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Tribune photo by Rand Middleton Minnesota USGA team member Andy Jacobson with parents Lori and Joel are headed to New Jersey, though Andy will fly while his parents drive as part of a vacation. Joel will caddie for his son; Lori, a tournament golfer, taught Andy golf at an early ager. Both Joel and Lori (Vossen) are 1974 Willmar graduates.

A new angle for Jacobson golf

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WILLMAR -- Andy Jacobson has played plenty of golf in his 32 years but this is different.

The Eagle Creek Golf Club member is preparing to represent Minnesota at the 10th USGA Men's State Team Championship.

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He and two other Minnesota golfers will compete against three-man teams from every state plus the District of Columbian and Puerto Rico. The three days of medal play runs Sept. 19-21 (no postponements) at the Galloway National Golf Club within view of Atlantic City.

"This is a course you can't overpower," Andy told me last week in visit to his office at Strehlow Insurance. "It's very different from what I'm used to. There's trouble everywhere."

The course, opened in 1994, is the work of Tom Fazio, a highly-respected golf course designer.

The fairways are tree lined and the greens flanked by sand bunkers. The greens will certainly be fast, especially in the p.m., and pars a happy get.

On the Galloway National website, tournament director Matt Sawicki states: "The course is going to present a very hard, yet fair test, requiring each player to use every club in their bag. ... You just can't be robots."

On a recent afternoon, Andy drove to the western metro and played Spring Hill Golf Club, similar to a Fazio layout. There he met team captain Rick Soskin and teammates, Jesse Larson, 37, of Shakopee and Matt Schneider, 24, of Cohasset.

"It was a fun relaxing day," Andy said. "I suppose I shot in the high seventies. We didn't putt out." Clearly excited by the challenge up ahead, he tried to explain the kind of game needed to hold his own at Galloway.

"Position off the tee will be critical," he said. "You have to think your way around the course and position yourself for the second shot. You can't just attack."

At a reasonable 6,900 yards, the championship course is still about 700 yards longer than Eagle Creek where subpar rounds by a scratch golfer can be expected.

Instead of a sand wedge from 80 yards for his second shot at Eagle, "I'll need a great drive and maybe a 5- or 6-iron to the green," he said.

Pulling up photos from Spring Hill and Galloway onto his computer monitor, the ever articulate insurance man tried to explain to me the subtle way Fazio forces even the expert golfer to use his (or her) eye and noggin.

"He challenges you with angles and tempts you to risk more than you need to," said Andy. "The key is not to be more aggressive than needed. Look, you can put your ball in a bailout area to avoid trouble but that's going to leave you a heckuva shot to get up and down to save par,'' because of the roll of the green. Position on the green will be critical, he emphasized.

He's not afraid of sand and it's find with him that location is more important than distance off the tee, since he doesn't hit tape-measure drives.

In the team format, the high score each day is thrown out. If a trio comes in 75-75-76, the day's score would be 150.

In 2010 (the tournament alternates with the Women's), Kansas won with a score of 423, an average score of 70.5 for the six counting rounds. Remember, these are the very best non-collegiate amateurs in the country.

The Minnesota team finished 37th at 455 (75.8). The Gopher State trio won in both 1997 and '01 and was second in 1999. Top U.S. amateur John Harris of Edina was on those teams.

Giving the course's difficulty, Andy is may take his lumps and figures a score in the mid-70s will be quite respectable.

"There's not nearly the birdie opportunities I'm used to," said the 2012 MGA Players Champion. "You hope the putter is hot but on a super challenging course your score is never as low as what you expect."

Schneider, Jacobson and Larson, a Minneota native, made the team based on their performance in summer events, though the final selection is made by a committee of leaders from amateur golf programs.

Andy has worked extra hard on his game, as his schedule allows. He's playing in scrambles last weekend and this weekend at Little Crow. At Eagle Creeks, he hits morning and evening. Course superintendent Tom Wodash has buzz cut the east practice green to approximate the slick 11 to 11.5 reading on the Stimpmeter at Galloway.

"Everyone has been so great out at Eagle Creek," said Andy. "This is an honor and I'm going to try my hardest."

This tournament is like the state-wide events he attends. He's got to work extra hard in the office and at home to get ahead. As for most amateur golfers, budgets must be squeezed to cover travel, food and entry fees.

His parents, Joel and Lori, will make the trip east separately from their son but will join him at opening banquets next Monday; Joel, golf pro at Eagle Creek, will caddie.

Andy said his wife Sara, who works in the school district, and son Aden, 4, will remain home.

"This is not a vacation," said Andy. "This is just about golf. Sara has been so supportive and flexible when it comes to my golf. We'll play in the Kingery Klassic scramble on Saturday the day before I leave."

This will be the first trip out east for the Willmar golfer, who played high school and college golf in Mississippi. Tournament updates will be posted at USGA.org.

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Rand Middleton

Covers Willmar and area high schools and Ridgewater College, plus amateur baseball, stock car racing and fitness events in summer. Writes weekly column since 1980. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 

(320) 214-4334
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