Minnesota Golf Association

In Challenging Conditions, a Steady Burleson Captures MGA Mid-Amateur Championship

October 16, 2019

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - After claiming the 36-hole lead at the 32nd Minnesota Golf Association Mid-Amateur Championship at Montgomery National Golf Club Monday, Justin Burleson looked ahead to the final round's bleak weather forecast and knew the championship would boil down to who could handle the adverse conditions best.

When the venue shifted back to Bearpath Golf and Country Club for the final round in cold and breezy conditions Tuesday, Burleson proved he was for anything the golf course and mid-October Minnesota weather could throw his direction, carding three bogeys over the final 18 holes to claim a two-stroke victory over Tony Vincelli by posting a 54-hole total of even par 216.

"This is my first stroke-play MGA victory. I've got a couple on the MPGA side, but I think last year was kind of my breakout year when it came to winning," Burleson said following his win Tuesday. "I won a [State Public Links] a few years ago, but winning the [MGA Mid-Players'], really helped me realize that I can win them. Until you do it, you can finish all the top-5's you want, but there's just something about winning.

"The first five or six holes the sun was out and it wasn't too bad, but it got cold and windy in a hurry and then some rain on the last few holes. The distance is the big difference when it gets cold like that. We were all flushing drivers out there and mine were going 240-245. I'm not long, but I'm not that short normally."

With his victory Tuesday, Burleson picks up his fourth career victory in the state and his first since the Minnesota Public Golf Association Mid Public Links Championship last year at Goodrich Golf Club.

Burleson entered the final round of last year's championship two shots behind Trent Peterson, who would birdie the final hole to earn a two-stroke victory, while Burleson finished runner-up for the eighth time in his career.

"Last year, a couple shots behind going in, knowing you're going up against Trent, I kind of figured I had to attack a little bit and make some birdies," he said. "I played okay, but Trent played great and took it home.

"This year, with a couple-shot lead and the bad conditions, I figured if I made a bunch of pars, that should be okay. If somebody got hot, you tip your hat and go with it, but it actually turned out just like that today-I made no birdies and I hit some good shots, but no three-putts was the key. The three bogeys were just creatures of playing conservative."

On Tuesday Burleson watched as Jerry Rose birdied his first two holes of the round to jump into a share of the lead with Burleson at 3-under for the championship.

"My caddie Tom Kennedy said, 'We're even par through two, let's just keep plugging along.' Jerry is very steady and we just tried to stay the course and hit it solid, lag some putts up there and it turned out well," Burleson said.

Rose would falter during the opening nine Tuesday as Burleson made his first bogey of the day at the par-4 fifth, leaving his approach short of the green. He had a chance to make up a stroke on the following hole, but left his birdie chance hanging on the front edge of the cup.

Holding a three-stroke advantage at the turn, Burleson failed to get up-and-down for par after missing the 10th green left. As the weather worsened, Burleson buckled down and carded consecutive pars before an inconsequential bogey on the final hole gave him a two-stroke victory over Vincelli, shooting a final-round 75.

"I've been fortunate over the last three or four years to be competing for a few titles, but it's still something you don't do often," Burleson said. "We don't play for a living and we're not out there every week grinding and it's taken a while to get back into that mode since college, so I was happy about that. I think I stayed pretty steady all three days.

"Every year I like to set lofty goals and every year my goal is to try to be player of the year. I'll probably end up about sixth with this win, which is perfectly fine, I'll take the exemptions into the big events, but when you win one, you start to think maybe you can be player of the year

While grinding on the course at last year's championship, the Burleson family was fighting a much bigger battle at home. Late last summer, Burleson's wife, Stacy, began a four-month treatment for Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

"It took her a good four months to get back to normal physically, but she's in the clear-she gets checkups every three months," Burleson said. "The prognosis is good; the chance of recurrence is five or 10 percent and if it doesn't come back for five years, it's considered cured. It's a curable form, but it puts things into perspective."

Burleson, who plays at Valleywood Golf Course, migrated north from Beaumont, Texas and began playing in state events in 2013. During that time, he's amassed nearly 30 top-10 finishes and 20 top-5's. Prior to his two victories in 2018, Burleson joked that he should be known as 'Mr. Second Place,' following a string of runner-up finishes.

Vincelli, from Brackett's Crossing Country Club, entered Tuesday's final round four shots off the lead, and thanks to the second lowest score of the day, posted his best finish at a state championship since he finished tied for third at the Minnesota Public Golf Association Mid Public Links Championship in 2012.

Sinking a lengthy birdie putt on his opening hole Tuesday, Vincelli climbed to even par for the championship, but would get no closer than two shots of Burleson, carding a final-round 73 to shoot 2-over 218.

"My goal coming into the round was to trust each shot and try not to worry too much about the score and take one shot at a time," Vincelli said after his round Tuesday. "I didn't set a number ahead of time, I just tried to play as well and I could and see what happens.

"I got off to a good start, but the irons weren't great today. The short game was really strong. Coming out today, playing in the last group and playing solid is what I'm most proud of."

Aside from notching back-to-back wins at the Lyle Cran Shortstop in 2002-03, Vincelli finished runner-up at the Loren Krugel Invitational in 2015 and advanced to the semifinals of the Pine to Palm the same season.

At last year's MGA Mid-Am, Vincelli fired an opening-round 71 on his way to a top-10 finish. Along with partner Scott Thomas, Vincelli qualified for the 2019 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Bandon, Ore., but the two shoot 6-over 147 to miss the cut for match play.

"I've been playing good lately and attribute it to staying focused and try to be positive on the golf course. Self-confidence is such a big thing out there; you have to try to stay positive."

Rose, who posted rounds of 71 and 72, respectively, to open the championship, entered Tuesday's final round within striking distance of Burleson, and would draw even after converting birdie chances on each his first two holes. A pair of wayward tee shots led to a double-bogey and quadruple-bogey and all but ended his chances during the front nine Tuesday.

Finishing in a tie for third with Joel B. Johnson and Erik Bredesen at 5-over 221 Tuesday, Rose likely will have earned enough player points to capture his third consecutive MGA Senior Men's Player of the Year honors, becoming just the second player since the awards began in 1975 to do so, matching Rod Magnuson's three straight awards from 1986-88.

The 33rd MGA Mid-Amateur Championship will be played at Northland and Ridgeway Country Clubs in Duluth, Minn.

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