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Birchmont executives: Passolt's move results in a title

Rick Passolt dethroned Todd Schaefer as executive champion with a 7-and-5 win Saturday. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren

A familiar name won the 2009 Birchmont executive division title.

Rick Passolt, the 2003 and 2005 Birchmont men's championship winner, handled two-time defending champion Todd Schaefer 7 and 5 Saturday to claim the executive division crown.

So why the move to the executive division, especially so soon after winning the tournament's biggest title?

"We had our fourth child, she's 3 years old now, and I haven't played a lot of golf since then," Passolt said shortly after winning Saturday's final. "I still have my Birchmont qualifying scores from 2007 on my handicap card."

In addition, Passolt said he failed to advance through qualifying in last year's Birchmont championship division, which prompted some soul searching. "There are lots of young guys playing really good golf," he said. "I thought if I wanted to keep playing this tournament, the executive division would be a better fit for me."

Passolt didn't exactly tear things up in qualifying, shooting 82-79 to qualify in the middle of the pack. "Coming into the tournament, my wife and kids let me play a few times to get ready (three times, to be exact), and I struck the ball well, but didn't score well. That carried over into the Birchmont qualifying for me."

Things started to turn around in the opening round of match play as Passolt defeated Peter Bridston 4 and 2. "We were both tearing it up," Passolt said. "I was just fortunate enough to hang in there and win."

Passolt then went on a stretch of solid play that propelled him to the championship match. He defeated Matthew Morgan of Warrensburg, Mo., and Rob Noren of Bemidji by identical 7-and-6 results, then rolled past Schaefer.

"I only had one bogey in my last three matches," Passolt said. "That came when I three putted the second hole."

Saturday's championship was anticipated to be a tooth-and-nail battle between two accomplished players. Schaefer had dominated the division recently, winning the previous two titles.

It didn't turn out that way.

The weather conditions weren't exactly conducive to great scoring, with strong westerly winds and temperatures in the low 60s. "It was difficult out there," Passolt said. "(Schaefer) just didn't have his best day."

Passolt took a quick 2-up lead after two holes as Schaefer missed a pair of par putts from within six feet.

"I caught a major break on the second hole," Passolt said. "There was a big crosswind blowing and I hit my hybrid 3-iron. It went left and I thought I wouldn't have a shot, but the ball hit a tree and bounced out -- on to the back fringe. I went from thinking I was going to lose the hole for certain to being 2-up. It was my luckiest bounce of the tourney."

The players halved the next two holes with par and birdie, respectively, before Passolt took a 3-up lead with a par on No. 5. After halving the sixth with par, Passolt went 4 up when he got up and down from the right greenside bunker for par.

The eighth hole was halved with pars. Passolt then went 5-up with a birdie on No. 9 as he played a perfect approach on his third shot that stopped a foot away from the hole.

The 10th hole was halved with bogey. Both players hit their approach shots to the right on the green on the par 3, 11th hole - Passolt in the bunker. Schaefer chipped up to six feet and Passolt banged his bunker shot into the flag, with the ball settling three feet away. Schaefer missed and Passolt made his to go 6 up.

Passolt had a six footer for par on the 12th hole to win the match, but it didn't fall. No matter - Passolt closed out the match on 13. He played the hole to perfection with a drive down the middle and an approach to the middle of the green. Schaefer missed his bid for par and conceded the hole, and the match.

"It was a difficult day out there with the wind," Passolt said. "I just played steady, got ahead early and coasted in. He just wasn't on his game today."

The Birchmont has been a yearly family vacation for the Passolts for a number of years now, and that doesn't look to change anytime soon. "My twin boys, who are 9 years old now, played in their first putting tournament this year," Passolt said. "It was great stuff - and the first of many to come."