BEMIDJI -- When a miracle shot forced Emily Israelson into extra holes of the Birchmont Golf Tournament championship on Saturday, the two-time defending champion didn’t sweat it.

“You can’t ever be mad about somebody holing out for eagle,” Israelson said. “I had my best drive of the day, and I was only sitting 80 yards out. … But to go into extra holes off of that, you can’t be mad.”

Israelson’s final women’s division adversary, Madison Herzog of Detroit Lakes, holed out from 130 yards out to draw all square at the last possible moment. But three extra holes later, Israelson birdied for her three-peat and fourth overall Birchmont title at the Bemidji Town and Country Club.

“This one is special,” Israelson said. “Maddie is a really good golfer. I felt like I had to elevate my own game. When you’re both playing good golf, it’s just a little more special.”

Israelson almost followed Herzog’s eagle with one of her own -- which would have clinched the title -- but the 80-yard shot missed the pin by mere inches. Israelson then nearly won on the first playoff hole, but she missed a short putt that brought on two more holes. But by the time she faced a similar putt on the third green, the Staples native had waited long enough for hardware.

“The putt on 3 was right to left, which is a lot better for my eye,” Israelson said in comparison to the putt on No. 1. “I felt pretty confident with my putt.”

She sank it, becoming just the sixth woman to ever three-peat as champion of the Birchmont since the women’s division’s inception in 1928. Alongside Katie Sheetz (2013-15) and Rachel Roller (2009-11), Israelson is the third to accomplish the feat this century.

“In past years, I probably would have handled (the playoff holes) a little differently, but after playing a few championships in extra holes, you’re kind of just going out there to have fun at that point,” Israelson said. “Especially when Maddie and I are playing and it’s good golf. It’s pretty competitive, we’re hitting good shots. (Experience) helps a lot.”

Between Israelson and Herzog, nobody led by more than one hole all afternoon. Israelson enjoyed a 1-up lead for six holes during the round, including after a par on No. 17 gave her the advantage with one hole remaining. Herzog defied death with her heroic shot on No. 18, but Israelson soon proved she was still the top dog in town.

“Maddie is a really good player, and she hits the ball far,” Israelson said. “I would say my driver and my iron play started to come around on the back nine, and I started playing a lot better. The putter was still a little iffy, but that was kind of all week. I just depended on my wedge shots.”

Larson wins 3rd after title hiatus

Johnny Larson, center, is congratulated by Sam Skaar after defeating Danny Menton, right, in the Birchmont men’s championship on Saturday at the Bemidji Town and Country Club. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
Johnny Larson, center, is congratulated by Sam Skaar after defeating Danny Menton, right, in the Birchmont men’s championship on Saturday at the Bemidji Town and Country Club. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Johnny Larson is no stranger to the Birchmont, winning the men’s division title in 2007 and 2011. What’s he been doing in the meantime?

“I’ve been coming up here and getting beat by young guys ever since,” he joked.

That surely wasn’t the case this summer.

The 35-year-old Springfield native played like his championship days of old, defeating Danny Menton 2-and-1 in Saturday’s championship finale.

“This one definitely feels the best,” Larson said of his three titles. “I don’t play as much as I used to. The priorities change throughout (the years). It’s fun to get one after the college years and everything have gone by.”

To start the day, Larson also defeated Mason Opheim 1-up in the semifinals. He then returned to the links for a second round of 18, which can make for a long day, but Larson has learned how to fight the fatigue.

“The first round got to be a little bit long. It’s been a lot of days in a row of playing golf,” he said. “I’m not used to playing that many in a row anymore. But the last round, you get into the finals and you kind of just run on adrenaline. It’s all about hitting good shots and keeping it going.”

In the title bout, Larson enjoyed a 2-up lead at the turn -- highlighted by an eagle on No. 4 -- and he stretched his advantage to 3-up after a birdie on No. 10.

The difference held firm through No. 12, but three holes later, the two were all square again.

“I’ve been here before, and you can’t get lazy with the lead,” Larson said. “Danny made a couple birdies, got it back to even. I was 3-up with six to go. … Coming down the stretch, you’ve just got to hit good shots because you know he’s not going away.”

The deadlock after No. 15 swung back in Larson’s favor. He birdied Nos. 16 and 17, giving him a 2-and-1 championship to add to his collection.

“I actually came in with no expectations. I haven’t been playing a ton of golf,” Larson said. “(The Birchmont) is always the funnest tournament of the year. I’ve been working on it the past couple weeks a little bit, just to try to get in shape. The more and more I play each day and throughout the week, it kept getting better and better.”

More champions crowned

Spectators line up to watch the Birchmont men’s champion on hole No. 17 on Saturday at the Bemidji Town and Country Club. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
Spectators line up to watch the Birchmont men’s champion on hole No. 17 on Saturday at the Bemidji Town and Country Club. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

In the men’s executive championship, Joe McKean of Farmington took home the title after defeating Derek Hasselberg for the crown. The title brings McKean full circle, as he also was the junior division champion back in 2001.

In the senior championship, Paul Court of Cold Spring edged Rick Passolt 1-up for his first title in Birchmont history.

Jeff Tweeton is no stranger to winning, however, as the Perham native defeated Doug Taylor 3-and-2 for the master’s championship. The victory is Tweeton’s fourth overall after winning the senior men’s titles in 2003, 2005 and 2006.

Rylin Petry of Fertile was a 3-and-2 victor in the junior 13-17 field, knocking off Luke Thompson for the crown. Preston Miller of St. Louis Park was the junior 10-12 champion, as well.