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Jim Lehman wins Resorters Men's title

Jim Lehman Jr. of Plymouth won the Men's Division championship in the Resorters Golf Tournament last Saturday.

Back when the Lehman brothers - Jim Jr., Tom and Mike - were growing up in Alexandria in the 1970s, their dad, Jim Sr., told them he'd be very proud if they ever qualified for a Resorters Golf Tournament championship.

The whole Lehman family was beaming Saturday.

Jim Lehman Jr., now of Plymouth, defeated Will Harris of Alexandria 5-4 to win the Men's Division title.

"Oh wow! I can't tell you what a great thrill it is to be here - to come back home and be part of this tournament," said the 51-year-old Lehman after his big win at the Alexandria Golf Club.

His feat duplicated what Tom Lehman, now a pro with several championships to his credit including the 1996 British Open, did back in 1980. Tom Lehman defeated Bill Israelson 3-2 that year to win the Resorters.

The youngest Lehman, Mike, made it to the Resorters finals twice (1996 and 1990) but didn't win.

On Saturday morning, Lehman advanced into the finals with a 2-1 win over former Alexandrian, Jack Dressen.

Lehman trailed by one at the turn but won three holes on the back - Nos. 12, 15 and 16 with a birdie and two pars to steal the lead. He advanced to the finals by matching Dressen's par on No. 17.

Harris, meanwhile, made it into the finals with his third straight overtime win - a 19-hole thriller over Geoff Klein of Mankato. Klein won four straight holes on the front, Nos. 5 through 8, and led by three at the turn, but Harris battled back, winning Nos. 10, 11, 14 and 15 on the back nine.

Klein was able to win only one hole on the back, a par on No. 6, and he could only match Harris' pars on the final three holes, which sent the match into overtime. Harris won the first extra hole with par to make his first appearance in the finals.

A good-sized gallery gathered to watch the Harris-Lehman match, which was played under overcast skies with only a whisper of a wind to cool the muggy afternoon.

Lehman jumped out front early with a birdie on No. 1. Harris tied it with a par on No. 3 but Lehman countered with a par win on No. 4 to regain the lead.

Leman padded his advantage with a nifty up-and-down birdie out of the left bunker on No. 6 to go 2-up.

Lehman also found the trap on the short No. 7. He chipped out and was eying a long putt for par but he made it again, keeping his lead intact and drawing a burst of applause from the gallery.

After halving No. 8 with pars, both finalists left their approach shots short on No. 9. Lehman, however, rolled his birdie try to within just a couple of feet while Harris was still 20 feet away. Lehman dropped in his par and Harris didn't, giving Lehman a 3-up lead at the turn.

With a light mist now falling, Lehman kept the pressure on by winning No. 11 with birdie. Harris' birdie try just missed and he now trailed by four.

Harris earned a hole back on No. 12 with a birdie to draw within three. Lehman made his only mistake of the day on that hole, hooking his tee shot out of bounds.

Lehman wasn't about to let this one slip away though. He won No. 13 with par to go 4-up and he hit his approach on No. 14 dead at the stick, rolling the ball just six feet from the cup.

The match came to an end, 5-3, minutes later when Lehman drained the birdie putt to take the hole.

Although Harris lost, he was happy to reach the Resorters' final plateau.

"I'm not upset - I just didn't really have my game going," he said. "I tried to scramble but he had his game on."

Harris, a 21-year-old senior at the University of Minnesota, also has a rich tradition of golf running through his family. His uncle, John, made it to the Resorters semifinals in 1972, is a former U of M All American and is on the PGA tour. His grandfather, Dr. Bob Harris, lost in the final of the U.S. Senior Amateur last year.

Lehman, the 2003 Minnesota Golf Association Mid-Amateur champion, credited his experience to making the difference in the Resorters. "I wasn't the best player in the field - there were a lot of young, talented kids in this."

"I was 1-up or more the whole way," he added about his match against Harris. "He just didn't play as well in the afternoon as he did in the morning."

Consistency was also key.

"I hit my driver solid and kept it in the fairway," Lehman said. "Some of these young guys like to bomb it but it's better to play your own game, hit it down the fairway, get on the green and make a birdie every once in a while."

This year is the first time since 1983 that Lehman has entered the Resorters.

A 1976 graduate of Jefferson High School, Lehman said he spent most of his free time since then building his business and didn't have a lot of time for golf until he was into his 40s.

Winning the Resorters was not only a thrill but a bit of a surprise for Lehman. He said in high school, he and Tom put more focus on other sports, like football, where they both excelled at quarterback, taking their team to the state tournament.

"Golf was something we did just three months out of the year," he said.

Now he'll have a Resorters trophy to display year-round.