Jeff Kolpack, Published August 16 2010
Pine to Palm: 51-year-old Hillier defeats Hoge for title
He’s 51 years old. He struggled with the game last year, but on Sunday, he took down defending champion and the reigning Minnesota amateur title holder in Fargo’s Tom Hoge at a tourney where he met his wife Jeannie eight years ago.
There were more feel-good story lines with Hillier than crops on his 1,800-acre farm.
“This is just a special, special tournament,” he said. “I don’t even know what to say, it was just a fantastic week.”
A large gallery included several close friends who saw their buddy win one for the veteran golfers. He became the oldest winner of the tourney, besting 48-year-old George Lee’s victory in 1968.
Only six players 40 years and older have won it in the 78 years of the tourney. The most recent mid-am-aged player to leave with the trophy was in 1993 when Mike Podolak took it at 39 years old.
The tournament is routinely dominated by college players. Stamina is paramount with matches all week including two each on Saturday and Sunday.
“Keeping the ball in play is the key in playing all these young guys,” Hillier said, “and they’re darn good.”
Hillier won 2 and 1 closing out the match on the 17th green with a short par putt. He caught Hoge on a rare subpar day – Hoge was four-over on the front 9 – and he made some key putts when he needed to.
A 15-footer on the 15th hole that put him three up with three holes to play was the dagger.
“Todd was putting great on the back nine,” Hoge said. “He’s a great guy and a deserving champion and I’m happy for him.”
Hoge was on a roll coming into the weekend rarely getting pushed into the final holes. But he went two down after nine when his approach shot on No. 9 went wide right. He pushed his chip 15 feet past the hole and didn’t make the putt for a bogey.
Hillier went three-up on No. 11 when Hoge pulled his tee shot left into trouble. Hillier got a routine par.
“I just didn’t play very well today,” Hoge said. “I woke up this morning tired and it was a tough battle in the wind. I was hitting some bad shots and when I did hit a good shot, it seemed like I got a bad break. That’s the way golf is. It’s a game of inches for a reason.”
Hillier, who has a lake cabin and plays Detroit Country Club on weekends, defeated 27-year-old Wade Walters of St. Paul 4 and 3 in the semifinals Sunday morning. Hoge stopped Travis Ross of Crookston, Minn., 2 and 1.
Hillier will be back in the fields this week. He made note on Sunday to thank Hillier Farms manager Clayton Lewis, who takes care of business when he’s on the golf course.
It’s a victory that may never be topped in Hoople.
“I haven’t had a lot of wins,” Hillier said. “This one is at the top, no doubt.”
Todd Hillier, Hoople, N.D., over Tom Hoge, Fargo, 2 and 1
Hoge over Travis Ross, Crookston, Minn., 2 and 1. Hillier over Wade Walters, St. Paul, 4 and 3
Chad Niles, Fargo, over Jay Olafson, Fargo, 2 and 1.
Tim Rubis, Fargo, over Clint Nelson, Fargo, 5 and 4.
Paul Krueger, Detroit Lakes, over Chuck Renner, Phoenix, 2 and 1.
Jeff Kolpack can be heard on the WDAY Golf Show, 10-11 a.m. on WDAY-AM (970). He can be reached at (701) 241-5546.
Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found