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A triumphant return: Jon Brown returns to win 7th Labor Day Classic title

WORTHINGTON -- After days of golf and hundreds of swings, the Labor Day Classic came down to just one shot. But it was one for the ages. Jon Brown made a spectacular birdie on No. 18 Monday evening, sealing an unprecedented seventh win at the sto...

Freeman
Aaron Hagen/Daily Globe Ben Freeman watches his tee shot on No. 3 during Monday's Labor Day Classic golf tournament at Worthington Country Club.

WORTHINGTON -- After days of golf and hundreds of swings, the Labor Day Classic came down to just one shot.

But it was one for the ages.

Jon Brown made a spectacular birdie on No. 18 Monday evening, sealing an unprecedented seventh win at the storied tournament.

"It's a real honor to win it again," Brown said. "To win it seven times is very, very cool. It feels great, it really does."

It wasn't just another win for the accomplished golfer. Brown made a spectacular approach shot from an adjacent fairway to set up his birdie.

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"Under the circumstances, to get up and down from that fairway was pretty amazing," he said. "I basically had to do that to have a chance, and I was able to pull it off. It was great."

Even his competitors were in awe.

"That is the best birdie under the circumstances in a clutch tournament that I've ever seen in my life," said England-native Luke Joy, who finished tied for second with a 1-over 72. "Looking at where he was, he was on the other fairway, wind howling from left to right and he has a green that runs away from him and pin at the back -- that was sick. I've never seen anything like that in my life."

Trailing by one shot to Larry Pearson, Brown was at one over par heading into No. 18.

What happened next nearly cost him a shot at the title.

He pulled his shot left, despite a strong left-to-right wind.

"I'd like to say that I slipped or something, but that's not true," Brown said. "I pulled my tee shot on 17, and I just got quick. The wind was howling so hard from left to right, and I did not want to be in the trees right. I just double-crossed it, and I hit it just bad enough that it was OK, I had a shot over there from the first fairway."

His next shot won him the title.

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From 144 yards out, Brown hit an approach high over the trees that separated the two fairways and landed softly within seven feet.

"I had a full pitching wedge," Brown said. "I knew I had to nuke it high with a lot of spin to get it to the hole. I put a good swing on it and made really, good solid contact and hit it close.

"It looked so good in the air. I hit it really pure and the wind never moved it and it was just on the flag the whole time."

The approach was just half the equation. He still had to make the putt.

He sank his birdie try to finish even-par 71.

"I didn't really make any putts all day," Brown said. "The last putt that I had made was when I made a nice putt for par on 14. Other than that, I really didn't make anything all day. I had some that looked like they were going to go in and touched the hole and didn't go in.

"I had a real good line on the putt. It wasn't a hard putt except for the circumstances."

Pearson had made bogey, setting up one putt for a championship. Brown's stroke was true, sealing another trophy to put in his home in Urbandale, Iowa.

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Pearson, Joy and Ben Freeman each finished one-over to tie for second.

"My expectation level coming into the tournament was relatively low," Pearson said. "I don't get a chance to play a lot of golf anymore, particularly competitive golf. I hung in there with all my matches and got some good breaks. I made it to the final four and again had very little expectation. I didn't hit it that great, but I made a lot of putts, which was great to see."

Early on, Pearson had the lead. After a birdie on No. 1, he had the edge for the first two holes.

The rest of the field quickly stormed back and were within a stroke. Freeman made birdie on No. 4, taking the lead away.

But then, Brown made a move.

On a 510-yard par-5, Brown was just off the green in two shots.

"There was a big hill on the left side of the hole, so I knew it was going to come off that," Brown said. "It just came off the club perfect. It would have been close even if it hadn't gone in, but it just rolled in like a putt."

He made eagle, but he, Pearson and Joy would all go out in 35, while Freeman finished in one-over 36.

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While Brown made a bogey on 10 and birdie on 12, the others were playing solid golf.

Pearson bogeyed both 13 and 14 and trailed Brown by two strokes.

"I was hanging in there," said Pearson, a 1997 Worthington High School graduate. "I made some mistakes off the tee and got myself in some trouble, but I got out of trouble with no worse than bogey. I made a lot of putts. Putting is something that has failed me the last few years here, but I putted a lot better."

He quickly turned his fortunes. After a par on 15, he made a birdie on 16 while Brown bogeyed, evening the match.

Joy also birdied to pull even, while Freeman missed a golden opportunity and was still two back with two holes to go.

"I was kind of frustrated with myself," Freeman said. "It was one of those deals were I was thinking about trying to make it, but at the same time make a birdie. If I do that, then I'm just one back. To leave it past the hole six feet and then short was kind of frustrating, especially where I was. I thought I was going to be on the green after my tee shot."

On 17, the entire matched changed.

Pearson hit a great tee shot and followed with a solid second into the par-5.

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Freeman followed, while Brown was in trouble on the left.

Brown and Joy parred and Pearson birdied as he had a one-shot lead.

However, with one shot, Freeman was catapulted back into contention.

"You're never out of it until you're out of it," Freeman said. "I was just like, 'I have to make something happen.' On a par-5, an eagle was possible. I hit a good tee shot and hit a great second shot to get it up by the green. I'm not going to make that chip more than a couple times out of 10. It was just pick out a spot and hope it releases. It did and it ended up perfect."

Freeman chipped in for eagle, tying him with Brown and Joy at one-over while Pearson was one shot ahead heading to No. 18.

"I wasn't sure I had a one-shot lead," Pearson said. "I thought I was tied with another guy. I hit a really good drive and again I had been struggling all day off the tee, but I finished real well off the tee the last four holes. I thought I hit my second shot real good. The wind caught it a little bit and it came up short. I didn't hit a very good chip shot. I had about 10 feet up the hill, and I didn't quite hit that one hard enough. It was a little disappointing to end that way, but to have the tournament end the way it did was exciting."

While Pearson was making bogey, both Joy and Freeman were in the sand on the left on their approach.

But both got up and down for a par and a 72.

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"I think I hit the ball solid," Joy said. "I hit the ball well and put it in the right spots. It would have been nice to hole a few more putts. I left a lot of them in the jaws or they just tailed off at the end. It was a little bit of a frustrating week on the greens, but it was my first time here. Learning the greens a little more would have been a lot more beneficial for me."

Brown made his birdie and took the 2010 Labor Day Classic title.

"This is my sixth final four and I've been second three or four times," Pearson said. "But this is by far, the most exciting. All four players played well."

The conditions were anything but normal. From sun to wind to rain and even a short delay in play, the golfers endured it all.

"The conditions were really, really difficult," Brown said. "What a strange weather day. We had a little bit of everything. The only thing that was missing was a tornado and the winds were strong enough to almost be a tornado. I thought the scoring was pretty strong considering the conditions. Par was a good score on every hole."

Brown, who will be heading to California for the USGA state team championships later this week, returned this years after taking a few years off from his trips to the LDC.

Does the win mean he'll return in 2011?

"I can't commit to that right now," he said. "But I'm going to really try to make it work. It's a very selfish thing to leave my family and come here for four days after a long season of golf tournaments. But it will be a little easier as the defending champion to come back next year."

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