BEMIDJI - This year's Men's Championship field is filled with veteran Birchmont participants and the majority have a history of going deep into the playoffs.
Among that group are Bemidji natives and residents Paul Daman, Troy Haluptzok and Bob Brink.
Monday in the first day of qualifying for the 2012 Birchmont all three golfers gave notice that they could have extended stays in this year's tournament once again.
Daman was one of only a handful of Men's Championship golfers who bettered par Monday as he opened his tournament with a 3-under-par 69. Haluptzok shot even-par 72 while Brink opened with a 74.
Sam Matthew of Roseville shot Monday's lowest round as he carded a 68.
Tim Skarperud of Grand Forks shot 70 and Josh Bergrud of Grand Forks, Logan Palmer of Harwood, N.D. and Jake Sanders of Crookston finished with 71s.
"I never hit into deep trouble, I kept the ball in play and I putted well," Daman, who is playing in his 27th Birchmont, said. "It was just a fun day of golf."
Daman is a Birchmont contender every time he is in the field but this year he doesn't have the command of his game that he usually possesses.
"I'm not a member of the club this year and the only times I have played here this year is once in April and in a practice round on Saturday," Daman, who lost 1-up to Steve Erickson in the 1998 title match and fell 1-up in 20 holes to Rick Passolt in the 2003 championship battle, said.
"I have three kids now and golf for dad is not a top-five priority in our family. Actually, watching Ryan (6) and Abbey (4) compete in the weekly Run for Fun track meets is the highlight of my week."
Daman, however, has maintained his competitive edge and his golf instincts took over on Monday.
"I'm thrilled with the 69," he said. "I have high expectations but I'm also realistic. My goal on Monday was to crank out some pars and then I hit a hot spell at the end.
"I hit three good drives, three good irons and I made the putts."
That hot streak was rewarded with birdies on 15, 16 and 17 which capped his opening-day round.
"I enjoyed Monday's round and if I continue to play shot-by-shot golf I'll be fine the rest of the week," Daman said. "If you can make it to match play you don't have to play perfect golf to advance.
"I came here just wanting to card some pars but the 69 changed my focus," Daman said. "I'd like to follow Monday's round with another good one on Tuesday."
Haluptzok wasn't as consistent as Daman but he still managed to put together a solid even-par 72.
"I hit the driver terribly but I hit the irons okay and that is what saved me," Haluptzok said. "On the front side I had three bogeys, three birdies and three pars. I played better on the back with one birdie and one bogey."
Wayward tee shots on the BTCC layout usually result in bogeys or worse but Haluptzok believes that the golfing gods were on his side.
"I could have been very high on the front side," he said. "With the way I played I'm not going to complain about my 72."
Brink is making his return to the Birchmont after an eight-year absence.
"The last time I played here was when I won the championship in 2004," he said. "The experience of winning the Birchmont helps you get around the course and play a patient game but the older you get the less golf becomes a priority. The big difference between 2004 and now is that family is much more important than golf."
Brink's 37-37-74 opening round does show that the former Birchmont champion hasn't lost his edge or his competitive spirit.
"I'm excited to be in the Birchmont again," he said. "I'm excited to be competing again. Competition is still in me and this week will be a blast no matter how I play. I do hope to recapture the magic and play well Tuesday and the rest of the week but regardless of what happens I was able to play 18 holes with my buddies on Monday and that makes everything worthwhile," Brink added.