HUTCHINSON, Minn. – With his win last fall at the Minnesota Golf Association Senior Amateur Championship, Jim Lehman became only the third player since 1922 to claim at least four titles at the event. On Wednesday, Lehman outlasted Tom Whaley, 3 and 2, at Crow River Golf Club to earn his first victory at the MGA Senior Players’ Championship, becoming the sixth player to win both senior events.
Collecting his 10th career state this week, Lehman said he’s entering the 2019 season with more confidence than he’s ever had at the beginning of the year. Establishing himself as one of the state’s most dominant senior players in the past five seasons, his game has also translated well to the national stage.
Lehman, 61, won the Senior Division at The Crump Cup in 2016, following a nine-hole playoff, and he also owns a pair of wins at the SOS Spring Classic in Palm Coast, Fla., shooting a final-round 69 to earn a four-stroke victory in February.
“I came in this week more determined than ever to play well and I was really preparing hard to play well this week,” Lehman said. “I made enough birdies to win some holes and in today’s match I made five birdies and that was a big deal.
“Each win is really important to me. I’ve won a few other match play tournaments, but lately my wins have been on the stroke play side of things, so having a victory in the Senior Players’ Championship is a really big deal for me, I couldn’t be more excited. I’m proud to say this is my second win of the year—hopefully this will be a great year for me.”
During the final match against Whaley Wednesday, Lehman came out firing and birdied the opening hole to jump into the lead early, but gave Whaley the fourth hole with a bogey.
Carding back-to-back birdies at the sixth and seventh, Lehman only picked up one hole on Whaley before Lehman stumbled at the eighth and ninth holes with bogey to turn all square with Whaley.
Whaley took his first lead of the match with a birdie at the 10th, but Lehman countered by tapping in birdie at the par-4 14th to pull even and swing momentum back in his favor. Back-to-back bogeys at the 13th proved fatal for Whaley as Lehman carded birdie at the 15th, sticking his approach inside of six feet from a divot in the fairway, taking a 3-up lead before closing out the match with a par at the 16th, 3 and 2.
“Tom is a tough competitor and we’ve played a lot of golf over the years at Minneapolis Golf Club for a long time,” Lehman said. “I got up early and was playing solid then made bogeys on eight and nine and he birdied ten. All of the sudden I’m down one and I got pretty concerned about it.”
Lehman downed Terry Moores to begin the championship Monday before slipping past John Hawkinson during the Round of 16 Monday afternoon. In his closest match of the tournament, Lehman edged Jim Price, 1-up, to advance from the quarterfinal round Tuesday and would cruise in the semifinals against Scott Hogan to reach the final match with a 6 and 4 win
Playing in his first senior event as a 55-year-old, Whaley said he entered the week hitting the ball as well and as long as he did in his 20s. Opening the championship with a 1-up victory over David Haslerud, Whaley took down two-time winner Steve Whittaker, 2 and 1, late Monday.
Whaley, who won the MGA Mid-Amateur Championship in 2009, got past Brent Chozen early Tuesday in the quarterfinal round before advancing to the finals against his good friend Lehman following a win over Leif Carlson in the semifinals, 4 and 3.
“I hit it well this week. Tee to green was very solid and my putting was a bit streaky” Whaley said Wednesday. “I had some stretches where I would make everything I looked at and others where I was completely fooled on the read or just missed my line or speed.
“Jim played really well today. He made all the right moves at the right times; he knew when to play safe and when to be aggressive and executed key shots and the right moments. My hat’s off to him. We both won a lot of holes with birdies so we weren’t just giving the holes away. Congrats to Jim—if I couldn’t win it, he would be the guy I would want to win.”
The 21st MGA Senior Players’ Championship will be played at Giants Ridge Golf and Ski Resort in Biwabik, Minn.