Oudtshoorn golfer runs away with medalist honors during Pine to Palm qualifying

Golfer Erik Van Rooyen of the University of Minnesota watches his drive on the second hole at Detroit Country Club during the Pine to Palm qualifying on Wednesday in Detroit Lakes, Minn.

DETROIT LAKES,Minn.– The University of Minnesota’s Erik Van Rooyen knows how to start and finish a hole as the 79th Pine to Palm Championship field found out Tuesday and Wednesday. 

DETROIT LAKES,Minn.– The University of Minnesota’s Erik Van Rooyen knows how to start and finish a hole as the 79th Pine to Palm Championship field found out Tuesday and Wednesday. 

Van Rooyen brought a strong driver and putter – along with his “A” game – into his first Pine to Palm Golf Tournament at the Detroit Country Club, as he ran away with championship medalist laurels with a nine-under par 133. 

The two closest golfers to Van Rooyen were Frazee senior Beau Hanson andMoorhead’s Nick Olsgaard, who each fired a two-under par 140. 

Van Rooyen employs a long game, directed by his driver off the tee, while making his finishing touches with a steady putter. 

“Erik has the best driver and putter we have on the team,” said newly hiredUniversityofMinnesotamen’s head golf coach John Carlson. “That’s a very good combination to have.” 

Both clubs were in full effect during his medalist path at the DCC, as he shot a five-under par 66 Tuesday and remained consistent Wednesday with a four-under 67. 

“This is a short course and I have been hitting the ball well as of late,” said Van Rooyen, who hails fromOudtshoorn,South Africaand is a junior at the U of M. “I was just using my driver well everywhere and I had some good putts, as well.” 

Tuesday, he drove hole six, a 282-yard jaunt, and played the back nine strong by shooting three birdies and an eagle on holes 12 through 15. He capped his round with a birdie on 18. 

“I didn’t get into any trouble and I just kept with my driver and hitting it straight,” Van Rooyen said. “I changed my putter about a month ago and it really has been working for me. The greens were a good speed today, too.” 

He sunk the majority of his putts, including a pair of 25-foot birdies the last two days. 

Van Rooyen finished fourth overall in the Big Ten Championships this past season and was named to the PING All-Region team. 

His sophomore stroke average of 73.02 was the 21st-lowest in the history of the Gopher program. 

For Hanson, his 75 on Wednesday was a bit off his 65 Tuesday, but he isn’t worried about stroke play anymore. It’s time for match play. 

“It just didn’t go well the entire day,” Hanson said. “My driver was not its usual self and my putter wasn’t good. It doesn’t bother me at all, though, I just wanted to gain a high seed and if I won medalist, that would have been awesome.” 

Defending champion Todd Hillier ofHoople,N.D., was able to see first hand Van Rooyen’s and Hanson’s game, since he played in their group for his practice round. Hillier didn’t have to qualify because of his automatic exemption. 

Hillier didn’t back down, though, by carding a four-under par 67. 

“It was a great, fun day playing with Erik and Beau,” Hillier said. “I took a lot of good shots and it was a good warm-up for match play. 

“Playing with those two did inspire me to play well, I just focused and tried to keep up with them.” 

Hillier is pretty pumped up heading into match play, where he made the long, grinding run last year for his Pine to Palm championship. 

“Walking up that 18th fairway and seeing that crowd, just made me feel ‘Game on!’” 

The cut came in at 151, with nine guys playing off for one spot, while more than some popular names will be making a return to match play. 

Roger’s Greg Melhus, who had a solid outing in round one with a four-under 67, tailed off a little with a 77, but easily made the cut with a 144. He was the 2003 Pine to Palm champion and 2001 runner-up. 

Van Rooyen’s three teammates also qualified for match play. They include Alex Gaugert (146), Robert Bell (149) and Jon Trasamar (149). 

Some local players who made the cut includeDetroitLakes’ Laker junior Austin Rusness (145), Mox Gunderson (149), Michael Brodsho (150) and Perham’s Bob (146), Taylor (147), Lee (149) and Dan (150) Cavanagh. 

The field of 64 will start teeing off at 12:15 p.m. on the first tee and go through to 2:30 p.m. 

Kent Fronk ofJamestown,N.D., took the Mid-Am medalist laurels with a score of 74-70-144. Winning Seniors medalist position wasFargo’s Clint Nelson with a one-under par 70, whilePhoenix,Arizona’s Chuck Renner repeated as the Super-Senior’s lowman with a three-under par 68. 

All divisions and flights start match play Thursday.

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