CLARKSTON – Kevin Klemet got a little help with his golf game last week and it paid off this week.
The White Lake resident turned back Chris Chocola of Harbor Springs 4 and 3 Friday in the final match of the 11th GAM Senior Match Play Championship presented by Sullivan Golf Travel at Oakhurst Golf & Country Club.
In the Super Senior Division for those 65 or older, Ian Harris of Bloomfield Hills, 66, made a nine-foot par putt on No. 18 to hold on to his lead and turn back Oakhurst member Ben Benson of Clarkston 1-up in the final.
Klemet, 56, an insurance agency owner and a past president of the Michigan Publinx Golf Association, won his first individual GAM title.
“I played poorly all spring and I finally reached out last Tuesday to David VanLoozen over at Oakland Hills (Country Club),” Klemet said. “He’s teaches there and he is great, and he found time to get me in there and we worked on a few things. Then I didn’t play for a week until this Tuesday but did hit balls on four occasions. Then when I was medalist Tuesday in the qualifying round to get the No. 1 seed in the bracket that just gave me confidence.”
A two-time Michigan Publinx Match Play champion, Klemet said he played especially well the first three days of this week’s tournament.
“Today I couldn’t find my swing to save my life on the front nine, but on 8 the whole match turned,” he said. “I was up against the lip of the bunker on 8, the par 3, and I still got up and down from about 30 yards from the pin. I know that shocked him. He had to be thinking he had the hole. I was one-down at the time and then I just turned around won 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13 and it was pretty much done at that point.”
Chocola, 57, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Indiana and a Michigan native who returned to his home state five years ago, said putting was his problem.
“I missed putts early in the match, some really short ones, like four or five four-footers, and you can’t win when you do that,” he said. “I couldn’t stay with Kevin with missing those putts. He hit good shots on the back nine and I just couldn’t make a putt.”
Klemet was a club professional for two years in his 20s, but soon quit the game for four years and became a reinstated amateur in the process.
“It was a situation where I started to hate the game, and did hate it,” he said. “I have a different attitude now. I enjoy just playing. I feel blessed to be out here, and it’s fun to compete now.”
Harris, who has battled back issues in recent years, played in the Super Senior category for the first time. It had a 16-golfer bracket as opposed to the 32-player bracket for the seniors.
“I would have played in the senior bracket, but I didn’t think my back could take five matches it takes to get through that bracket,” he said. “In hindsight, I was probably right. It feels great to win. I love to compete. I love to hit golf balls, and I’m always working on my swing and working on my game.”
Harris, a tennis professional at Franklin Athletic Club, said he was fighting his swing all day and it showed up late in the match when he was three-up with three holes to play.
“Normally I have pretty good control over my golf ball, but it got away from me on the last few holes and Ben kept hanging in there, making solid pars and the next thing you know we are going up 18. It was a good battle.”
Benson, 70 and a multiple-time club champion and member at Oakhurst since in opened in 1998, said he was pleased with the way he played, and that it was his best finish in a GAM tournament.
“I only made a few mistakes, and (Ian) hit some good shots,” he said. “I made him work for it. He made a good putt on the last hole.”
A field of 147 golfers started the week, including 95 playing for the overall senior title, and 52 vying for the over-65 super senior crown.
Klemet topped Charles Anderson of Grand Rapids 5 and 4 in Thursday’s semifinal match to reach the final, and Chocola turned back Robert Matthiesen of Mason in 22 holes.
Harris made his way to his final with a 1-up semifinal win over Rick Herpich of Orchard Lake. Harris said a final 3-iron to the par 5 18th might be the best shot he has ever hit in competition. Benson beat former champion Mike Raymond of Jackson in 19 holes to get his final berth.