On any other day, a 3-foot putt for Eagleglen Golf Course pro Rob Nelson is just a tap-in. But with $2,600 at stake, his putt Monday to clinch a win at the 13th Annual All-Alaskan Pro Skins Game at Birch Ride Golf Course might as well have been 300 feet.
"It was the first time since I quit playing golf professionally that I've felt my heart pounding," Nelson said. "But that's what you play for."
Nelson was able to put his heart's thumping out of mind and sink a downhill, 3-footer for birdie on hole No. 9.
Prior to Monday, Nelson's partner, George Collum, course director at Palmer Golf Course, had never even won a skin the four previous years he's participated in the tournament. With Nelson's tap in, Collum's team not only won three skins, but also took home the largest amount of money.
With all four teams pushing on holes Nos. 7 and 8, the purse for No. 9 was so large it would determine the winner.
Teams, which consisted of two professionals from all over the state of Alaska, were able to choose which partner teed off for the final hole. With Nelson, who's well-known for his colossal drives, on the team, both he and Collum knew they had an advantage heading into the last hole.
"He's the best driver I've ever seen," Collum said.
Before teeing off, Collum approached his partner and said, "Let's just end it here."
Knowing the hole is difficult to play when a golfer lays up, Nelson said he liked his team's chances when he stepped up to the tee box.
Nelson lived up to his expectations and tattooed the ball more than 300 yards, placing his shot just to the left of the green in the rough.
That's where Collum took over.
"(Chipping) is my bread and butter," he said.
Like Nelson, Collum didn't disappoint.
He put his chip just 3 feet from the hole.
Collum said with his good short game and Nelson's driving, he knew they'd be a competitive pairing.
"We played good at the right time," Nelson said.
"It feels great," Collum said. "I love coming to this event."
"It's one of the ones we always look forward to," Nelson added.
The team of Aaron Dexheimer and Rich Lundahl took second place, winning $1,950. After a push on hole No. 1, Lundahl, teaching professional at Kenai Golf Course, sunk a downhill putt to take the skin.
The pair also won hole No. 5, which carried the purse over from holes Nos. 3 and 4. After Dexheimer's drive faded away from the green, Lundahl chipped on, leaving Dexheimer with a short putt for the skin, which he sank.
The team of Billy Bomar and Ryan Sparks took home $450 for winning hole No. 6. Bomar, Tanglewood Lakes Golf Club professional, stepped up to the par-3 tee box and put his drive on the green. Sparks, professional at Settler's Bay Golf Course, sunk a difficult, downhill, left-breaking putt for a birdie and the skin.
Thanks to Earl and Anne Frawner, the tournament's purse was sweetened by an extra $1,000, adding $100 to each hole and $200 to No. 9.
Prior to the skins game, the Ninth Annual Pro-Am was also held at Birch Ridge. The top seven professionals, who kept their scores during the Pro-Am, qualify for the skins game. Birch Ridge professional Tom Walsh automatically earned a spot for the skins tournament.
Nelson was the low-scorer for the pro-am, shooting a 66. He was followed by Bryan Anderson, Moose Run pro, who shot a 69. Bomar, Collum and Sparks all shot 71. Dexheimer, representing Birch Ridge, followed with a 72 and Lundahl with a 73.
Amateur golfer Tony Azzara won the low gross with a 67 and George Collum Jr. won the low net with a 65 for the pro-am.
Birch Ridge owner Pat Cowan estimated between 75 and 100 spectators attended the event.
"It was a fantastic day," Cowan said. "It was a great tournament."
Mike Nesper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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