Palmer Golf Course pro Rob Nelson rode a dominating performance on the No. 9/18 hole complex at Birch Ridge Golf Course to a championship in the Kenai Peninsula Open on Sunday.
Nelson defeated Birch Ridge assistant pro Beau Forrest in a two-hole playoff to win $1,800 and join James Contreras as a two-time winner of the event, which first offered a pro flight in 2012.
The par-4 No. 9/18 is a dogleg left with two different greens. The ninth takes a less severe turn and measures at 330 yards, while the 18th takes a sharp left and stretches to 350 yards.
Or, to put it more simply, No. 9 perfectly matches the ball flight of Nelson’s driver, while No. 18 appears to be imprinted on the course to give Nelson a perfect 3-wood.
Nelson does not even bother with the dogleg. Never has in his 20 years of playing Birch Ridge. He just skies it over the trees and lands on or near the green almost every time.
“It’s nice now that I’m older and shorter,” he said. “No. 9 is the perfect driver. I don’t have to worry about the parking lot anymore.
“Eighteen is an easy 3-wood.”
On Saturday and Sunday, Nelson played No. 9/18 in 3 under par, a crucial factor in him firing a two-day total of 2-over-par 172 to join Forrest, who took home $1,300, in a playoff.
Unfortunately for Forrest, the playoff hole was No. 18.
“He’s been doing it for years,” said Forrest, who has won the amateur division five times at this tournament but never the pro division. “Driver on nine and 3-wood on 18.
“It lines up perfectly for him.”
To his credit, Forrest’s plan of attack on the hole did not waver in the face of Nelson’s advantage. On the first playoff hole, Forrest fought the temptation to fire for the green and employed his usual tactic of putting it in the fairway about 100 yards from the hole.
Meanwhile, Nelson launched a perfect drive that would have left him in prime position less than 20 yards from the cup, except that the ball landed in some mulch that surrounds a tree next to the green. Nelson said that is another example of why Kenai Peninsula residents are fortunate to have a golf course of such character.
“This is a tough golf course,” he said. “It looks like the kind of place you’ll pull out a driver and light it up and never be above 65.
“But in the end, you end up playing defense trying to avoid a 10.”
Nelson played defense chunked it out of the mulch, then got up and down for a par, while Forrest also made four to force another playoff hole — again No. 18.
Nelson put it within 20 yards of the green and this time got up and down for a birdie, while Forrest missed a birdie chip from just off the green to miss out on another playoff hole.
Total it up, and Nelson had birdied No. 9/18 four of six times, with the pars coming on the mulch shot and a missed 4-foot birdie putt.
The playoff win capped an impressive comeback from a miserable Saturday start for Nelson. He three-putted the first two holes, missed a 4-footer on the third, and failed to get up and down from 2 feet off the green on No. 4 en route to a first-day 74.
That left him tied with Rich Lundahl, one shot behind Birch Ridge’s Bill Engberg and four shots behind Forrest.
“I told myself I had to go low,” Nelson said. “I didn’t think Beau was going to go back at all.
“All those guys have a lot of home-course knowledge.”
Nelson went low, getting all the way back to plus-1 for the tournament when he birdied the par-3 15th.
But from the middle of the fairway on No. 16, a siren from off the course blared in the middle of Nelson’s swing, resulting in him laying sod over the ball and taking a double bogey.
That was his worst shot of the tournament. The second worst came on the par-3 No. 17, when he was between clubs and hit his tee shot way right and short of the green.
But Nelson got up and down, then knew he had to do something special on No. 18 to keep up with Forrest, who was a few groups back.
“It made me focus for sure,” Nelson said. “It was fun. I got cottonmouth, with my heart beating in my chest wondering how much was getting to my limbs.
“I so rarely get that anymore.”
Nelson came through by, of course, birdieing No. 18 to post 2-over.
Behind him, Forrest had been leaking a bit of oil, bogeying Nos. 14 and 15, then needing a long putt to save bogey at the 16th.
But like Nelson, Forrest righted himself, rolling in another long one for birdie on No. 17 and hitting a par putt on No. 18 he knew was for a playoff.
“I found Rob in the crowd and he was giving me the peace sign, so I knew I probably needed to finish 2-over to get in the playoff,” Forrest said.
Engberg was third at 145 while Lundahl was fourth at 146.
In the amateur flight, Marcus Dolejsi took top gross with a 159, while Shane Sundberg took first net with a gross of 163 and net of 135.
It was a big weekend for Sundberg, as he also was named the golfer of the year for 10- to 12-year-old boys by the Alaska Junior Golf Association. Shane’s sister, Keely, was player of the year for girls 10 and under.
George Stein was second net with a gross of 164 for a 136, while Earl Matthis was third net with a gross of 182 for 140.
Because net winners also cannot be gross winners, Rick Boyles was second gross at 163 and Eddie Sibolboro was third gross at 166.
Teresa Sibolboro was the lone woman in the tournament and had rounds of 96 and 94 for a gross of 190 and net of 144.
Saturday, the open closest to the pins went to Dolejsi on No. 6/15 and Engberg on No. 8/17. Dolejsi also won amateur closest to the pin on No. 6/15, while Scott Sundberg took No. 8/17.
Sunday, open closest to the pin went to Lundahl on No. 6/15 and Contreras on No. 8/17. On the amateur side, Scott Sundberg took No. 6/15 and Boyles took No. 8/17.
Saturday, open skins went to Engberg twice, Forrest twice, Nelson twice, and Lundahl and Jeff Barnhart once. Amateur skins went to Eddie Sibolboro, Shane Sundberg, Pedro McCall, Sid Cox and Boyles.
Sunday, open skins went to Engberg, Nelson, Lundahl, Contreras, Forrest and Travis Jorgenson. Amateur skins went to Dolejsi twice, then McCall, Shane Sundberg, Scott Sundberg and Boyles.
The tournament is a fundraiser for the Central Peninsula Health Foundation, with proceeds specifically going to the prostate cancer and breast cancer funds.
Kenai Peninsula Open
at Birch Ridge Golf Course
(* – won on two-hole playoff)
Plyr Sa Su Ttl
*Rob Nelson, $1,800 74 68 142
Beau Forrest, $1,300 70 72 142
Bill Engberg, $900 73 72 145
Rich Lundahl, $700 74 72 146
James Contreras, $475 78 71 149
Brandon Kaiser, $350 78 75 153
Chris Wright, $200 79 78 157
Travis Jorgenson 82 80 162
Trevis Kordus 82 81 163
George Collum 81 83 164
Zac Cowan 81 86 167
Jeff Barnhart 88 80 168
Plyr Sa Su Grs Net
Marcus Dolejsi 78 81 159 153
Rick Boyles 83 80 163 157
Shane Sundberg 86 77 163135
George Stein 81 83 164 136
Eddie Sibolboro 83 83 166 148
Earl Matthis 89 93 182 140
Teresa Sibolboro 96 94 190144
Scott Sundberg 93 98 191 151
Sid Cox 93 99 192 156
Bill Haese 98 94 192 160
Gary Davis 102 91 193 159
Alvin Glidden 99 95 194 160
Dave Mathison 99 96 195 173
Pedro McCall 96 100 196 168