Irishman rules pro division at SD Open Pro-Am

On the same day the British Open wrapped up in England, it was another European-born golfer who recorded his first career pro victory.

Thanks to what he called "newfound" putting success, 27-year-old Ireland native Niall Turner won the professional division title at the South Dakota Open Pro-Am, which concluded Sunday at The Bluffs Course in Vermillion.

The way he put it, it was nice to get that first pro win out of the way after three years.

"It was a barren stretch there for a while; didn't think I'd ever win something," said Turner, a 2007 University of Minnesota graduate from Cork, Ireland.

Turner shot a final-round 70 on Sunday to finish with a three-day total of 196. His score of 20 shots under par was just three off the course record.

Tied with Dakotas Tour regular Tim Kunick heading into Sunday's action, Turner put the putting advice he received from a fellow pro in Minneapolis a few weeks ago to good use.

Turner bettered Kyle Blackman by three shots, as Blackman finished second at 199. Kunick took third at 200, while Connie Pierce and A.J. Elgert tied for third at 201, followed by Jordan Ensrud and Chad Fribley at 202.

"Putting was all the difference for me today," Turner said. "I didn't really struggle hitting the ball, but I haven't putting well for like the last four years. For some reason, this weekend, I was."

Though his lead was never really in jeopardy over the final handful of holes Sunday, Turner admitted to not getting ahead of himself.

"When I parred the 17th (hole), I didn't even really realize how well I was doing," he said. "After that, I didn't need to do too much on 18. It was nice to not feel too pressured."

His group partner, Kunick, was trying to keep pace with Turner over the final nine holes, but in the end, couldn't make up the difference.

"He and I were head-to-head through 10, but he had a great stretch there to pull away," said Kunick, a 27-year-old from Bismarck, ND. "I just didn't have enough firepower. But overall, I'm happy with how things went."

With the weather nearly 20 degrees warmer than Saturday, including a cool breeze, Sunday's action saw scores drop. Though, as Kunick joked, it may have not been the best result.

"It was almost too nice (Sunday)," the fourth-year Dakotas Tour participant said. "There were too many birdies out there. Saturday took a lot out of me, especially because I played in the afternoon."

The Dakotas Tour next makes a stop in Britton on Tuesday, followed by a one-day event in Groton on Thursday. The tour makes the first of two swings through Yankton for the Fox Run Pro-Am on July 31-Aug. 1.

Leistico Wins Amateurs

In what he called "almost like a business trip," Tad Leistico made sure it was a successful stop in Vermillion.

The resident of Omaha, NE, defeated Sioux Falls native Tom Carlson in a one-hole playoff to claim first place in the amateur division of the South Dakota Open Pro-Am.

Carlson had a two-shot lead (136-138) entering Sunday's final round, but it was Leistico who made up the difference. Both golfers finished their 18 holes tied at 206, thanks to what Leistico called the first of his two "best" putts of the day.

"It was a battle just to stay positive out there," said Leistico, a salesman for Cleveland Golf. "I wasn't making any putts all day, but my last two were definitely my best ones."

On the first playoff hole, Carlson missed a 10-foot birdie putt, while Leistico sank his six-foot putt for the crown.

A Dakotas Tour regular, Leistico said he enjoyed spending the weekend with friends and fellow competitors Amos Rolon, Ian Hessels and Jon Dimmick.

"It was nice to get up here and hang with my old tour buddies," he said. "That's basically the main reason why I'm here, the chance to golf with old pals. It's almost like competing against best friends."

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