3A golf: Kuenster's flourish ends sophomore duel

  • Article by: BRIAN STENSAAS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 13, 2012 - 11:55 PM

 Last year's co-champion birdied three of the last four holes.

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Cretin-Derham Hall sophomore Celia Kuenster held off New Prague sophomore McKenzie Neisen to win the Class 3A girls’ golf tournament.

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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Celia Kuenster calmly swept in a 4-foot birdie putt on her 18th hole, then snatched the ball out of the cup with a swift flick of her wrist.

It wasn't a fist-pump. But the "heck yeah" gesture on Wednesday was close enough to one, and it told the story:

Mission accomplished.

The Cretin-Derham Hall sophomore finished with a two-day total of 5-under-par 141, a big-school record in the Class 3A girls' golf tournament at Bunker Hills in Coon Rapids.

And yet the score was no cinch for a championship.

An hour later, she was able to offer only a slight smile after she watched Day 1 leader McKenzie Neisen of New Prague, also a sophomore, three-putt from 12 feet on the same green to give Kuenster a two-shot victory.

"Mixed emotions for sure," Kuenster said after defeating her friend and playing partner in an upcoming Minnesota/Wisconsin challenge event. "You really don't know how to react or what to say. I felt bad; she played great all week."

But make no mistake. Kuenster was plenty happy to wear the gold medal alone after tying for the individual honor at last year's tournament with Stillwater's Cassie Deeg, who wound up third, six shots back of Kuenster.

"I wanted to win [last year] but I didn't expect it," she said. "This year, I would have been disappointed if I wouldn't have won."

Kuenster shot a 4-under 69 on Wednesday. Just as she did a year ago, Kuenster owned the back nine in the final round, playing the last four holes in 3 under, including the emphatic birdie at the last.

"I knew I needed that to have a really good shot," she said.

Despite a large, informed gallery following her group -- including Kuenster for the last few holes -- Neisen did her best to not know where she stood heading into the final hole.

"I tried to be oblivious but I kind of sensed I needed that putt," said Neisen, whose 143 total tied the previous girls' big-school record. "[Kuenster] played well; just a little better than I did."

Neisen's 2 over Wednesday was still enough to help the Trojans to a team score of 661, best in the field by eight shots over runner-up Stillwater. It's the Trojans' second team championship in three seasons.

3A boys: Welle goes out a double winner

What's the only thing better than a long car ride home as a champion? Returning as a double winner.

Moorhead senior Ben Welle shot an even-par 72 at Bunker Hills on Wednesday. He finished with a two-day total 142 to tie Chaska's Jon DuToit for individual medalist honors and lead the Spuds to a 599 team score, more than enough to claim the Class 3A boys' championship.

The Spuds' total was 14 strokes better than Minnetonka. First-time state entrant Chanhassen was third at 616.

Wednesday's hardware is Moorhead's first championship in eight trips to the boys' golf tournament. It is a hockey town, after all, and the golfers showed as much by each taking a turn lifting the team trophy over their heads and planting a kiss on it a la the Stanley Cup.

"A lot of guys back home are going to be pretty proud of this one," said Welle, a defenseman on the Spuds' state tournament hockey team this winter. "It's amazing. Hasn't set in yet, to be honest."

DuToit, the Day 1 leader by one shot over Welle, had medalist honors all to himself until making three consecutive bogeys to close out his round of 1-over 73.

He and Welle tied for third last year. Even with the blemishes down the stretch, DuToit was happy to share the top of the podium this time.

"I'm proud of the way I played and handled the finish," the Gophers recruit said. "To win it is a bonus."

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