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THE BIRCHMONT: Bemidji’s Abbie Kelm dethrones Emily Israelson for first women’s title

Abbie Kelm dethroned the four-time defending champion in Emily Israelson, claiming the Birchmont's women’s division championship with a 2-and-1 victory. It’s the first-ever Birchmont title for Kelm, and she also becomes the first Bemidjian to win the women’s crown since Alyssa Williamson in 2006.

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Abbie Kelm sinks the winning putt on hole No. 17 during the women’s championship match of the 98th annual Birchmont Golf Tournament on Saturday, July 30, 2022, at the Bemidji Town and Country Club.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI -- In some respects, Emily Israelson passed the torch on Saturday at the Bemidji Town and Country Club.

But perhaps the more accurate interpretation is that Abbie Kelm seized it for herself.

“It’s so cool to get it done finally,” Kelm said. “That’s what you hope for when you get in the tournament, to hopefully get to the finals, pull something out and get it done. It’s a great feeling.”

Kelm dethroned the four-time defending champion in Israelson, claiming the Birchmont Golf Tournament’s women’s division championship with a 2-and-1 victory. It’s the first-ever Birchmont title for Kelm, and she also becomes the first Bemidjian to win the women’s crown since Alyssa Williamson in 2006.

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Abbie Kelm lines up a putt on hole No. 13 during the women’s championship match of the 98th annual Birchmont Golf Tournament on Saturday, July 30, 2022, at the Bemidji Town and Country Club.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

Kelm’s breakthrough could have come sooner if not for Israelson. The two have met in match play in years prior, including the 2019 title bout, but Israelson had her number.

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Kelm bucked that trend this year, though.

“We always know we’re going to have a good match, and that’s what you want,” Kelm said of playing against Israelson. “That’s why you play, to have close matches and compete. That’s the best part. And we know we can both play really well, so we always keep each other on our toes.”

RELATED: Read more Birchmont coverage here

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Kelm’s winning moment came on the 17th green, where she drained a downhill, six-foot putt. Fittingly, Israelson was first in line to congratulate her.

“Abbie is one of the nicest people I know, and she’s such a great golfer,” said Israelson, a five-time champion overall. “I don’t have one bad thing I could even think of saying about her. I’m really proud of her, and it’s well deserved.”

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Abbie Kelm, left, and Emily Israelson walk together to hole No. 11 during the women’s championship match of the 98th annual Birchmont Golf Tournament on Saturday, July 30, 2022, at the Bemidji Town and Country Club.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

Kelm was ahead all day, going 3-up after six holes and never surrendering the lead again. Israelson cut the difference to one on two occasions -- first at the turn and again after No. 14 -- but Kelm protected her advantage to the finish.

And any winner is bound to catch a break or two. Kelm found hers while 1-up on No. 15, when her second shot squarely hit a tree but perfectly ricocheted back into the middle of the fairway. Kelm’s third shot was a great approach onto the green, and she salvaged a par to match Israelson on the hole.

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“I’ll take it as a member’s bounce, an employee bounce,” Kelm quipped.

Israelson’s tee shot on No. 16 found the thick woods and stayed there -- a polar opposite of Kelm’s fortunate carom -- and Kelm won the hole easily to move to 2-up. Then, on 17, Kelm rose to the occasion as Israelson conceded her throne after a reign that lasted as long as anyone’s.

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From left: Carrie Lundgren, Emily Israelson, Jaya Grube and Abbie Kelm hug after finishing the 17th hole during the women’s championship match of the 98th annual Birchmont Golf Tournament on Saturday, July 30, 2022, at the Bemidji Town and Country Club.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

“I was just not playing very good golf (early on),” Israelson said. “I definitely got it together, but the drive on 16 killed my momentum. I gave it a go on 17. I left it all out there.”

And that’s the thing about Israelson: You don’t accidentally stumble into becoming a five-time champion. Coming into Saturday, she had won 19 straight match-play rounds at the Birchmont dating back to 2018. She was 24-1 since 2016. That makes Kelm’s victory all the more impressive and all the more sweet.

“You just know Emily’s going to play well,” Kelm said. “Every shot, she’s going to make something up. And even if she has a bad one, she’ll make a great one on the next hole. You’ve just got to keep focusing on your swing and your shot.”

Even though her first victory is in the bag, Kelm wasn’t too keen on predicting a run like Israelson’s for herself. Although the well-documented stretch ended on Saturday, that kind of prowess doesn’t come around too often.

“Emily has done quite a number for everyone here,” Kelm said of Israelson’s four-peat. “She is going to leave quite a legacy. It’ll be very hard to reach that.”

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Emily Israelson follows through on her swing on hole No. 17 during the women’s championship match of the 98th annual Birchmont Golf Tournament on Saturday, July 30, 2022, at the Bemidji Town and Country Club.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer
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Jaya Grube putts on hole No. 13 during the women’s consolation championship match of the 98th annual Birchmont Golf Tournament on Saturday, July 30, 2022, at the Bemidji Town and Country Club.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer
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Carrie Lundgren follows her ball after teeing off during the women’s consolation championship match of the 98th annual Birchmont Golf Tournament on Saturday, July 30, 2022, at the Bemidji Town and Country Club.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer
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Emily Israelson chips out of the sand on hole No. 17 during the women’s championship match of the 98th annual Birchmont Golf Tournament on Saturday, July 30, 2022, at the Bemidji Town and Country Club.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

Micah Friez is the former sports editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he worked at the Pioneer from 2015-23 and is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing.
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