Houghton teen wins UPGA title in playoff

Gunnar Stein of Houghton practices his swin with an iron from the fairway on the 18th hole during the final round of the Upper Peninsula Golf Association championship tournament on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, at Wawonowin Country Club in Champion. Stein parred the hole to make a playoff with Baraga native John “Gus” Koskinen, then won it with another par on the first extra hole. (Journal photo by Steve Brownlee)

By STEVE BROWNLEE
Journal Sports Editor
CHAMPION — The first playoff hole summed up the day for Baraga native John “Gus” Koskinen at the Upper Peninsula Golf Association championship tournament at Wawonowin Country Club on Saturday.
He used an iron to hit a relatively short tee shot straight down the middle of the fairway, and then a short iron to within 20 or 30 feet of the hole.
So far, so good.
His birdie putt settled about three feet from the hole, leaving him barely more than a tap-in for par that would extend the playoff.
But he lipped out that putt and had to settle for bogey. With playoff opponent Gunnar Stein already parring in nearly identical fashion, the day and the tournament was over.
“I just felt uncomfortable putting all day,” Koskinen said, echoing a sentiment he had a day earlier when he tied for the low round of the day.
Stein, who was a senior on Houghton High School’s 2016 MHSAA U.P. team champions that won at Wawonowin, reportedly is the first Portage Lake Golf Course winner of the UPGA since at least the 1930s.
And at 19 years old, he has to be one of its youngest.
“I just drew on a lot of what I learned when I played in high school,” said Stein, who was redshirted as a freshman on the Saginaw Valley State men’s golf team last year.
“One thing that helped was that I played this course quite a few times in high school,” he said.
But all that did was even the playing field with the two men ahead of him, Koskinen and home course veteran Mark Clements.
At 44 and 37 years of age respectively, Clements and Koskinen have a lot more experience at Wawonowin than the teenaged Stein.
And all three of Stein’s playing partners, which included Wawonowin veteran Scott Saari, were past champions of this tourney — Clements in 1997 and 2001, Koskinen in 2002 and Saari in 1981.
“We all hit some errant shots, but everyone seemed to be hitting quality shots when we needed to,” Koskinen said of himself and his playing partners.
Stein had the low round of the day, 69, while Koskinen posted 73 and Clements 75 to miss the playoff by a single stroke.
Clements entered the day with a one-shot lead over Koskinen and five shots over Stein, the only golfers who had a realistic shot at the top spot. The next golfers were 10 shots back — the fourth-place Saari and Chad Tirschel of Oak Crest in Norway.
“I knew I needed to get off to a fast start,” Stein said.
But even he conceded he couldn’t have predicted how hot how fast.
He birdied the third and sixth holes and eagled No. 7, a 4-under start that gave him a one-shot lead over Clements and Koskinen.
“I drew it a little too much on my drive on (No.) 7 and put it in the left rough,” Stein said. “Then I found I had a terrible lie — it was buried.
“So I just tried to hit a real low 3-iron and it ran up on the green about 25 feet away (from the cup).
“The putt had a double break, but I read it perfectly.”
Was it too much too fast though?
“I just tried to breath and calm myself down,” Stein said. “I knew we had a lot of golf left to play. You just have to play your game.”
Clements saved himself with his putter several times.
“I went out of bounds on the first hole and double-bogeyed the second,” he said.
“I was ahead by No. 13 again, but both guys birdied 13 and I double-bogeyed 14 for the second straight day.
“I’ve been playing in this tournament for so long, I know you can’t make doubles (bogeys) and expect to win this, not with players of this caliber.”
The trio were all tied following the 16th hole, but Clements finished par-par while Stein and Koskinen went birdie-par to enter the playoff.
Saari led a bunch-up group that came after the top three players. He shot 75 Saturday to finish at 295, 10 strokes behind Clements. Korey Smith of Gladstone shot 70, Brian Smith of Kincheloe 75 and Chad Tirschel of Norway 76 to all end up at 296.
The rest of the championship flight included K.C. Saari of Wawonowin, 77 on Saturday for a 300 total; Reese Lassila of Houghton, 78 and 301; Jim Markell of Iron Mountain, 77 and 303; Jim Wagner of Marinette, Wisconsin, 79 and 308; and Carter Mason of Wawonowin, 75 and 311.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.