Birchmont: Noren, Niskanen take senior co-medalist honors
The Senior Championship Division of the Birchmont features a Bemidji flavor as nine of the 16 match-play qualifiers consider the Bemidji Town & Country Club their home course.
Headlining the group are co-medalists Rob Noren and Eric Niskanen. The other Bemidji qualifiers are Joe Mayer, Scott Curb, Rick Curb, Don Dale, Paul Welle, Bob Kobilka and Rob Jacobson.
Niskanen had the low round in Tuesday's play as the Bemidji High School boys golf coach carded a 2-under-par 70. Noren was the most consistent low-shooter in the field as he followed Monday's 73 with a 74 on Tuesday.
Alone at 149 was Charlie Peterka of St. Cloud while John Hagge of Fergus Falls claimed fourth at 153. Making the cut at 154 was David Freborg of Roseville while Glenn Hasselberg of Staples and Scott Anderson of Dawson shared 155s.
Grouped at 158 were Jeff Tweeton of Perham, Bob Falls of Edina, Mayer and Curb while the golfers at 159 included Rick Curb, Dale, Welle and Kobilka.
Jacobson claimed the final match-play spot with his 160.
Tuesday's round was slowed by a 2-hour rain delay and both Niskanen and Noren found trouble when play resumed.
"I went bogey-bogey right after that but then I came back with an eagle on No. 15," Niskanen said. "We had 12 holes in before the rain delay but (course officials) made the right decision when they called us off the course.
"I know many people take this game seriously but walking around with a metal club in your hand during a thunderstorm is not a good idea."
Noren had completed 10 holes when the horn sounded and, when play resumed he registered a par on No. 11 but drove into the trees on No. 12 and carded a bogey.
"It was my first shot with the driver after the delay," Noren said. "But sending us in definitely was the right decision."
When he turned 30 Noren tested the Executive waters for the first time and he had enjoyed a 20-year run in that class. His best finish came last year when he lost to the eventual champion Rick Passolt in the semifinals.
This year Noren qualified for the Senior Division and, judging by the qualifying results, he is poised to make another championship run.
"I feel good just making the cut," Noren said. "I'm a little surprised that I tied Eric for medalist. I had played well last week but stumbled on the course on Sunday so I didn't exactly know what to expect. But I came back with good rounds both Monday and Tuesday."
Niskanen also began Monday's action with a single goal.
"I just wanted to make the cut," he said. "I was hoping to play well and I wasn't concerned about where I would be seeded."
Niskanen opened with a 77, a score buoyed by nervous tension.
"Looking at some of the shots I hit on Monday, you could see that I was nervous," he said. "Tuesday I wanted to get comfortable on the golf course again."
That comfort surfaced on the driving range and carried into the round.
"I hit a good tee ball on the first hole and hit a nice second shot," Niskanen said. "Those shots got my round going."
With the main goal accomplished, Niskanen can turn his attention to today's task.
"Hopefully, I'll have fun during match-play," he said. "There are great people in the Senior Division and there are great golfers in the field. I'm expecting a hard-fought match and I'm just going to try and play my own game."
"Qualifying is over and match-play is a different animal," Noren said. "Some matches you can win with an 80 and some matches you can lose with a 72. We'll just see what happens."