 158
Shane Sundberg 83 82 165 161
Pedro McCall 84 84 168 156
Patrick Reinhart 89 86 175 145
Robert Stiver 87 89 176 152
Eddie Sibolboro 87 90 177 167
Pat Cowan 91 87 178 146
Sid Cox 89 96 185 157
Scott Sundberg 93 93 186 152
Fred Zumbuhl 101 87 188 156
Ty Rollins 94 96 190 172
George Stein 92 100 192 168
Juan Botero 101 94 195 163
Tim Bowser 100 99 199 169