Minnesota Golf Association

Berry Tops Whittaker After Six Playoff Holes at Minnesota Senior Open

June 5, 2019

By Nick Hunter
  LAKE CITY, Minn. – On Tuesday players left the golf course early as severe weather swept through the area during the opening round of the 35th Minnesota Senior Open at The Jewel Golf Club. On Wednesday two players couldn’t get enough golf as Don Berry and amateur Steve Whittaker finished the 36-hole championship tied at 5-under 137, neither willing to budge for six playoff holes before Berry clinched the championship.
Berry played just 10 holes Tuesday but finished the opening round tied for sixth at even par 71 Wednesday. Rolling in six birdies against one bogey during the final round Wednesday, Berry shot up the leaderboard with a round of 66 before winning with par in the playoff to claim his sixth win at the event since 2012.
“I played good today. Yesterday I played good up to the rain delay and then came out this morning and didn’t hit it very good at all the last seven holes—kind of scraped it in,” Berry said. “This afternoon I played really well and was really happy. I hit the ball well and putted well."
Berry qualified for his first U.S. Senior Open Thursday at Prestwick Golf Club, shooting 2-under par 70 to grab the lone qualifying position to the championship later this month. Continuing his strong play this week, Berry carded seven birdies and two bogeys in 42 holes of play en route to the victory.
“I want to keep it going. When I’m done playing, I want to be able to count them up—that’s why I keep playing. My putting is the thing I’m really happy about. I haven’t putted well the last few years and this spring I’ve putted really well.”
Carding two birdies on his opening nine Wednesday, Berry moved to 2-under for the championship before sinking his birdie look at the 10th. Dropping a shot after his tee shot found the woods behind the 11th green, Berry started to rally by birdying three of his final seven holes to finish tied for the lead at 5-under 137.
Both Berry and Whittaker had several chances to close out the tournament during the playoff, but a patient Berry pounced on a Whittaker mistake when he failed to get up-and-down for par on the sixth playoff hole, leaving Berry with a short par putt for the win.   
Since he became eligible to play in the 50-and-over event in 2012, Berry won four straight championships and again in 2017. Berry finished runner-up to John Brellenthin at last year’s championship at Dakota Pines Golf Club.

Opening the championship with a 2-under 69 Tuesday, Whittaker made a late charge by carding birdie on his final two holes Wednesday to post a 3-under 68 and into a share of the lead with Berry at 5-under 137. Whittaker had the better birdie chances during the playoff, but was unable to convert to claim his second win at the event.
Left with a difficult third shot after missing the ninth green short-left, Whittaker couldn’t save his par putt from eight feet.
Finishing as runner-up and earning Low-Amateur honors Wednesday, the always humble Whittaker said it’s hard to be frustrated about second place finishes these days after a myriad of surgeries and health concerns over the past decade.
“I’ve had some good rounds so far and I’m kind of getting back to healthy. I feel pretty lucky to be here. I remind myself that this is golf and I get to be out here and enjoy it with all of these great men.”
Knowing he was in the hunt Wednesday, Whittaker was asked if he wanted to know where the leaderboard stood mid-round, to which he declined.
“I can’t control what anyone else does and I’m not going to play scared or force my game like I need to make a birdie here or there,” Whittaker said. “I’m going to do the best I can and I’ll go with the results.”
Whittaker posted a 1-over 73 Thursday at the U.S. Senior Open Qualifier at Prestwick, missing the qualifying spot by three strokes before going toe-to-toe with one of the state’s best professional players this week, despite facing one of his most serious health scares during the offseason just months ago.
Whittaker was on vacation in St. Louis and passed out at breakfast. He regained consciousness, but flatlined again in the ambulance on the way to the hospital and twice more when arrived.
“The ambulance was there in minutes. We got to the hospital and doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong,” Whittaker said. “I flatlined again and there was a nurse outside my room when all of the alarms went off. The electro cardiologist finally figured it out—there were no emergency surgeries and they put in a pacemaker and I’ve been fine since.
“I was 600 miles away in a strange place and we happened to be two miles from a top-30 heart hospital in the United States—how do you explain that? It was a miracle.”
Though his body seemingly tells him otherwise, Whittaker continues to return to the course year after year, continuing to play at a high level. He’s claimed seven top-10 finishes in the last two seasons with his last victory coming at the 2016 Minnesota Golf Association Senior Players’ Championship. In 2015 he claimed the Minnesota Public Golf Association Mid Public Links in a field of players half his age.
“I love the game and I love being out here. It’s a real joy for me and my family has been so supportive. Maybe I’m too dumb to give up,” the 66-year-old Whittaker laughed.
6,551 YARDS, PAR 71
1. Don Berry, Edinburgh USA, 71-66—137 (won six-hole playoff)
2. Steve Whittaker (a), Pebble Creek GC, 69-68—137
3. Craig Brischke, Tanners Brook GC, 68-72—140
4. Dale Jones, Mendakota CC, 67-74—141
T5. Gregory Avant, Northern Hills GC, 72-72—144
T5. John Spreiter (a), Litchfield GC, 72-72—144
T5. Tim Peterson (a), Forest Hills GC, 70-74—144
T8. George Smith, Club Champion, 71-74—145
T8. Dave Steingart (a), Edina CC, 67-78—145
10. Jerry Rose (a), Alexandria GC, 78-68—146
For complete tournament results go to:  https://mnpga.bluegolf.com/bluegolf/mnpga19/event/mnpga197/contest/1/leaderboard.htm


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