Heller exorcises demons with Mid-Am win

Parker Heller called it sweet redemption Saturday afternoon.

The 46-year-old Helena golfer erased a decade of torment by winning the 28th Montana State Men’s Mid-Amateur title at the Butte Country Club.

Heller shot a 4-over-par 74 in Saturday’s final round to hang on for the tournament title. His 1-over 211 beat Spencer Williams of Clancy and Jim Coleman of Billings by four shots. Leaderboard

The victory came 10 years after Heller saw fellow Helena golfer John Reeves make a long, bending putt from the fringe on the Butte Country Club’s 18th hole to win the Mid-Am title.

“I’m not mad anymore,” Heller said, pointing out that Reeves, 64, still plays golf in Helena. “I can’t wait to see him and talk to him. John is a great guy.”

Heller needed just a par to force a playoff on that hole. Instead he double boggied and settled for a second-place tie with Butte’s Rick Lyons.

“It stung, yeah,” Heller said. “I never thought I’d be a state champ, and I was running out of time. I was always thinking maybe the senior division was coming up. It doesn’t sting anymore.”

Heller said the loss, which came on Aug. 20, 2004, made him focus more on his game.

“I had a great 10 years, and that probably had a lot to do with it,” Heller said. “I had to worked on the game, and I got to win of golf tournaments. This one by far and away is the biggest one. By far and away.”

Heller shot a 66 on Thursday and a 71 on Saturday to take a four-shot lead over Clancy’s Michael Williams.

Coleman was six shots back and ready to make a run. He shot a 2-under 33 on the front nine. Heller hit 37, and his lead was down to two shots heading to the back nine.

Billings’ Jim Coleman applies pressure with a booming drive on hole No. 16.

On the par-5 13th hole, though, Coleman hit his drive out of bounds. He took a triple-bogie eight, while Heller took a par to extend the lead to five shots.

Coleman wasn’t done, however. The Billings golfer rolled in a birdie putt on No. 15. Heller had to chip on and three putted for a double bogie, and the lead was down to two heading to the 16th.

“I was ticked,” Heller said.

Making things more interesting was Spencer Williams, the 2012 Mid-Am champ who shot a first-round 77. Playing a few groups ahead of Heller, Williams shot a 67 — the low round of the day.

“I didn’t know that our I would have been even more nervous,” Heller said.

After his birdie on 15, Coleman stepped up and bombed a drive on No. 16. Heller followed with a driver and hit his short approach shot to the center of the green.

Coleman chipped up for a very makeable birdie putt. After Heller two putted for par, Colman just missed his birdie. Then he missed the short par putt.

Instead of cutting the lead to one shot, the tournament belonged to Heller with a three-shot lead. Heller then matched par on the next two holes, while Coleman boggied No. 17.

Drew Vanyo of Big Sky shot a 68 on Saturday and placed fourth at 217. Hamilton’s Craig Hurlbert and Michael Williams tied for fifth at 218.

Hurlbert also took home the Joe Tomes Award for the best performance by a player over 50.

Craig Hurlbert, left, receives the Joe Tomes Award from Jim Opitz, the executive director of the Montana State Golf Association.

Butte’s Dan Mulholland tied for seventh with 2013 champion Logan Lindholm and Helena’s Bennett MacIntyre at 219. Ross Bartell of Great Falls placed 10tth at 220, while Butte’s Fred Zemljak finished 11th at 223.

Dan Mulholland

Fred Zemljak

The Butte Country Club has been kind to Heller through the years. He won the Labor Day Classic three straight years from 2001-2003. He said his game sets up nicely for a course that can easily humble big hitters.

“Those three hit it way different than I do,” Heller said, referring to Saturday playing partners Coleman, Lindholm and Michael Williams. “I don’t want to call it home-course advantage, but this course sets up great for my game.”

Clancy’s Michael Williams hits out of the green-side sand trap on No. 18.

The newest state champion had plenty of praise for the tournament field of 90 golfers 30 and over.

“Out of the top 20 players in the Mid-Am division, 17 of them were here,” Heller said. “That is nerve racking because I am probably not in the top 20. I do well in the state tournaments because I’m pretty steady and don’t blow up too many places. I didn’t have a penalty stroke for three days. That was one of the goals, try to keep the ball in play for three days.”

Heller said the congratulations at the end of the tournament was the best part of the victory. He said Lyons had already sent him a congratulatory note. He also pointed out that long-time friend Dave Cashell of Butte followed his entire round.

Cashell and Heller have been friends since Heller’s first high school tournament.

Making the victory even better for Heller was his parents, Marty and Gretchen, surprised the golfer and followed him all 18 holes of his final round.

“She was probably cheering a little too loud today,” Heller laughed about his mother, “but we had a fun day.”

Parker Heller, center, holds the championship trophy while posing for a photo with his parents, Marty and Gretchen Heller.


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