Palmer Golf Course pro Rob Nelson chips to the ninth green Sunday, Sept. 2, 2018, at the Kenai Peninsula Open at Birch Ridge Golf Course. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Palmer Golf Course pro Rob Nelson chips to the ninth green Sunday, Sept. 2, 2018, at the Kenai Peninsula Open at Birch Ridge Golf Course. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Nelson defends Kenai Peninsula Open crown

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

Saturday, Sunday

at Birch Ridge Golf Course

Par 70

Open Division

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

Women’s Division

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

Men’s Division

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

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