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Larson, Burgess, Nord, Seiberlich back to defend Birchmont titles

Joe Burgess of Woodbury will be one of four 2011 Birchmont champions returning to defend their titles. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer file photo

BEMIDJI - The 88th annual Birchmont will begin Monday, and this year's field includes at least four defending champions.

Topping that list is the 2011 Birchmont Men's king Johnny Larson of Clements. A year ago Larson stopped Matt Skarperud of Omaha, Neb., 2-up to win his second Birchmont Men's title. Larson also claimed the prize in 2007.

Larson began his 2011 run by claiming the medalist honor with rounds of 70-70-140. During the match-play rounds he defeated Michael Strain 6-and-5, Chase Jackson in 20 holes, Jake Sanders in 20 holes, Michael Slominski 2-and-1 and Skarperud 2-up.

If Larson is to repeat, he will have to overcome a talented pool. This year's Men's Championship field includes at least 24 golfers who made last year's match-play competition. Also included in the field are former Men's Division champions - Chad Skarperud (1993), Bob Brink (2004) and Tom Jenkins (2009).

Larson and Jenkins will be in Monday's 9:33 a.m. foursome along with Kevin Krigbaum and Sam Pokorney ­- although Larson, because of his status as the defending champion, does not have to qualify for the match-play. He will be the top seed when the elimination rounds begin Wednesday.

Brink will join Jeff Wiltse, Troy Haluptzok and James Clark in the 9:51 a.m. group, while Matt Skarperud will begin his Birchmont at 10:09 a.m. along with Tim Skarperud, Russ Newman and Jack Elliot.

The Birchmont will officially begin at 7:27 a.m. Monday with Junior Championship action. Defending champ Trey Dale was not listed among this year's entrants as of Friday.

The Men's Championship hopefuls will hit the tee at 8:30 a.m., and two hours later the Executives will start their first round of qualifying.

Leading that cast will be defending champion Joe Burgess of Woodbury. Burgess tied for second place in last year's medalist chase with rounds of 77-75-152 and continued his stellar play throughout the week.

His match-play victims included Peter Rassmussen (3-and-2), Tom Allen (1-up), Troy Haluptzok (2-up) and Dale Finck (1-up).

Because he is the defending champ, Burgess does not need to qualify but he will play a pair of practice rounds. On Monday he will join Todd Witkowski, Kent Benson and Tony Carlson at the first tee at 10:36 a.m. Finck will open at 11:03, and Rick Passolt, who won the Executive title in 2009 and 2010, will begin his Birchmont at 11:39 a.m. along with the 1997, 1998 and 2005 champion, Curt Howard.

The 2006 Executive king, Bob Kobilka of Bemidji, will hit the tee at 11:48 a.m.

The Seniors hit the course at 1:36 p.m. and headlining that group is Bruce Nord of Grand Rapids. A year ago Nord, who survived a playoff to qualify, caught fire during the match-play portion of the tournament and won four consecutive matches on way to the crown.

Nord defeated Bob Kobilka, John McEnroe 2-up, Rob Noren 4-and-3 and Rob Jacobson 5-and-4 in the title match.

The Masters and Women's championship divisions begin on Tuesday. Defending Masters champion Jack Seiberlich returns, as do 10 other players in last year's field.

Jenna Palmiscno of Bemidji, who has finished second in the past three Women's Championship tournaments, headlines this year's tournament. Rachel Roller, who won her third consecutive title last year, is not expected to return.

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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