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Brian Wierima / Forum Communications Co., Published August 09 2012

Miller hangs on to beat last year's champ Holland Pine to Palm golf tourney

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. – One day after barely advancing into the field of 64, Fargo’s Jon Miller upset the defending champion Thursday at the Pine to Palm Golf Championship at the Detroit Country Club.

West Fargo’s Connor Holland becomes the second-consecutive defending champion to fall in the first round, after losing to Miller 1-up.

“I never came in feeling like an underdog,” Miller said. “I had a lot of solid shots. Although I wasn’t putting very well today, I lived to see another day.”

Miller endured an 11-player playoff for the final six spots on Wednesday. The former North Dakota State golfer earned the No. 64 seed on the sixth playoff hole to set up his showdown with Holland.

“I know this course very well and I’ve played in this tournament for many years and only missed qualifying for it once or twice,” Miller said. “So I was confident heading into match play.”

Down three to Holland heading into the 12th hole, Miller started finding his swing while Holland’s started to malfunction. The defending champion found himself in the trees on hole 12, where Miller made par to carve the deficit to two holes.

The former Bison golfer made birdie on 13, while Holland found the trees again on 15 – when the match became deadlocked.

“I just hung around and I found something in my swing during the 12th hole,” Miller said. “I started hitting some good shots and ended up hitting 16 of 18 greens to keep pressure on him.”

Miller gained his first lead with a par on 17, while Holland was stuck with bogey. The duo halved 18, after Miller stuck his approach shot within six feet of the cup and sealed it with a two-putt.

“Normally I’m pretty conservative, but after he made birdie on the first hole and eagle on five, I starting hitting more with my driver,” Miller said. “I also hit a long 30-foot putt on 13 to really give me some momentum.”

Miller shot 1-under par for the day, thus proving not making mistakes is a key in match play.

“My putting and mental game are my strengths, you just can’t give shot away,” Miller said. “After that, anything can happen.”

Medalist Doug Jeans Jr. of Forest Lake survived Detroit Lakes senior Austin Rusness, beating the Laker 2-up.

Rusness had held a 3-up lead in the middle of the match, but dropped three consecutive holes to Jeans on holes 13 through 15, before the Madison Tech College golfer put the wraps on it with a win on 17 and 18.

Todd Hillier of Hoople, N.D., knows exactly what Holland feels like, since it was he who lost in the first round in 2011 as the defending champion. But Hillier wouldn’t take an early exit this time around, as he finished off Erik Weiss 2 and 1.

“I birdied my first two holes, so that helped get me going,” Hillier said. “Then we went back and forth and it ended up being a great match.”

Hillier dug out from a two-down deficit after hole eight, winning nine by par and dropping a birdie putt on 14 to take the 1-up advantage.

The 2010 champion nailed another birdie putt to take a

2-up lead on 15 and held out the rest of the way to advance.

Hillier recalls his disappointing loss last year in the first round to Teddy Cox.

“Being the No. 1 seed is just a different mindset, because the rest of the golfers are already into it after qualifying and you are behind the eight ball,” Hillier said. “It just feels a little lackadaisical playing in that first round after not having to have to qualify. It’s tough to get going.”

Three former Pine to Palm champions also advanced, as 1991 and 2005 champ Rick Kuhn defeated Kyle Beversdorf 3 and 2; 2003 champion Greg Melhus downed Brandon Sletmoen 3 and 2 and of course, Hillier downing Weiss.

Brian Wierima is the sports editor of the Detroit Lakes (Minn.) Tribune