The Men’s Northern Open golf championship came home to Smithers yesterday (Sept. 5) following a tough-fought final round in which now two-time champion Joel Veenstra gritted it out to defeat defending champ Scott Rigler (Terrace) by a single stroke.
Rigler stumbled out of the gate on Saturday (Sept, 3) with a double bogey on the first hole of the tournament at the Smithers Golf and Country Club and finished the day with a two-over par 74 to Veenstra’s one-under par 71.
Perennial contender and former multiple-time champion Don Olson also shot 71 to tie the lead with Veenstra after 18 holes.
Rigler clawed back to within one stroke on Sunday (Sept. 4) with a 71 to Veenstra’s 73 while Olson shot 74 to tie with the defender for second place after 36 holes.
On Monday after nine holes it looked like Rigler might run away with the tournament as he carded a 34 on the front nine to Veenstra’s 38 and Olson’s 37 taking a three-stroke lead over Veenstra into the back nine.
After matching birdies on the 10th hole, however, Veenstra held steady through the 14th with a string of pars while Rigler put up bogeys on 11 and 14 bringing the challenger to within one stroke of the lead.
On 15, Veenstra drew even with the defending champ putting up a four on the par-5 dogleg while Rigler only managed a five.
The two men remained after the next hole with matching pars the tough par-3 16th. Then it got interesting on the par-5 17th.
Veenstra was in a tough spot off his drive with a relatively narrow window between two tall trees, but a beautiful shot to thread the needle, put him in great shape with around 160 yards to the right middle pin.
Rigler, with a perfect drive on the right of the fairway and roughly 240 yards to go, decided to go for the green in two. He didn’t have quite enough, though, coming up just short of the right-front sand trap.
Veenstra didn’t manage to get it close with his third shot winding up with approximately a 20-foot putt for birdie.
Rigler’s chip shot over the bunker, however, came up even shorter leaving a very long birdie putt from the fringe. He rolled it well, but it didn’t break for the defending champ as expected and he had to settle for a tap-in par.
Veenstra then drained the 20-footer for a one-stroke lead going to the 54th and final hole of the tournament.
Olson, who had fallen behind by this point by four strokes, laid up to the top of the hill on the short 18th and went ahead to let the leaders, who were both going for the green, know when it was clear.
Both Veenstra and Rigler almost drove the green. Veenstra’s chip came up about eight feet short, while Rigler bladed his past the hole by roughly 20 feet. Rigler’s birdie put was a valiant effort but he again had to settle for par.
Veenstra also missed his birdie, but par was good for the win at one-under par 215 over the three days.
Following the victory, the 22-year-old champ described the patience it took to come from behind.
“I knew I was playing good all week, I was just struggling with the driver a little bit,” he explained. “Number two I hit it in the trees, lost ball, and ended up making a bogey and then another bad tee shot on number five, another kind of sloppy bogey.
“But once I started getting it in play I just kind of waited for a few putts to drop and on the back nine started making a few. And then Scotty played well all day and then had a couple of bad bounces here and there on the back nine. I started getting a little closer near hole 16-17, we were all tied up. A nice putt there on 17 was good enough.
Rigler also a multiple-time champion was gracious in defeat.
“Conditions were pretty good, I just didn’t take advantage of them on the back nine,” he said. “A couple of missed opportunities closer to the greens and some bad putts and unfortunately I ended up losing out by one.”
While crediting Veenstra for his good play, Rigler added fatigue may have been a factor on the final nine holes.
“Mostly I just got a little tired,” he said. “It’s been a long four days of golf and I haven’t played this many in a long time. It was definitely a good time though.
As runner-up, Rigler won Flight 1.
Veenstra first won the Northern in 2017 when he was just 17 years old.
“It feels good,” he said. “It’s been a while since I’ve been able to play in this tournament since being in school. It’s nice to be back and be able to win again. It’s nice playing on the home course in front of a little group of fans. It made for a good atmosphere out there and I enjoyed it.”
While Olson’s 219 gross score for the three rounds was not good enough to have his name engraved on the champion’s trophy again, it was good enough for the overall low net title. With his handicap factored in, Olson eclipsed the field at a nine-under-par net total of 207.
Smithers Golf and Country Club’s new golf pro, Steven Coulthard, pulling double duty as one of the tournament organizers and a competitor shot rounds of 76, 73 and 72 for a three-round total of 221 to come in fourth place overall taking home the 2nd low gross prize in Flight 1.
“It was a great experience, the tournament was a lot of fun,” he said. “Definitely some challenging conditions, but all around it was good. I’m pretty tired after playing and setting up and doing everything else, but it was pretty great.”