Golf: Baker finishes off Cloquet Invitational romp
The Cloquet native is planning on playing the state amateur tournament and possibly the Arrowhead Invitational before enrolling at Florida Gulf Coast University.
CLOQUET — With a first-round 66 in his back pocket and a nine-shot cushion going into Sunday's final round, how did Sam Baker keep a competitive edge and finish out his first Cloquet Invitational title?
Divide and keep conquering.
"I wanted to win the first day, I wanted to win the second day and I wanted to win the third day. There was like three tournaments going on and I wanted to win all of them," he said.
Baker almost did, and in a rain-shortened finale at Cloquet Country Club, his even-par 36 was more than enough to lap the field on his home course by seven shots.
"This is the tournament that I mark on my calendar each year. It's just kind of fun and special to me, having grown up watching everyone play here, it's a fun one to win in," he said.
Baker all but had the 91st annual tournament buttoned up before dinner was served on Friday night, making five birdies in a seven-hole stretch of his first round to get to 5-under par, the total he ended up finishing the tournament on.
He "won" Saturday, too, carding an even-par 71 that was two shots better than the field.
Sunday's round was interrupted by rain twice and truncated to nine holes. After the second delay, Baker and the final group restarted on No. 7, a par-3 with trouble lurking short and left of the green. He played it safe on the right side, chipped on and sank a par putt. On 8, a par-4, Baker made another sensible play, hitting an iron off the tee into prime position, followed by a solid approach shot and a birdie 3.
It was only on his last hole, the par-5 9th, that Baker decided to go for some flair. He pulled out driver and pulled his tee shot left, short of a wooded area that blocked his line of sight to the green. He chipped out sideways and finished off with a bogey, having to settle for only a seven-shot victory.
Baker said he always hits driver off the tee here, and at 557 yards from the championship tee (the second-longest hole on the course), you probably would, too.
"I wasn't going to change it just for this one. I definitely gave it a little extra gas, there," Baker said of his drive.
The 2021 Class AA state medalist has made Cloquet Country Club his playground for some time. He shot a course-record 62 from the men's tees two years ago, and Friday's round might have been one of the best played from the tips of a course that, at 6,649 yards to a par of 71, did not surrender an under-par round to anyone else in the field until after two waves of thunderstorms on Sunday.
Baker's 36 on the front nine on Sunday was actually the third-best score of the day. The day's 'winner' was Brian Moores, who eagled the last hole to finish his round of 33 and take third place at 4-over. Jim Stafford, the 2018 champ, also broke par on Sunday, shooting a 2-under 34 to finish in second at 2-over.
After he took a gap year in 2021-22, Baker plans on enrolling at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers in August to play on the golf team there. Before that, he plans on playing in the state amateur tournament starting July 18 at Olympic Hills Golf Club in Eden Prairie, Minnesota and is considering playing in the Arrowhead Invitational at Ridgeview Country Club in Duluth July 27-31.
And even though he's crossing the country for school, the experience of winning his home tournament is one he hopes to repeat in 2023.
"It was super-special. I'm gonna be playing in it for a while," he said.