Stendahl Wins 38th Minnesota Senior Open
By Nick Hunter
Walking off the green following a two-putt par to close out the final round of the 38th Minnesota Senior Open presented by Yamaha Golf and Utility and Twin Cities Orthopedics at Keller Golf Club Wednesday, professional Derek Stendahl could think of only one word.
Stendahl navigated challenging conditions during the opening round Tuesday, shooting a 1-under 71 to share the first-round lead before piecing together a near-flawless final round, carding a 2-under 70 to claim a two-stroke victory over Tom Helgeson, J.T. Johnson and Troy Johnson.
“I thought I hit the ball much better today, and obviously, the conditions were better, but I had a lot of opportunities and thought I hit a lot of putts that just didn’t go in,” Stendahl said Wednesday. “My pace was really good all day. I was trying to stay in the moment and go at the middle of the greens. I knew putts would come eventually.”
The win Wednesday is Stendahl’s first since earning a pair of Minnesota PGA section victories in 2017 and makes him the fourth consecutive professional to earn medalist honors at the event.
“There’s no question this is the biggest thing I’ve ever won personally. I’ve been practicing a lot more and I’ve put in a lot of hard work for a club pro,” said the 51-year-old general manager at Rush Creek Golf Club, whose hard work in recent years has translated into 37 top-10 finishes since his last title.
During his final round Wednesday, Stendahl stuck his approach inside of four feet at the par-4 fifth and converted his birdie chance for his only birdie of the front nine.
Giving himself a myriad of birdie opportunities during the final round, Stendahl showcased his steady iron play at the par-3 13th by hitting his tee shot to 10 feet, where he’d sink his second birdie of the round.
Just off the green at the par-3 15th, Stendahl opted to putt from the rough and nearly dropped a 60-footer for birdie but tapped in for par to erase painful memories from last season’s championship.
“Last year I made a double on that hole and that was it,” said Stendahl, who posted back-to-back rounds of 71 to finish tied for third a season ago. “When we finished, I was 7-over on the par-3’s last year but 2-under for the tournament. So that was a huge putt to save par on that hole today.”
Watching a late surge by Troy Johnson with his eagle at the par-5 16th, Stendahl countered by making his biggest putt of the championship, burying a 20-footer at the 16th to regain a slight advantage. Johnson would bogey his final two, while Stendahl’s only blemish of the final round came at the 17th, a three-putt bogey to trim his lead to two.
Another perfectly paced lag putt at the last gave Stendahl a tap-in par for the victory, shooting a final-round 2-under 70.
After his win Stendahl gave special recognition to fellow professional Steve Fessler, who has spent time with the entire Stendahl family both on and off the course.
“Starting to work with Steve has been amazing to me and my family. He’s such a special person—his positive attitude and his approach to things. Yes, a lot of stuff about the golf swing but it’s, ‘You’ve worked for it, now go get it.’
“Today was the day and it was fun.”