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BIRCHMONT: Sheetz, Israelson advance to Women’s final; Oster, Foss, Jenkins, Palmiscno alive in Men’s division (PHOTO GALLERY)

Emily Israelson tees off on No. 16 during Friday afternoon’s Birchmont semifinals at The Bemidji Town and Country Club. Israelson will face defending champion Katie Sheetz in today’s Women’s final. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer1 / 7
Jim Archer was among this week’s favorites in the Masters division and he has lived up to the billing. Today he will meet Joe Mayer in the championship match. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer2 / 7
Jim Twetten saw his hopes of a Masters title fade Friday when he lost to Joe Mayer in the semifinals. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer3 / 7
John McEnroe chipped onto the green on No. 1 during Friday's Senior division semifinals. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer4 / 7
Ray Sauer has had his eye on a Senior title this week and on Saturday he will meet Jeff Wiltse in the championship match. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer5 / 7
For the second straight season AJ Oster will be playing on Birchmont Saturday. After winning Friday he will face Jim Foss in today's Men's Championship semifinals. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer6 / 7
Tom Jenkins won the Birchmont in 2009 and today he will meet Toby Palmiscno in the Men's semifinals. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer7 / 7

BEMIDJI — Last summer Katie Sheetz of Grand Rapids made the most of her initial appearance at the Birchmont, edging Jenna Palmiscno of Bemidji 2-up to win the Women’s Championship title.

Friday at the Bemidji Town and Country Club the two staged a rematch, this time in the Women’s semifinals. And, once again, Sheetz found a way to win as she advanced to today’s championship match with a 3 and 1 victory.

If Sheetz is to defend her 2013 crown, she will have to get past Emily Israelson of Staples who outlasted Haley Tollette of Andover 1-up in 22 holes in Friday’s other Women’s semifinal.

“Even though I didn’t have to qualify this year (a reward for being the defending champion) and I had a bye in the first round, I knew I had a tough road ahead,” Sheetz said after Friday’s win. “I had to play Missy (Taybery) in my first match and then I had to go against Jenna. I played both of them last year and both are very tough golfers. Missy and Jenna also are veterans of the Birchmont and know what it takes to win. But both matches ended well for me.”

During Thursday’s quarterfinals Sheetz eliminated Tabery, the 2012 Birchmont champion, 2 and 1 and Friday she knocked off Palmiscno. Sheetz will try to maintain her unbeaten history in Birchmont match play action today and she believes that her game is strong enough to give her a chance.

“I played well Friday, especially on the back nine. I feel more comfortable on the back nine. I’m more excited than nervous about Saturday. So far this week I’ve gotten past Missy and Jenna, arguably two of the best and most experienced golfers out here, so I have to feel good about Saturday.”

In Friday’s semifinal Sheetz led most of the way although Palmiscno was always within striking distance.

After winning No. 14 with a par Palmiscno was only 1-down in the match and after both women parred No. 15, Sheetz took her 1-up lead into No. 16.

A wayward tee shot and an unfortunate bounce put Palmiscno behind the eight-ball on No. 16, however, as her drive found the embankment to the right of the fairway and her ball settled at the base of a huge pine tree.

Palmiscno’s lone option was a punch shot but the ball traveled only 10 feet and Palmiscno still didn’t have much of an opening to the green because of the trees.

She finally made it to the putting surface on her fourth shot while Sheetz carded a par-4 to up her advantage to two holes with two to play.

Palmiscno found trouble off the tee again on No. 17, this time in the trees to the left of the fairway. Her rescue shot did not go as planned as it sailed into the pond to the front-left of the green and, with Sheetz comfortably on the green, Palmiscno conceded the match.

Israelson had to rally on No. 18 just to force overtime. A bogey on No. 14 put Israelson 1-down against Tollette and, after both parred No. 15 and No.16, Tollette maintained her lead by draining a tricky 6-foot putt on No. 17.

But her luck ran out on No. 18 as Israelson claimed the hole to force an overtime that lasted four holes before Israelson won with her birdie.

“My strategy for Saturday will be just to try and hit the ball straight and make some putts,” Sheetz said. “But I know that won’t be easy.”

Men’s Championship Today’s semifinal matches feature four golfers who have had success in past Birchmonts and who know what it takes to advance under pressure.

During Friday’s upper bracket quarterfinals AJ Oster of Ham Lake edged Michael Strain of Motley 1-up and Jim Foss of Roseau overcame a 2-down deficit after 10 holes to nip Conner Bjugstad of San Antonio 1-up.

Oster is making his second consecutive deep run into the Birchmont as he was the 2013 runner-up. Foss, a former BSU golfer, also played on the final day last year as he advanced to the consolation final.

Friday’s other Men’s winners were Tom Jenkins of Plymouth who bounced Drew Gumlia of Tustin, Calif. 6 and 5 and Toby Palmiscno of Bemidji who ousted Nick Forsberg of Staples 2-up. Jenkins roared to a 4-up lead and maintained a comfortable advantage the rest of the way while Palmiscno owned a 1-up cushion at the turn and widened it down the stretch.

Today’s semifinal pairings match Oster against Foss and Jenkins against Palmiscno. Jenkins has the 2009 title under his belt while Palmiscno won his first two matches last year before falling to eventual champion Bill Carlson of Fargo in the quarterfinals.

Executive Championship Derek Hasselberg of Princeton will have a second opportunity to win the Executive Championship division title today as he will face Brad Anderson of Staples in the 9:10 a.m. championship match.

In Friday’s semifinals Hasselberg posted a 2 and 1 win over Scott Hinners of Bemidji while Anderson duplicated that result in a victory over James Clark of Plymouth.

In the 2013 final Hasselberg came up short, losing 4 and 3 to Lee Hetletved of Grand Forks.

On Friday Hasselberg spotted Hinners a 1-up lead after the first hole but he drew even with a birdie on No. 3. A par on No. 8 gave Hasselberg a 1-up cushion and he never looked back.

Winning pars on No. 12 and No. 13 pushed the margin to 3-up and Hinners could not make up the lost ground.

Anderson opened on fire and owned a 4-up lead at the turn. Clark cut his deficit to 2-down by winning No. 11 and No. 12 but Anderson did not allow him to get any closer.

Senior Championship At 68 years of age, Ray Sauer of St. Cloud could be playing in the Masters division but he opted to return to the tournament for the first time since 1987 as a competitor in the Senior division.

Sauer’s decision appears to be the right one as he has won three matches this week and will face Jeff Wiltse of Bemidji in today’s 9:30 a.m. title match.

In Friday’s semifinals, Sauer bounced defending champion Daniel Gilman of Centennial, Colo. 6 and 5 while Wiltse eliminated John McEnroe of Woodbury 2 and 1.

Wiltse is a regular to the Birchmont and always stages a deep run in match play. Sauer hasn’t entered the tournament since 1987 although he is no stranger to the BT-CC layout.

“I have played in many Vandys (Vandersluis tournament),” Sauer said, “but the last time I’ve played in a Birchmont was the year after my twin brother, Ed, won the Men’s Championship and that was in 1986. I moved from Walker to St. Cloud in 1981 and coming back for the Birchmont wasn’t part of my schedule.”

His schedule changed this summer, however, and today he will battle for the Senior crown.

“I know Jeff very well,” Sauer said. “We’ve played many competitive rounds together in the Vandy and I expect another close match on Saturday.

“I’m just fortunate that at my age I can still compete. I don’t have any expectations for Saturday’s round. I’m just happy to still be playing.”

Masters Championship On paper, Joe Mayer and Jim Archer probably were the favorites coming into the week and today they will tangle with the Masters Championship on the line.

In Friday’s semifinals Mayer tripped Jim Twetten of Bemidji 2 and 1 while Archer slipped past Ron Olson of Bemidji 1-up.

Mayer is shooting for his third straight Masters title.

Junior Championship Keaton Wolf of Grand Forks and Brady Wright of International Falls will square off in today’s 9 a.m. Junior Championship final.

Wolf advanced with Friday’s 1-up victory over Isaac Westlake of Crookston while Wright cruised to a 5 and 3 win over Zach Markovich of Crookston.

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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