MAPLE PLAIN, Minn. – With the help of a pair of Jerry Rose birdies on the final two holes Tuesday at Windsong Farm, the twosome of Rose and Jim Lehman carded a final-round 69 to claim a two-stroke victory over the team of J.T. Johnson and Tom Whaley, shooting a 36-hole total of 10-under 132 to win the 46th Minnesota Golf Association Senior Amateur Four-Ball Championship.
Lehman and Rose each earn their first victory at the championship after falling in a two-hole playoff to Tom Heidrick and John Sexton a year ago at Northfield Country Club.
“Winning MGA championships is a really big deal, and at the end of the day if we can look back and say I’ve won X number of MGA tournaments, including this tournament, that’s huge,” said Lehman, a five-time MGA Senior Amateur champion, who also won the MGA Senior Players’ Championship in June.
“It’s fun and I love competing. When you’re able to win, you feel fortunate because there are a lot of good players in this state,” Rose said. “Golf’s a hard game and some days it’s pretty easy and there’s a lot of days it isn’t. You’ve just got to hang in there and get a few putts going. You have to play well to finish well and it’s always satisfying to win. It’s a lot of fun playing with Jim and good to finally get a win.”
Carding nine birdies with a lone bogey during the opening round Monday, Lehman and Rose’s round of 63 put them two strokes ahead of Johnson and Whaley entering Tuesday’s final round, but Lehman and Rose’s lead was cut in half after just one hole during the opening round when Lehman and Rose each failed to get up-and-down to save par.
“We got off to a horrible start—I don’t know what it was, it seemed like our timing was off or something, but it was a struggle,” Lehman said Tuesday. “We’ve played a lot of golf with Whaley and Johnson over the years and with only a two-stroke lead, that was pretty insignificant. Getting off to a slow start was a little disconcerting.”
Rose rolled in a 6-footer for birdie on the second hole to recapture a two-stroke margin before the team of James Price and Bob Rolston pulled within one shot of Lehman at Rose at 6-under for the championship with nine holes to play.
Sinking his birdie putt from 25 feet to open the back nine Tuesday, Rose added another birdie at the 12th to help his team to another two-stroke advantage before Johnson sank back-to-back birdies at 10 and 11 to thrust his team back into sole possession of second place.
Johnson drilled his birdie chance from 20 feet at the par-4 14th hole before Lehman and Rose both ran into troubles at the par-3 16th. Lehman lost his tee shot into the water, while Rose was unable to get up-and-down for par as the two teams shared the lead for the first time during the tournament at 8-under.
Rose rolled in another 12-footer to regain the lead at the 17th and after Whaley’s birdie putt rolled wide on the final hole, Rose carded his fourth birdie of the back nine, sinking a 6-footer to secure a two-stroke victory.
“I felt bad because Jim was playing by himself for a lot of the front nine, so I told him that I’m going to settle down and play better on the back,” Rose said. “It was helpful that Jim made a good, long putt on 10 for par, which gave me free run at my putt and he told me where to hit it and it went right in the middle of the cup.
“Making a few birdies on the back side was certainly helpful, but [Johnson and Whaley] played great on the back and made a big run. We were fortunate to hang in there and get a few putts to roll in and birdie the last two holes, which made the difference.
Lehman’s victory Tuesday marked the first time a player has won on his home course since Gary Johnson and Jon Empanger used home-field advantage at the 2010 championship at Island View Golf Club.
“When you are playing your home course, you know a little bit more than the others about where to hit it, and where to be defensive or where to be a little more aggressive, so that’s definitely an advantage, but there’s additional pressure of knowing that every single hole you’ve made birdies before,” Lehman said. “You want to duplicate those same feelings and sometimes it doesn’t work out.”
“It was certainly helpful, because with Jim knowing the greens, it was nice knowing which side of the green to keep the ball and where to miss,” said Rose.
In four appearances as teammates at the event, Lehman and Rose have finished no worse than sixth place, while finishing tied for sixth at the MGA Amateur Four-Ball in 2017. Lehman and Rose have finished as Low Senior at the state four-ball in 2014 and 2015.
“We’ve played so much golf together—Jimmy is usually so steady, that it takes a lot of pressure off of me, in fact almost too much pressure off of me because I kind of freewheel it sometimes. He’s usually down the middle and on the green,” Rose said. “We’ve played so much together that we know each other’s games well, and even when things aren’t going well, that we can turn it around and make some birdies.”
“We’ve played a lot of four-balls together and we’ve had some okay success, and it’s safe to say we enjoy playing individual competitions more, but these are fun to do,” Lehman added.
A runner-up finish caps off a successful season for both Johnson and Whaley as Johnson tallied three top-5 finishes and earned Low Amateur honors at U.S. Senior Open Sectional Qualifying. Johnson carded a 2-under 70 in late July to qualify for the U.S. Senior Amateur at Old Chatham Golf Club in Durham, N.C.
“The entire tournament, up until I lost my ball on 18, we were laughing and loving the fact that we were in the middle of it,” Johnson said Tuesday. “At the beginning of the day, I said to Tom that this is going to come down to the 18th hole. We played one guy extremely steady and one guy uber aggressive and it almost worked. It took us a long time to make our first birdie.
“We knew we were going to be right there at the very end before we even teed it up the first day. We just get along that well and I have that much confidence in him. Another key was when one guy is playing super aggressive, the other doesn’t get mad at him when he’s out of play. Never once in 36 holes, did he hold it against me for hitting it off the golf course.”
Playing in his first season on the state's senior circuit, Whaley began the year with a runner-up finish at the MGA Senior Players’ Championship in June, falling to Lehman, 3 and 2, in the final match. He advanced to match play at the U.S. Senior Amateur last month, one week after earning a top-10 finish at the MGA Four-Ball Championship. Last week Whaley finished third at the MGA Senior Amateur, shooting 6-over 222.
“I’m going to bunt it down the middle and keep it in play,” said Whaley. “Unfortunately, my putter was a little bulky this week, but some days you putt well and some days you don’t. We had a great time.
“We enjoy hanging out and you’re going to hit some bad shots and you’re going to hit some good shots. We’ve got to hand it to Jerry and Jim—they are definitely the elite guys here. Jerry made some clutch putts and Jim made some clutch shots.
The 2020 MGA Senior Amateur Four-Ball Championship will be contested at Cannon Golf Club.