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Israelson dynasty reigns again as Emily, Andrew sweep Birchmont championships

With two additions on Saturday, the Israelson family now has 10 Birchmont championships. Emily owns five of those titles -- including four in a row -- while Andrew has three to his name.

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Siblings Andrew Israelson, left, and Emily Israelson hug after winning the men’s and women’s championships on Saturday, July 31, 2021, during the 97th annual Birchmont Golf Tournament at the Bemidji Town and Country Club. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
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BEMIDJI -- As Andrew Israelson lined up his final putt of the Birchmont Golf Tournament on Saturday, his sister Emily was in the gallery to witness it. Yet she couldn’t bring herself to look.

“I couldn’t watch,” Emily admitted. “I’m more nervous when he’s playing (than when I’m playing). I just know how hard he’s worked and how much he cares. It really means a lot to me when he wins. I’m pretty passionate about his career. I just want him to do well.”

Andrew’s putt didn’t quite fall, but it didn’t matter. He matched Nate Adams with a par on the 18th green for a 1-up victory in the men’s division championship. Even better, he was only an hour behind Emily, who seized the women’s title with a 3-and-1 win over Morgan Hetletved on No. 17.

“Honestly, it’s just nice to win again,” Andrew said. “Obviously this is a special tournament, especially in my family. Honestly, I’m a little speechless, which doesn’t happen very often. I’m just so happy right now.”

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Aside from an all-square deadlock after three holes, Andrew led all day. His advantage slimmed to one after 16 holes, but he held off the late push from Adams with a pair of pars to finish.

“That’s the reason I won this week: I just made a bunch of putts in the last two matches that were so key,” Andrew said.

Likewise, Emily tied Hetletved on hole No. 1 but soon went 1-up with a par on No. 2, and the lead was hers for good.

“As the week went on, I slowly started to get better and better,” Emily said. “Today, I played pretty lights-out. I was three or four under, so I was playing much better at the end.”

The championships are Nos. 9 and 10 for the Israelson family. Emily owns five of those titles -- including four in a row -- while Andrew now has three to his name. Their father, Bemidji native Bill Israelson, was the 1973 and 1979 men’s champion.

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And now, right after topping his father’s Birchmont trophy count, Andrew is following in Bill’s footsteps and turning pro.

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Andrew Israelson putts on the 18th green on Saturday, July 31, 2021, during the 97th annual Birchmont Golf Tournament at the Bemidji Town and Country Club. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

That transition, however, wouldn’t be complete without a full-circle moment like he and Emily delivered Saturday. The two also claimed the championships together in 2016.

“That one kind of jump-started my golf career, and this one revamped it,” Andrew said. “For this to be the last amateur event hopefully I ever play in my lifetime, to win is so big.”

Not to be outdone, Emily’s performance this year puts her among the greatest to ever play in the tournament. She’s just the second woman to four-peat, joining Julie Gumlia from 1972-75, and her five overall titles are one shy of the Birchmont’s women’s record.

“It’s pretty cool to be in their same league,” Emily said. “But I would like to win more. I’m only 25, so hopefully I can keep it going.”

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Emily Israelson tees off on hole No. 9 on Saturday, July 31, 2021, during the 97th annual Birchmont Golf Tournament at the Bemidji Town and Country Club. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

While Emily is likely to be back at the Bemidji Town and Country Club in 2022, Andrew is next off to debut as a professional in the Dakotas Tour for the next four weeks. Adding some fresh hardware next to his 2016 and 2017 titles should be a good way to say goodbye to the Birchmont.

“I wanted to build up some confidence and play well going into turning professional,” he said. “I made the decision that, no matter what, I was going to turn pro after this. It really feels great to win before that happens.”

Emily has now won the women’s championship in 2016, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021. And yet, though she may have the family lead, Andrew wasn’t about to admit she’s the better golfer.

“I’m going to take me,” he said. “But she’s pretty good.”

Kings of their courts

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Spectators make their way down the 18th fairway to watch the men’s championship on Saturday, July 31, 2021, during the 97th annual Birchmont Golf Tournament at the Bemidji Town and Country Club. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Plenty of others also staked a claim to championships in their respective divisions on Saturday.

In the men’s executive division, Troy Johnson of Maple Grove defeated defending champ Joe McKean 1-up. Johnson birdied No. 12 for a 1-up lead and never surrendered it the rest of the way, matching McKean’s strokes all the way to the 18th green.

In the men’s senior bracket, Mark Lindberg of Coppell, Texas, ran off with the title by besting Paul Daman 1-up. The two were all-square through 17 holes, but Lindberg parred No. 18 while Daman bogeyed.

In masters play, Jeff Tweeton successfully defended his championship from a year ago. The Perham product topped Jack Seiberlich 2-and-1 to go back-to-back.

St. Louis Park’s Luke Thompson needed a playoff, but he upended Nick Yavarow in 19 holes for the Junior 13-17 championship. Chaska's Logan Motzko topped Beckett Grand in the Junior 10-12 championship, as well.

Related Topics: GOLFBEMIDJI NEWSLETTER
Micah Friez is the sports editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he joined the Pioneer in 2015 and is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing. Follow him on Twitter at @micahfriez for Lumberjack and Beaver updates.
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