Belisle Wins Rare Rematch, Defeats Conn Once Again at MGA Players' Championship

June 22, 2022
By Nick Hunter

  MINNETRISTA, Minn. – Never in the 44-year history of the Minnesota Golf Association Players’ Championship have two players met for a second time during the championship match.

Cecil Belisle cruised to victory over Ryan Conn, 5 and 4, in 2020 at Hastings Golf Club, and in a moment of déjà vu Wednesday at Burl Oaks Golf Club, Belisle emerged victorious over Conn once again by the same margin.

“That was just a coincidence,” Belisle smiled Wednesday following his win. “It was meant to happen because I’m holding the trophy, but what happened in the past is in the past."

“I played solid, especially the final round—no bogeys. Ryan started off hot and had a couple mistakes here and there. I was steady, focused and determined. In match play, it’s grind-mode. I grind when I practice; I grind when I work out and I grind in school. That’s what this tournament is and why I think I do well.”

Belisle’s win Wednesday marks an impressive string of victories stretching over the past five seasons. After claiming a pair of Class AA individual titles at Red Wing High School in 2017 and 2019, Belisle claimed the 2020 Players’ Championship.

Last season Belisle closed out his freshman season at South Mountain Community College with a NJCAA National Championship individual title before claiming the Minnesota State Open in a playoff over 2021 MGA Men’s Player of the Year Derek Hitchner and two-time champion Ben Greve.

Belisle earned a second straight national title to cap off his sophomore campaign last month prior to Wednesday’s win for his eighth state championship title.

Beginning the championship match on the 10th hole Wednesday, A patient Belisle took advantage of back-to-back bogeys by Conn at the 14th and 15th holes to take a 2-up lead before a third bogey by Conn at the 17th.

Conn rolled in a critical birdie putt from 18 feet at the par-4 18th to pull within two of Belisle through nine holes.

But an unrelenting Belisle continued to get up-and-down for par and smother any momentum Conn could muster.

Back-to-back bogeys for Conn at the second and third gave Belisle a 4-up lead and the 2019 MGA Junior Boys’ Co-Player of the Year would claim his second Players’ Championship win by sinking his birdie chance from four feet at the fifth to win, 5 and 4.

Walking six rounds in three days in high temperatures took its toll on the 21-year-old Belisle, and his foot, this week.

“I’m proud of how I stayed in the moment,” he said. “It didn’t matter how much my foot hurt, I don’t know what’s wrong with it, but it hurts. Not letting that, or the blisters get to you. Ignoring that and keeping it steady—the want and the will."

Belisle was a part of the 2017 MGA Junior Team champions, while claiming medalist honors at the event. In 2019, Belisle added a win at the Resorters Golf Tournament to his resume. He will transfer to the University of Kansas for his junior season this fall.

Wednesday’s result marks yet another close call for the soon-to-be 40-year-old Conn, whose only state victory came at the 2019 MGA Amateur Four-Ball Championship with partner Hunter Rebrovich at The Classic at Madden’s.

The former University of Wisconsin golfer posted runner-up finishes in consecutive weeks, falling to Bryce Hanstad at the MGA Mid-Players’ Championship at the Royal last week—winning 10 of 12 matches in a seven-day span.

“Another good week,” Conn said following the final match Wednesday. “I’m a mid-am golfer and Cecil is just better. I played great this morning—I was 4-under and played all 18 holes and that was the kind of round I needed again this afternoon. Instead, I was 2-over."

“Against good players, on the days you make mistakes, they’re going to cost you. I didn’t get on the green fast enough today and didn’t apply enough pressure when I needed to throughout the day. I usually win matches by not making mistakes, so it’s a little disappointing to make a couple and lose today.”

Since his win in 2019, Conn has accumulated nine top-5 finishes.

Conn opened the championship early Monday with a win over Max Ullen, 3 and 2, before cruising during his Round of 32 match against Lucas Ferterl, carding eight birdies over his first nine holes. Conn edged Casey Nelson, 1-up, to reach the quarterfinal round where he would defeat Josh Galvin, 5 and 4, late Tuesday.

Conn jumped out to a big lead early against defending Twin Cities champion Caleb VanArragon, up by four through six holes, but had to hold off a surging VanArragon to reach the finals for a second time in three seasons with his win, 1-up.

“I give myself a lot of credit—I turn 40 next week," said Conn. "I started playing a lot of competitive golf in 2018 and won [the MGA Amateur Four-Ball] in 2019 and I’ve had a ton of great finishes. I’ve been high in the points for three or four years running, so the consistency is there."

“This is what it takes to win in golf. You have to be in the hunt a lot because only one person wins.”

Nick Hunter

Nick Hunter is entering his tenth season covering golf in Minnesota as news editor for the MGA's website. He resides in New Prague with his wife, Amber, and two sons.

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