Chiles and Sorenson Lead on Day 1 of Minnesota Section PGA Championship

August 28, 2023 | 5 min.
By Joseph Oberle

TOWER, Minn. - After a summer season of sweltering temperatures, the competitors in the Minnesota PGA Championship at The Wilderness at Fortune Bay in Tower, Minn., in late August were met with near-perfect conditions (temperatures in the low 70s) in the opening round. Matt Newman, from The Minikahda Club, took advantage of the benign morning conditions to stake an early lead, but despite a slight wind picking up in the afternoon (accompanied by a short rain delay) the scores went lower—setting up an exciting finish in Day 2.

When the final strokes were made beneath a low sun in the sky, Jeff Sorenson (also from Minikahda) and Eric Chiles from Chaska Town Course shared the lead at five under par. Chiles reached Tuesday’s final pairing thanks to a torrid run of five birdies in six holes around the turn—including three in a row to start the back nine. He parred his way in from 13 and was disappointed in the final number, but did not blame it on the rain delay.

“On the card, yeah, but mentally no,” Chiles said of his momentum being slowed by the delay. “I didn’t get any putts to go. I don’t want to sound like a complainer, but it could have been really low.”

Meanwhile, Sorenson made the turn at even par, but made five birdies in the back nine—birdieing three of the last four holes to make it to the house with a share of the lead. Having played in a number of these tournaments, Sorenson was bit more sanguine on his round.

“I was just kind of hanging in there,” Sorenson said. “Since this tournament is 36 holes, it’s kind of more of a sprint. You can’t win it right away but you can lose it. 

“The first nine I was trying to be kind of smart—I had a couple opportunities but had a little tough time adjusting to the speed. The greens were a touch slower than they appeared. But I turned at even, made a couple solid pars and then hit it close on 12 and 13 and made those birdies.”

Just one shot back of the leaders was Derek Stendahl, from Rush Creek Golf Club, who carded one more of the more interesting rounds of the day. Stendahl made three birdies on the front half, but bogeyed No. 2 and double-bogeyed No. 9 to finish the front at even. On the back side, he carded a bogey at 11 but birdied five of the remaining seven holes to make eight on the day—two more than any other competitor.

“It was a lot about numbers,” Stendahl said of his round. “I had a lot of really good numbers on a lot of holes and a couple holes that I had some really in-between yardages that I did not guess well. I guess the really bad one was No. 9.”

Stendahl was joined at four-under par by Eddie Wynne from the U of M Les Bolstad Course, who achieved the number in a more conventional manner. Wynne made four birdies versus no bogeys for his 68 total and a spot in the penultimate group on Tuesday.

Wynne made three of his bogies on the back nine, which was the case for many of the competitors. The course gave up its share of birdies, as five players carded six of them on their round, but the back nine was most charitable, and many of the early morning leaders were players who started on the back. Newman was one of them.

Newman, who got to four under par after at the turn (due to five birdies and a bogey on the back nine—his front) held the lead for most of the round and finished at 1-under-par—the only player in the morning flight to post red figures. He birdied 18 and took some momentum to his second nine but stumbled on the par five first when his approach from 105 yards caught the ridge and trundled down to the lower tier, leading to a three-putt.

“I thought I hit a really good shot into Number one, my 10th hole,” Newman said. “But I just totally forgot about the ridge.”

Newman held serve until late in his round when he bogeyed the par three 7th and par 5 8th to erase his lead.

“I actually three-putted seven and eight,” Newman said after his round. “I hit the green, three-putted the par 3. Then on 17, I had hit my worst drive of the day, and actually drove it in the water. Then hit a good hybrid up, just pulled it, to about 100 feet and three-putted.”

Unfortunately for Newman, the leader of the morning flight, his Day-1 finish is T-9 with five other players at 1-under and he is looking up eight more in red figures. He has some work to do get into the top finishers to qualify for the 2024 PGA Professional Championship held at the Fields Ranch at PGA Frisco (East & West Courses) in Frisco, Texas, April 28, - May 1, 2024. But with his attitude, it is hard to count him out:

“I am really happy with how I hit and how I played, the score just wasn’t indicative of it,” Newman said. “So I will walk away from today with that and spend some time putting, and some time hitting some shots and if I can play exactly this way tomorrow, I will be really happy.”

7,013, PAR 72

T1. Jeff Sorenson, The Minikahda Club -- 67
T1. Eric Chiles, Chaska Town Course -- 67
T3. Derek Stendahl, Rush Creek Golf Club -- 68
T3. Eddie Wynne, Les Bolstad Golf Course -- 68
5. Bennett Smed, White Bear Yacht Club --  69
T6. Blake Lentner, Wayzata Country Club -- 70
T6. Thomas Campbell, Swing Lab Performance Golf --  70
T6. Scott McDonald, Minnewaska Golf Club -- 70
T9. Matt Newman, The Minikahda Club -- 71
T9. Eric Rolland, Augsburg College -- 71
T9. Mitchell Mackedanz, Bemidji Town & Country Club -- 71
T9. Chris Peterson, Oak Glen Golf Course -- 71
T9. Jonathan Reigstad, Keller Golf Course 71
T9. Chris Borgen, Lost Spur Golf Course 71

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Joseph Oberle

Joe Oberle is an award-winning author, sportswriter, and has been the managing editor of Minnesota Golfer magazine since 2002. He’s covered the Minnesota Vikings, the NFL, Minnesota Twins and spent six seasons as publications manager for the Minnesota Timberwolves, where he co-authored “Unstoppable: The Story of George Mikan.”

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