Golfers tackle qualifying day at Northwest Invite

Hibbing’s Jake Riihinen watches his par putt fall into the cup on the 18th green during qualifying action at the 94th annual Vern Fryklund Northwest Invitational Golf Tournament Friday at the Mesaba Country Club. Riihinen finished with a score of 76.

HIBBING — It’s the most nerve racking day of the tournament, but somehow, some way, 32 golfers put themselves into a position to win the 94th annual Vern Fryklund Northwest Invitation Golf Tournament Friday at the Mesaba Country Club.

With the projected cut set at 81, there’s pressure to put up a good number. Throw in the weather conditions, which were rainy and chilly, and anything can happen.

The weather or the importance of day didn’t seem to bother six golfers in particular — Jake Riihinen, Ryan Riihinen, Eric Riihinen, Jacob Peterson, Taylor Sunbom and Tyler Harvey.

Jake, who is the youngest of three Riihinen brothers, fired a 76 to earn his way into the title chase.

“It (the weather) wasn’t bad,” Jake said. “It helps when you have rain gloves, but in the rain, it’s not the worst. It was a light drizzle. It wasn’t bad today.”

Jake shot a 38 on the back nine, where he started his round, then he fired a 38 on the front nine.

“I was hoping to shoot 40 or less (on the front),” Jake said. “I hoped to play the same game as I did on the back nine, just play it safe. I had a little room for error. I made a lot of good putts.

“The putter was going well today.”

Jake will use that same strategy when match play begins today.

“I’m hoping to play the same way I did in the Men’s Club, play it safe, hit it straight, and hopefully, the putter is working well,” Jake said.

Ryan, who has won a Northwest title, fired a 77.

Even though he’s a veteran of this event, he knows what qualifying day is all about.

“It’s stressful, not just for me, but for everyone,” Ryan said. “You have to come in with a decent score, good enough to make the championship flight, then you go from there. A lot of my shots, I played a little more safely than usual, so I could put up a decent score on the hole.

“It’s a matter of playing consistently out here on qualifying day. If you have one bad shot, you have to let it go and go onto the next one. You have to keep a positive attitude and have fun out there.”

Ryan said he’ll try to work out some flaws in his swing before match play begins.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Ryan said. “Today was a rough day, so I’ll spend some time on the range trying to fix my swing. Match play is a whole different game than stroke play.

“Everyone who has played through this tournament knows that. It’s bringing your A-game in each of your matches, then go from there.”

Eric, who is the oldest of the brothers, shot a 78, 41-37.

He recovered nicely from a tough start.

“When you start off with three bogies in a row, it’s tough to rebound from that,” Eric said. “I hit all of my shots well, but my short game fell apart.”

That changed on the front nine.

“My short game improved,” Eric said. “On the first nine, my short irons, I was struggling a little bit. I found a groove and started hitting my shots to where I wanted them. I started making putts. Everything was clicking in a sense.”

He enjoyed playing with his brothers.

“We’re all competitive, so I like to try and beat my brothers,” Eric said. “When they’re beating me, I like to try and step up my game. That’s golf. We’re out here trying to have fun.

“We’re in the Northwest, so it’s always a good time.”

Peterson, who is from Virginia, fired a 77, 38-39, to qualify.

“I felt comfortable, but it’s always a challenge playing in the rain,” Peterson said. “With wet conditions, you get slippery grips. It was hard.”

That made Peterson alter his game a little bit.

“I played safer today than I normally would,” Peterson said. “I hit a lot of irons off the tee. I didn’t smash the driver on a lot of the holes that were risky. Every situation is a little different.

“You look at each situation one-by-one. You look at every situation differently.”

Peterson, who is in his second Northwest, is looking forward to match play.

“All I want to do is play good golf, and hopefully, play better than my opponent,” Peterson said.

Sunbom is also a veteran of the event, having played in 2013 and 2020. The Hermantown native lost in the semifinals in 2013. He shot a 75 to solidify his spot in championship flight.

“It was on and off rain, so that was difficult to deal with,” Sunbom said. “You need to shoot a decent score to get in champ flight. From there, it doesn’t matter. I’ve played in enough conditions like this.

“You have to deal with it. Everyone has to deal with it. You can’t whine about it or be upset. You have to continue to hit good shots.”

According to Sunbom, he hit just enough good shots for his 75.

“I don’t know if I had so many good ones to get me there, it was more of the bad ones that got me there,” Sunbom said. “I made a ton of pars. I only had one birdie today, a double and a couple of bogies.

“There’s a little bit of rust I have to shake off for the weekend.”

Last year, Sunbom lost in the second round, so he has to make up for some lost time.

“I was a little upset about that,” Sunbom said. “I’ll have to be more focused than that last year, and try to go deeper.”

As for Harvey, he missed out on championship flight last year, but with his 74, he should be solidly inside the cut line.

“I played OK,” Harvey said. “I started off well. Kind of faltered the last few holes again. I’m happy. It’s one of those things. In the qualifying round, you want to secure a spot in the championship flight and go from there.

“I’m always thinking even par, that’s the goal, and few here or there is fine with me. I was 1-under with three to go, and I didn’t finish the way I wanted to.”

What happened?

“I was getting aggressive when I shouldn’t have to try and get that low score or have a chance anyway,” Harvey said. “It was a couple of bad decisions, and I gave a few strokes back.”

Harvey won’t hold back now that match play is next up on the schedule.

“Match play is a completely different mindset,” Harvey said. “You can be aggressive, conservative when needed, but aggressive to try and put the pressure on whoever I’m playing.”

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