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Area Golf: Israelson's rekindled passion paying off

Andrew Israelson eyes a putt during a collegiate round last spring. The former Class 2A state champion will play in the U.S. Amateur next month in Los Angeles. Submitted photo1 / 2
Staples-Motley graduate and current North Dakota State University player Andrew Israelson hits out of the rough during a round last spring. Submitted photo2 / 2

Tied for 23rd.

It's how one of the winningest prep boys golfers finished his high school career.

It wasn't a happy ending for Andrew Israelson, but big picture, it wasn't an ending at all. It was the spark that ignited the Staples-Motley High School graduate's redefinition.

Israelson tied for 23rd at the Class 2A state boys championship in 2016 at The Ridges at Sand Creek in Jordan. It was a tournament he won as a sophomore. It was a tournament he was likely favored to win if Las Vegas put odds on Minnesota high school sporting events. It was a tournament that changed his attitude toward the sport.

"My dad came into my room the day after the state tournament and handed me a head cover," Israelson said. "Cydney Hasselberg had given me a graduation gift and it was a Bison head cover. So my dad came to me and said, 'Throw this on. It's a new era.' That kind of kickstarted everything. I started working on my game a little harder and everything kind of worked out. It just flowed."

Israelson was already committed to play Division I golf at North Dakota State University. The Bison golf club head cover was a reminder of what was to come. And the "what" was a decorated rookie season.

As a freshman, Israelson was a two-time Summit League men's golfer of the week and capped off his first college season as a second team All-Summit League member.

Israelson ranked second on the Bison and eighth in the league with a 74.08 stroke average in 26 rounds. He tallied one top-10 finish, which came at the Cal Poly Shootout April 17-18. In the Summit League Championship, Israelson tied for 33rd. He posted three top-20 finishes last fall.

"I was coming into the season pretty confident," Israelson said. "I played very well last summer. I also felt like I had a chip on my shoulder from some of the experiences I had in high school. I felt like I had to prove myself. I started right off the bat, I made the qualifying and played in the first tournament and played in every tournament the whole season—all 10 tournaments. And I played on our conference team, as well."

It was a complete transformation. Israelson gained 20 pounds of muscle to add more distance to tackle the longer college courses. His short game improved. His attitude toward the sport also improved.

"It has changed a little bit," he admitted. "I realize every time you go out and play you want to play your best, but if you don't it's not the end of the world. You can go out and always play the next day. I've kind of realized that high school golf is just the start for me. I really progressed as a player. My dad has always told me that my best golf is yet to come. I kind of wasn't growing into my body yet. I truly believe that now. If I continue to get better, that golf will just come easier for me."

Israelson qualified for the U.S. Amateur, which will be played Aug. 14-20 at the Riviera Country Club and Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles.

The incoming Bison sophomore shot rounds of 71-69—140 July 10 at the Fargo Country Club to better the field of about 40 players by two strokes and secure the one qualifying spot available.

Israelson also qualified for the 100th Minnesota State Open Championship July 21-23 at StoneRidge Golf Club in Stillwater.

Others with area connections competing in the event will be Nick Christenson of Madden's Resort, current assistant professionals Bennett Smed and Jesse Nelson and head PGA professional Jack Wawro of Grand View Lodge's The Pines, head professional Tim Johnson from Cragun's Legacy Courses and Israelson's dad Bill.

"He keeps me in check," Israelson said about his dad and former touring professional. "Even when we play nowadays. I beat him about 50 percent of the time around home. When we get out on the longer tracks, he's getting a little older so I can get him a little more.

"I think he enjoys watching me play. He sees how my game has progressed, but he also shouts out some pointers. Right now, my game is where I have a lot of the shots, but I don't have them all yet. He just keeps me in check by telling me all the dumb things I do. I still have some dumb things that I do. He just keeps me in check. I think that really is important. My dad tells it to me straight."

It's not just his dad that's playing a big role in Israelson's development. It's his sister, too.

Israelson and his sister Emily, who plays college golf at Augsburg College, placed fourth at the 27th MGA Mixed Amateur Team Championship June 26-27 at Chaska Town Course. Both Israelsons rediscovered their love of golf at the college level and are better for it.

"I'm really impressed with Emily's game," Israelson said. "Emily has gotten a lot better. The one thing that has really changed with her game since she went off to college, she used to be a bad putter, but now she's a great putter.

"I think it's nice that we both rediscovered our love for the game at the next level. I would say she's my biggest fan. I called her after I won the amatuer qualifier and I think that was the most happy I've ever heard her, honestly. I think it's great that we're both succeeding."

After the state open, Israelson will defend his title at the Birchmont July 24-29 at Bemidji Town and Country Club. His sister won the women's championship there, too. The next week, he'll play in the Resorters in Alexandria and then fly to California. Following the U.S. Am, school starts and Israelson will look to build on his freshman season.

"Golf is a lot more fun," said Israelson. "Ever since the state tournament I've had a lot more fun playing golf. I've had a lot of chances to meet new people. Especially at NDSU. We have a very good schedule and the treat us very well as athletes over there. I'm very happy that I ended up over there."

Jeremy Millsop
My career at the Brainerd Dispatch began May 11, 1999 after graduating from North Dakota State University. My areas of emphasis includes local high school sports, Central Lakes College, the lakes area golf mecca and once a year I dabble in the NHRA when the Lucas Oil Nationals come to Brainerd International Raceway.
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