Sometimes, the best advice comes from the unlikeliest source.
In Monday’s professional skins game that capped a day of action in the All-Alaska Pro-Am tournament at Birch Ridge golf course in Soldotna, Bill Engberg of Kenai acted on words of wisdom from not only his teammate, Anchorage’s Brandon Kaiser, but his caddie as well, 10-year-old Anika Richards of Kenai.
A deft uphill putt for par from Engberg provided the ending in a sudden-death shootout for the skins game, played on the first hole after nine holes were not enough to settle the score. When the ball rolled into the cup, Engberg let loose a triumphant fist pump and celebrated with Kaiser and Richards.
“We’re gonna split the money, and then my wife gets the rest,” Engberg quipped.
Engberg, the Birch Ridge superintendent, teamed up with Kaiser to take home a total of $1,100 — $900 of that coming on the final putt. Before he made his move, though, Engberg had to contend with other golfers who continually stepped in the line of sight and on the small chip that marks where his ball landed.
“I’ve convinced myself that it’s good luck when somebody does that because you can still make a putt,” he said. “Half the time when I got people walking in my line, I make the putt, and I had three guys walking in my line today, my caddie gives me a good read, and I just hit it.”
Engberg said he and Kaiser realized they had to hit the ball harder as the evening wore on and the sun went down. He pointed out may of his competitors’ putts were coming up short.
Aaron Dexheimer, a professional from San Diego who grew up playing at Birch Ridge, won the skins game with teammate Chris Wright with a grand total of $1,300. Dexheimer and Wright won hole two for $400 and birdied hole seven for $900.
“I hit a perfect drive, a little cut off the left trees with the wind,” Dexheimer recalled. “Chris hit it 84 yards, I think, he had a perfect little lob wedge. It stopped eight and a half feet (from the hole), and after the others missed it was a pretty easy putt.”
Dexheimer missed his putt by inches on hole five that could have won him the $250 that came with it, but ultimately he and Wright collected the money on the seventh hole after the two previous were pushed.
“It’s kind of ironic because I had the exact same putt in the tournament that I made for birdie myself,” Dexheimer said.
Dexheimer managed to stay cool on each hole, which proved to be a task since he missed two good opportunities in the first five holes. On the seventh, the team of Nolan Rose and James Contreras came up shy of collecting the $900 by about an inch. Contreras was tasked with an uphill putt from about 35 feet out but missed to the left, which allowed Dexheimer to sink his birdie.
“That’s something that every golfer works on,” Dexheimer said. “That’s probably one of the main keys for me today. I stayed patient all day and during the pro-am this morning, I started out with eleven straight pars, and it got to a point that I was frustrated because I play here so often and I’ve made so many birdies.
“I just told myself, you gotta stay patient, because the second you try to make birdies at Birch Ridge, you make bogies.”
Dexheimer shot a 3-under par 67 in the pro-am tournament to lead all golfers, ending with a 32-stroke performance on the back nine after opening with a 35.
However, Dexheimer didn’t have the most impressive shot on the day. That came courtesy of George Collum, the director of golf at the Palmer Golf Course, who eagled on the fifth hole, an out-of-sight, downhill par-5.
“That was the shortest green all day, and it was about a 40-foot chip shot,” Collum said. “I hit it, and it just kept breaking to the left, and went right in the middle of the hole. The way you’re supposed to hit it, I guess.”
Familiarity certainly didn’t hurt Collum, who has been playing at Birch Ridge since 1981, when the greens were made up of sand.
“I don’t play that much golf anymore, but I’m so comfortable on this course,” he said. “Plus I don’t hit that far but I hit straight. I know the bounces and where to land on the greens.”
Collum’s team of wife, Tracy Collum, father-in-law, Michael Bowie, and brother Todd Collum finished tied for second with a net score of 126. The professional Collum managed a score of 68 on the day.
Earlier in the day, Kaiser, a 27-year-old playing out of Moose Run Golf Course in Anchorage, led the winning team in the 18-hole pro-am round with a net score of 124. Playing with amateurs Joe Pahl, Dave Geer and Jimmy Grace, Kaiser managed a score of 72 himself.
“Every time somebody on our team had a bad hole, another had a good hole,” Kaiser said. “We played the tough holes really well.”
It is the first time Kaiser has been a part of the winning team in the pro-am tournament, which he has been competing in for six years.
Teams from Anchorage, Fairbanks and the Mat-Su Valley made the trip for the tournament, and when the scores were added up, six pro teams of two were assembled to square off for the big money in the skins game.
The amateur net was won by Dave Matthews with a score of 62.