Rob Nelson of Eagleglen Golf Course was in the driver's seat on Monday at the Birch Ridge Golf Association All Alaskan Pro Skins Game at Birch Ridge Golf Course.
Nelson, teaming with Rich Lundahl of Kenai Golf Course and Fireweed Meadows Golf Course in Anchor Point, hit some titanic drives and rolled in some clutch putts as the team won $2,300 in skins for the tournament title. Aaron Dexheimer, of Birch Ridge Golf Course, and BK Kaiser, of Palmer Golf Course, won $1,700 in skins for second place at the event, which started in 1996 and evolved into the All Alaskan Pro Skins Game in 2000. The team format began in 2006.
Nelson was on the winning team for the second year in a row. Lundahl had been on the winning team two years ago.
In a skins game, a two-person team, playing alternate shot, must shoot the lowest score on a hole in order to get a skin. If two or more teams tie on a hole, the dollar amount from that hole is added to the next hole.
The dollar values for the holes were as follows: $250 for the first through third holes, $350 for the fourth through sixth holes, $500 for the seventh and eighth holes, and $1,200 for the ninth hole.
Nelson and Lundahl earned their victory by taking $250 each on the first and second holes and $1,800 on the seventh hole. On both the first and seventh holes, the team was put in great position by drives from Nelson.
"It's what I do," Nelson said, trying his best to sound humble about regularly cracking drives over 300 yards and straight. "I always drive the ball well. If you can drive the ball like that on this course, it makes it easy."
Lundahl knows how easy Nelson's drives can make the game, so he was excited to draw him as a partner.
"I hit a couple of shots early -- a chip and a putt -- but other than that I backed away and let Nellie play," Lundahl said. "Except for one shot, he played flawlessly."
On the first hole, a 325-yard par 4, Nelson's drive left Lundahl with a chip about 25 yards from the green. Lundahl chipped to 2 feet and Nelson made the putt for a birdie and the skin.
On the second hole, a 370-yard par 4, Lundahl's drive left Nelson with 100 yards to the green. Nelson's approach shot ended up 4 feet above the hole. Lundahl coaxed in the slippery 4-footer for a birdie and another skin.
The third, fourth, fifth and sixth holes were pushed, leaving $1,800 on the line on the 380-yard par 4 seventh hole. Nelson's drive left Lundahl with only about 40 yards to the green, but Lundahl's chip ended up 35 feet above the hole.
Then came the shot of the day: Nelson burying the tricky, long, downhill putt.
"It looked good when I hit it, but I wasn't sure if it would get there," said Nelson, who squatted down and thrust his putter in the air as the ball approached the hole. "I wanted to give it everything I had as it trundled on down to the hole."
On the ninth hole, with the last $1,700 of the day on the line, Nelson put his team in a great position to make a clean sweep of the money, driving his ball on the 330-yard par 4 to the green's fringe.
Kaiser's drive left Dexheimer 30 yards from the front of the green in the rough. The pin was all the way at the back of the green. Dexheimer knocked the shot within 4 feet, and for a second, Dexheimer said he thought he had chipped in for an eagle.
"I've played that shot so many times because I hit it over there so much," said Dexheimer, who grew up playing Birch Ridge. "They basically had to two-putt for a birdie, so I knew I had to pull out something special there."
Kaiser knocked in the putt for the birdie.
"This was his first time playing as a pro," Dexheimer said of Kaiser. "Playing in front of all those people for the first time can be nerve-racking. He did a great job."
Nelson knocked in his 2-foot putt to send the skins game to extra holes.
"That's what you play for -- moments like feeling the pressure standing over a little 2-footer on No. 9," Nelson said.
In extra holes, Nelson and Lundahl were eliminated on the 11th hole, along with Tom Walsh, of Birch Ridge, and Hunter Blake, of Palmer Golf Course.
On the 12th hole, a 425-yard par 4, Brian Anderson, of Moose Run, put his drive in the rough, while Kaiser put his drive 125 yards from the green in the fairway. Anderson's partner, George Collum of Palmer Golf Course, pitched out into the fairway, while Dexheimer hit his approach on the green. Anderson then hit his approach on the green.
Both teams two-putted to give the final $1,700 to Dexheimer and Kaiser.
"I was glad we made some money because we played well," said Dexheimer, who is looking for a sponsor so he can continue his dream of trying to play on the PGA Tour. "We didn't have a bogey in alternate shot and that's not easy to do."
Nelson thanked Pat and Myrna Cowan, the co-owners of Birch Ridge, for building up and putting on such a great event.
"I'd also like to thank the people of Birch Ridge and the community for being out here," Nelson said of the crowd that followed the golfers around. "In the other professional golf events in Alaska, we don't have this many people watching. It's very heart-warming to play in front of this many people."
Earlier in the day, the pros qualified for the skins game by playing in the Pro Am. Check the Birch Ridge Golf Report in Thursday's Clarion for results of that tournament.
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