ST. LOUIS PARK -- Drama in a golf tournament tends to be a function of mistakes, usually by the person who's leading.
There was very little drama in the 23rd MGA Mid-Amateur Championship on Wednesday at Minneapolis Golf Club, mainly because Troy Johnson didn't make any mistakes. He was relentlessly efficient with his driver, more than adequate with his irons and impecable with his wedges.
His putting wasn't exceptional, but it didn't have to be. Three of the four birdies he made on the back nine came on putts of less than 3 feet, as he polished off a 3-under-par 69, for a 54-hole total of 212, and won the tournament by seven strokes.
Johnson claimed his first state title in 2007, when he and partner Brent Jacobson won the State Public Links Four-Ball Championship. He was 36 at the time. That seems a little late for someone to start making a habit of winning big tournaments, but that is precisely what Johnson has done.
He got his first individual state championship in '08, when he finished regulation play in the State Publinx at the Chaska Town Course birdie-birdie-birdie-eagle to make up a four-stroke deficit, and then defeated Trent Peterson in a playoff.
Ten months later, in the friendly confines of the Chaska Town Course once again, he won the 2009 MGA Mid-Players Championship.
But as well as he played in his two victories at the Town Course, the round he played on Wednesday at MGC might have been his best effort yet.
"Considering the circumstances (the pressure of going into the final round with a one-stroke lead, and also, trying to win a state championship wire-to-wire), I'd say this is probably my best round," he speculated. "I hit a lot of good shots, and I really didn't hit very many bad ones."
Larry Barnacle, the Bionic Man of Minnesota golf, and Sammy Schmitz were the best of the rest. They tied for second place with a pair of 219's.
Barnacle is 62 years old, and has undergone four knee-replacement operations, two on each knee. (As a matter of fact, he missed last year's State Mid-Am because he had just had Knee-Replacement Surgery No. 4.) Walking 18 holes three days in a row was an ordeal for him, and there were times in each of his three rounds when it appeared that his putter might send him to the nearest psychiatric ward.
"Sometimes I make a really good stroke," Barnacle said, "like the one at 9 (where he holed a 20-foot putt for birdie), and the one at 13 (a 12-footer for par). But you should have seen the strokes I made on 8 and 10 (he three-putted both greens). Those were so bad that I wasn't sure which side of the putter I hit the ball with. And we won't even mention the 18-incher that I missed at No. 4. That was a beauty."
Nevertheless, he was able to play the first 36 holes in even par (73 at MGC in the first round on Monday, and a 1-under 71 at Burl Oaks GC on Tuesday), and he overcame a demorializing start on Wednesday by playing the last 10 holes in 1 under to finish with a 75.
Schmitz, who had a brief career as a mini-tour pro, has spent a lot of time near the top of the leaderboard in his second incarnation as an amateur, following his reinstatement three years ago. Among other things, he finished fourth in the State Amateur last year at Mendakota.
He might have done better than that, had it not been for a rain delay on the final day. Play was stopped right after he finished the 11th hole, and when play was resumed, he couldn't get his rhythm back.
"I just lost it from tee to green," he said. "I have no idea where it went."
Something similar happened on Wednesday. There was a 2-hour-26-minute rain (and lightning) delay that began as he and Johnson and Barnacle exited the fifth green.
When they resumed play on the sixth tee, Schmitz discovered that he had forgotten to bring his swing back out to the course with him.
"I chunked by tee shot 50 yards short at No. 6 (a 205-yard par-3)," he said, "and then I chunked my next shot."
The result was a double bogey.
"I was playing really well before the rain," Schmitz noted. "I birdied No. 1 and No. 2. But then we had to stop, and when I came back out, I couldn't hit a shot. I had those two chunks on No. 6, and then I started hitting everything 50 yards right."
Actually, his swing did gradually come back.
"When I got to the back nine, I hit a terrible shot off the 10th tee," he said. "After that, I realized that I had to figure out something, and then I started to hit the ball a little better."
Following the bogey he made at 10, Schmitz made eight consecutive pars to conclude the round with a 74.
"I'm satisfied with the way things turned out," he said. "No one was going to beat Troy today anyway. He played a great round. You never mind losing to someone who plays that well."
Jesse Larson, who was playing in the penultimate group, along with Adam Dooley and Scott Ainsworth, had only a vague idea where he stood in the tournament until he completed his 74, and was informed that his 220 was leading in the clubhouse. He ended up finishing fourth.
"I wish someone had told me I needed that putt on 16 (a 6-footer for par) to stay tied for second," he said, more joking than not. "Maybe I would have made it."
That, it turned out, was the only blemish on his card in the last 10 holes.
Dooley, the two-time former champion, was another player who had a bad reaction to the rain delay. He had eagled No. 1 and then parred the next four holes before being called off the course.
Once play began again, he made two straight bogeys at the sixth and seventh holes. The former State Amateur champ (1999) and mini-tour pro (he got his amateur status back in 2007, just in time to win the first of his State Mid-Am titles) missed a 12-footer for birdie at the ninth, then took three from the edge at the 10th for his third bogey in five holes.
Dooley got one back by making a 3-foot birdie putt at the 11th, and was within two strokes of Johnson at that point. But he failed to birdie the par-5 12th (the second-easiest hole on the course), bogeyed the 13th and doubled the 14th.
"I short-sided myself a couple of times," he lamented, "and I was missing greens with wedges. I just didn't play very well after the rain delay. Nothing was working. My putting wasn't that bad, but when I had a chance to save a par, I missed the putt."
He would up with a 76, which gave him a 221 aggregate, and fifth place.
While everyone else was struggling and falling further behind, Johnson made it look easy.
He birdied the first hole, and the par-3 fourth. After sitting out the rain/lightning delay, he did bogey the sixth, but even then he didn't lose any ground, because just about all of his challengers made bogey, too.
Johnson's only mistake in the next 10 holes was taking too much club at the 225-yard 10th. He hit a nice-looking 3-rescue at the center of the green, but it landed just short of the back fringe and hopped into the rough behind the green.
Although he hit a pretty good chip, he ended up lipping out a 4-footer for par. \
The 12th was the hole where he pretty much sealed the deal. After hitting his drive into the middle of the fairway, he flaired a 3-wood into the trees to the right of the green. He got lucky, and had an open shot from over there, and he took full advantage, flipping a nearly perfect wedge shot to 2 feet and converting the putt for his birdie.
"That really helped," he said. "Making birdie there kind of settled me down, and gave me a little extra shot of confidence going into the last six holes."
If the birdie at the 12th didn't quite clinch his victory, birdies at the 14th and 15th did. In both cases, he hit little 30-yard wedge shots to within 3 feet.
"Those wedges were gorgeous," Barnacle said, "but the thing about his game that impressed me the most was his driver (a new TaylorMade Burner). He did nothing but hit it long and straight. It was the greatest exhibition of driving that I've seen this year."
About the only fairway Johnson missed was at the 17th, where he hit his drive into the fairway bunker on the right (that fairway bunker is actually in the fairway), and it led to a bogey. But he was back in the middle of the fairway at the 18th, and he closed the show by making a 30-footer for his sixth birdie of the day.
No one else besides Johnson came close to breaking par on Wednesday. The next-best scores were a 72 by Tim Peterson and a 73 by Geoff Klein, and both of them wound up tying for sixth place at 224.
They were one ahead of former Mid-Am champ Jim Lehman (76-76-73--225) and Scott Ainsworth (78-70-77).
Leif Carlson, who won the State Senior Am two weeks ago, shot 75 and was one of three players who tied for 10th at 226. Aaron Wiemiller (73-77-76) and Jesse Bull (75-77-74) were the others.
The 2009 Mid-Am champ, Tom Whaley, who's a member at MGC, generated a progression that went the wrong way -- 76-77-78 -- and tied for 21st at 231. Also in the Gang of Six at that number were this year's State Senior Publinx champion, Don Howe (78-75-78), and the oldest player to make the cut, 67-year-old Dick Blooston (77-78-76).
23rd MGA Mid-Amateur
First 2 rounds at Minneapolis Golf Club (par 72, 7,100 yards)
& at Burl Oaks (par 72, 6,739 yards)
Final round at MGC
1. Troy Johnson, Rush Creek Golf Club, 71-72-69--212
T2. Sam Schmitz, Edinburgh USA, 75-70-74--219
T2. Larry Barnacle, Loggers Trail Golf Club, 73-71-75--219
4. Jesse Larson, LeSueur Country Club, 74-72-74--220
5. Adam Dooley, Albany Golf Club, 73-72-76--221
T6. Geoff Klein, Mankato Golf Club, 74-77-73--224
T6. Tim Peterson, Forest Hills Golf Club, 76-76-72--224
T8. James Lehman, Windsong Farm, 76-76-73--225
T8. Scott Ainsworth, Minneapolis Golf Club, 78-70-77--225
T10. Leif Carlson, Hastings Country Club, 73-78-75--226
T10. Aaron Wiemiller, Albion Ridges GC 73-77-76--226
T10. Jesse Bull, Golden Valley G&CC, 75-77-74--226
T13. Robert Snyder, Cannon Golf Club, 75-75-77--227
T13. Ben Poehling, Dwan Golf Club, 78-76-73--227
T13. Marc Baumgartner, University/Bolstad 78-71-78--227
16. Tim Samuelson, Bearpath G&CC 80-72-76--228
T17. Matthew Smith, Minneapolis GC, 74-81-74--229
T17. David Whittaker, Northland Country Club, 75-79-75--229
T19. Matthew Gibb, Minneapolis Golf Club, 80-74-76--230
T19. Mike Shaffer, Baker National Golf Club, 77-79-74--230
T21. Curtis Mohr, Chaska Town Course, 79-73-79--231
T21. Tom Heidrick, Valleywood Golf Course, 77-77-77--231
T21. Don Howe, Olympic Hills Golf Club, 78-75-78--231
T21. Tom Whaley, Minneapolis Golf Club, 76-77-78--231
T21. Richard Blooston, Edina Country Club, 77-78-76--231
T21. Reed Kolquist, Enger Park Golf Course, 79-75-77--231
T27. Craig Hanson, Windsong Farm, 75-79-78--232
T27. Keith Erickson, River Oaks Golf Course, 75-81-76--232
T29. David Steingart, Edina Country Club, 79-76-78--233
T29. Chris Catron, University/Les Bolstad 76-80-77--233
T31. David Heisler, Tartan Park Golf Course, 79-77-78--234
T31. Jon Empanger, Island View Golf Club, 73-78-83--234
T31. David Rehfeldt, StoneRidge Golf Club, 77-78-79--234
T34. Patrick Muellerleile, Tartan Park GC 82-78-75--235
T34. David Kokesh, Bent Creek Golf Club, 80-75-80--235
T34. Larry Keithahn, Mendakota Country Club, 81-77-77--235
T34. Tony Vincelli, University/Les Bolstad GC 79-73-83--235
T38. Gary Lawson, Windsong Farm, 82-76-78--236
T37. Jason Rudquist, University/Les Bolstad 77-81-78--236
T38. Brian Patterson, Chisago Lakes GC , 77-81-79--237
T40. Tim Gordon, Rush Creek Golf Club, 78-79-80--237
T40. Scott Nagel, StoneRidge GC, 79-77-81--237
T43. Mark Hayes, Keller Golf Club, 80-80-78--238
T43. Tony Gabriel, Oak Glen Golf Course, 81-79-78--238
T43. Scott Thomas, Brackett's Crossing 78-80-80--238
T43. Steve Tatge, Rush Creek Golf Club, 78-80-80--238
T43. David Pearson, Purple Hawk CC 79-79-80--238
48. Trevor Nelko, Windsong Farm, 77-79-83--239
T49. Charles Olson, Olympic Hills Golf Club, 79-80-82--241
T49. Dan Wenner, LeSueur Country Club, 81-76-84--241
T51. Ryan Steensland, Hazeltine National 79-81-82--242
T51. Todd Sinjem, Edinburgh USA, 80-78-84--242
53. Jon Kattke, Edina Country Club, 83-76-84--243