Solid as usual, Johnson Edges Svac to Win Krugel Invitational
July 8, 2018
MANKATO -- Joel Johnson is 48 years old, an age when a lot of golfers who play in tournaments are in a desperate search for more distance. The first place they usually look for help is technology.
Not Johnson. He has been one of Minnesota's most reliable mid-amateurs for a long time. He's not a bomber, and he doesn't make birdies in huge numbers. But he hits a lot of fairways and a lot of greens, putts pretty well, and he's usually right around par.
He has what might be described as an relentlessly efficient game. It works. He's won a State Public Links Mid-Am Championship and made it deep into the MGA Mid-Players Championship on several occasions. That explains why he's still using the same driver, 3-wood and hybrid after more than a decade.
"I trust those clubs," he explains, "and I haven't found any that were better. I bought a new 4-wood, but I hit a bunch of horrible hooks with it; so I've kept it out of my bag."
Johnson's faith in what's always worked for him paid off once again this weekend at the Krugel Invitational. He didn't just beat a bunch of mid-ams. The Krugel field is one of the strongest of the Minnesota golf season, with lots of college kids and 20-somethings a year or two out of college, plus an assortment of really good mid-ams, but Johnson outplayed them all at Mankato Golf Club and won by two strokes. After building a three-shot lead in the first eight holes of Sunday's final round, he saw the lead disappear, then reasserted himself with a birdie at the treacherous 17th hole and closed with a 2-over-par 73. That gave him a winning total of 176 for 45 holes.
J.J. Svac, who was the No. 1 player at Minnesota State (Mankato) this year, finished second. He, too, closed with a 73 for an aggregate of 178.
It was another three shots back to third place at 181, where four players tied. Mitch Pfingsten, an NAIA All-American from Grand View University (he graduated this spring), turned in the best 27-hole score Sunday. Having opened with 77 on Satiurday, the lefty from Fairmont came back with a 1-under 34 on the first (back) nine, then made two eagles in a span of four holes on the way to a valedictory 70. That earned him a tie with former MGA Player of the Year Trent Peterson, Ryan Trasamar and Jack Pexa.
The massively long-hitting Pexa also closed with a 70.
Jesse Bull, the former University of North Dakota hockey player who won the Minnesota State Amateur in 2014, finished seventh with a 182.
Johnson started the last 18 two ahead of Svac, Peterson and Trasamar. He promptly gave one back with a bogey at the first hole. At the fifth, which might be the state's hardest 540-yard par-5, he was in danger of losing another stroke after he pulled a layup into the trees. But he squeezed a wedge shot through the trees and onto the green and made a 10-foot putt for a birdie. A gorgeous tee shot at the par-3 sixth (148 yards) left him with a 7-footer for a birdie, and he made that, too.
He got his third-birdie in a span of four holes at the eighth (385, par 4). Suddenly, he was three ahead.
Mankato GC has gotten a lot harder over the years, mainly because the trees have gotten bigger, but also because water has been added in a couple of crucial places. Specifically, two par-5's, the fifth and the 11th holes. On Sunday, Johnson got tangled up in the trees at the 11th and made a double bogey.
"That's a really tough hole, with all those trees," he noted, "and it finally caught up with me today."
He followed that with a three-putt bogey at the par-3 12th, and a less-than-stellar wedge shot at the 297-yard, par-4 15th resulted in another bogey. That wiped out his lead and put him into a tie with Svac.
Johnson never played in the Krugel until he was in his 40's, but he's always played well at MGC.
"I've been in the top 10 every year I've been here, I think," he said. "I was third one time, and fourth another. I came here this year just hoping to have a chance to win on Sunday afternoon. Then I had that big lead, and I thought: 'You should win.' The next thing I knew, my lead was gone."
The 17th hole at Mankato was originally a par-5. It was changed to a 387-yard, dogleg left par-4 three decades ago, and it might be the tightest driving hole on the course. It was where Johnson won the tournament Sunday afternoon, hitting his tee shot into the fairway, his approach to 15 feet and making the putt for a birdie. Svac was in the trees off the tee. He recovered nicely and had a 3-foot putt for par-- but missed it.
"This is great," Johnson said. "I love this course and this tournament, and I think it's really impressive the way the people down here support it. Winning here in front of all these people was really fun."
Loren Krugel Invitational
At Mankato Golf Club
Final results (18 holes Saturday, 9 Sunday morning, 18 Sunday afternoon)
1. Joel Johnson 70-33-73--176 (1 under)
2. J.J. Svac 71-34-73--178
T3. Ryan Trasamar 71--34-76--181
T3. Trent Peterson 71-34-76--181
T3. Mitch Pfingsten 77-34-70--181
T3. Jack Pexa 72-39-70--181
7. Jesse Bull 74-35-73--182
8. Tony Krogen 70-38-75--183
9. Dylan Gergen 75-37-72--184
T10. Carson Haley 69-42-74--185
T10. Kyle Viehl 73-36-76--185
T12. Dan Wenner 72-41-73--186
T12. Scott Thrienen 72-37-77--186
T14. Nick Pexa 76-35-76--187
T14. Walker Nelson/Reyes 72-38-77--187
16. Mitch Opsal 71-41-76--188
T17. Terry O'Loughlin 77-38-76--191
T17. Pat Dockendorf 77-39-75--191