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Melhus bests the field at Pine to Palm

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. -- He punctuated victory with a brazen fist pump. He accepted the title with a sincere lump in his throat. Greg Melhus finally won the Pine to Palm golf tournament, a source of so much joy and so much heartbreak.

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DETROIT LAKES, Minn. -- He punctuated victory with a brazen fist pump.

He accepted the title with a sincere lump in his throat.

Greg Melhus finally won the Pine to Palm golf tournament, a source of so much joy and so much heartbreak. And now he was overwhelmed by both.

"I held off pretty good -- or so-so anyway," the 27-year-old Fargo resident said.

His play was more definitive than his reaction.

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Melhus, a 2001 finalist and a 2002 semifinalist, didn't trail in a 2 and 1 championship win over Scott Gustafson Sunday at Detroit Country Club.

There was, however, a bit of late trepidation, as Gustafson won No. 16 on a 25-foot birdie putt, and had a shot at another 25-foot birdie at No. 17.

But the Eden Prairie, Minn., product missed, and before he could try for par, Melhus, the No. 57-seed based on two rounds of qualifying, finished the match in style. He drained a 15-foot par putt, which rolled across a fungus-infested green.

The title-clinching putt came after Melhus pulled a 7-iron off the tee. The ball ultimately sat between two trees, setting up a difficult chip.

And a dream come true.

"You always think about putting to win the Pine to Palm, and all that silly stuff," said Melhus, who was joined in the winner's circle by Scott Hiller of Marshall, Minn., the senior champion.

"But to finally have it and make it is awesome."

The three-foot birdie putt he made on No. 1 was just as key, according to Melhus. It helped him keep up with Gustafson, a golfer at Notre Dame.

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Then again, the birdie at No. 9, a 15-foot putt that broke an all-square tie, was pretty big.

For that matter, so was the 10-footer at No. 14, which gave Melhus a 3-up lead.

"If I had made a couple of putts ..." Gustafson said. "But Greg played better that I did."

Melhus also avoided trouble with more success than the 19-year-old Gustafson.

He found five sand traps and had one tee shot -- on the par-4 fourth -- get caught 8-feet high in a pine tree. And his drive at the 286-yard, par-4 No. 7 rolled over the cup.

Little was routine, as two of the first 10 holes were halved.

"Greg's just really steady," said Gustafson, a first-time Pine to Palm entrant.

"You can't count on him to make any mistakes."

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And Melhus didn't err often, at least not after qualifying.

North Dakota's player of the year in 2002, he made the field of 64 by one stroke after firing a 7-over 78 Wednesday.

It seemed to be the latest in an un-Melhus summer, which included early exits at the all-city and the state match play.

"Jokingly, I'd been saying to some people that the only way to save my summer would be to win the Pine to Palm," said Melhus, a member of Oxbow (N.D.) Country Club.

"I don't know if that was a good omen or not."

Could have been, because he caused more sweat than the 90-degree temps from there, with triumphs over a pair of two-time champs -- Russ Newman and Mike Podolak -- and an 8 and 7 thumping of John Hagge in the round of 16.

A third Sunday loss in eight Pine to Palms, Melhus said, would have been devastating.

Instead, that was the one of the few emotions he avoided.

"It's the best tournament I'll play in every year," Melhus said. "It's the best field and the deepest field. To play well and win six matches is always a grueling task, and extremely satisfying."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Terry Vandrovec at (701) 241-5548

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