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Nielsen captures ninth WNY Open

CLYMER – Welcome home, Lonnie Nielsen.

The part-time Orchard Park resident returned to Western New York on Sunday from his winter home in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Evidently, Nielsen doesn’t need much time to settle in. On Monday, the former head professional at Crag Burn won the Western New York Open for the ninth time.

“I’m thrilled to shoot a decent score today and get the win,” Nielsen said after his round of 1-over-par 73 on the Peek’n Peak Upper Course led a field of 49 players. The event mixes local club professionals with some of the region’s top amateurs.

Nielsen won by two shots and had good reason to feel elated. Frost delayed the start of the round for an hour, and cold, windy conditions followed. Green speeds that bordered on diabolical added to the exceptionally difficult scoring conditions.

“I thought there were some really hard shots,” Nielsen said. “Some of the putts when you’re going downhill, downwind – my goodness there were some fast putts. There were some challenging pins, too, I thought.

“That’s what drove the scores up. I didn’t think 73 would have been good enough, but obviously everybody else was having trouble on the greens as well.”

Nielsen three-putted three times, including on the par-3 13th hole, when he barely breathed on his first attempt from about 12 feet.

“I didn’t think I could hit it any softer,” he said.

Another bogey followed on the par-4 14th hole when he missed the green right on his approach, but Nielsen rebounded with a birdie on the par-3 15th hole. He drained a left-to-right breaker from about 15 feet.

He added another birdie on the par-5 18th hole after a bit of good fortune.

“I was going to hit a wood on my second shot on the last hole,” he said. “Thank God I came to my senses. I thought, ‘I don’t think I can get home anyway, why don’t you just lay up?’ Well, there was a creek down there. I would have hit it right in the creek every time.”

A similar lack of course knowledge also proved beneficial on the par-4 ninth hole, when Nielsen hit a driver he had “no business hitting.” Even though he had too much club, he positioned his tee shot perfectly to set up a birdie.

“I didn’t know the course at all. I had played it before, but didn’t remember it,” Nielsen said. “I got lucky on a couple of holes.”

The 62-year-old former Champions Tour player has had both knees replaced and said he’s “thrilled” with his health. He admitted, though, that his game had been in poor form in Florida. But a tweak to the positioning of his right hand on the grip about 10 days ago has produced some promising results.

“I’d just been playing terrible the last few weeks, to be honest with you,” he said. “I hope I’ve finally sorted it out.”

Nielsen earned a total of $1,700 for the win, with $1,120 coming for first place among the 27 professionals and another $580 for being the low senior among 12 in the field. Oak Hill’s Chris Zumpano finished second with a 3-over 75, earning $930.

Patrick Nealon was the low man among 10 amateurs in the field with an 8-over 80.

email: jskurski@buffnews.com