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Men's Championship leaderboard features familiar names

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BEMIDJI — Monday’s windy conditions did not seem to bother Johnny Larson of Springfield and Matt Skarperud of Omaha as the two Birchmont veterans shot the low rounds of the day, each carding a 69 during the first day of the 36-hole Men’s Championship division qualifying action.

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With Josh Bergrud, the 2012 Men’s champion not in the field, the overall medalist will earn the top seed for the match-play portion of the tournament which begins Wednesday.

If experience is a factor, Larson could be considered this week’s favorite. Last year he lost to Bergrud in the title match and in 2011 he took the title. Larson also won the Birchmont in 2007.

Larson, however, doesn’t believe that anyone in the field will be awed by his resume.

“I don’t think there is any intimidation factor,” Larson said. “The Birchmont is just a bunch of buddies playing golf and to advance you have to prepare to face anyone in the field.”

But you don’t have to beat everyone, Larson emphasized.

“One of the keys to winning is having the right mindset,” he said. “The first thing you have to do is make the cut. After that you only have to play against five guys to win it all. “You don’t have to beat the entire field.”

This year’s field is filled with Birchmont veterans who have the experience and talent to make a run at the crown.

Among them are Matt Skarperud and Tim Skarperud of Grand Forks who shot 71 Monday.

Another familiar name is Paul Daman of Bemidji who opened his Birchmont with a round of 70.

Larson welcomed the opportunity to renew old friendships on the course but he also noticed a substantial contingent of golfers that he didn’t recognize.

“There seems to be a new group of players this year and that is a good thing,” Larson said. “I noticed some good golfers from Fargo and I saw many Crookston golf bags on the course on Monday.

“This is always the best week of the year for me and all summer long I look forward to the Birchmont. All I want to do this week is soak it all in.”

Senior Championship

Bemidji golfers dominated the leaderboard after Monday’s opening round of qualifying and leading the local contingent were Jeff Wiltse and Rob Noren. Wiltse fired the low round of the day with a 70 while Noren was second in the Senior division with a 73.

Joining them in the top-10 were Tom Allen (77), Jeff Nelson (77), Pete Keeley (79) and Bob Kobilka (79).

Paul Welle of Bemidji shot an 80 and was tied for 12th.

“I hit the ball well,” Wiltse, who considered playing another year in the Men’s Championship division, said. “I enjoy seeing the kids in the Men’s Championship progress and that is something I’ll miss this week but I made the decision to play in the Seniors. There will be no easy matches in the Senior tournament but, top to bottom, the 32 guys who make the Men’s Championship probably are a little stronger than in the Seniors.

“But don’t get me wrong. I know the Senior Championship field is full of talented golfers,” Wiltse added.

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pmiller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

(218) 333-9200
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