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Golf: Arrowhead Invitational final is no match as Mellin wins easily

Steve Kuchera / Arrowhead Men’s Invitational runner-up Chris Kelos (left) hugs champion Matt Mellin after the event’s conclusion at Ridgeview Country Club on Sunday. When he was younger, Mellin caddied for Kelos. 1 / 2
Steve Kuchera / Matt Mellin watches a tee shot during the match-play final of the Arrowhead Men's Invitational at Ridgeview Country Club on Sunday. Mellin won his first Arrowhead title. 2 / 2

Several years ago as a pre-teen, Matt Mellin caddied for Chris Kelos at Ridgeview Country Club when the Canadian was in Duluth preparing for the annual Arrowhead Men’s Invitational.

On Sunday at Ridgeview, during the match-play final of the 92nd annual Arrowhead, Mellin showed he was all grown up.

After back-to-back runner-up finishes the past two years, the 21-year-old captured his first Arrowhead title with a 7 and 6 victory over Kelos.

The match was never in doubt after Mellin sank a birdie putt on the first hole. He won five holes on the front nine and closed out the match on the 12th green to beat the 61-year-old Kelos.

Mellin, a 2015 Duluth East graduate and a senior-to-be at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, hasn’t wracked up any college accolades yet. He averaged a pedestrian 77-plus strokes per 18 holes during his sophomore and junior years with the Tommies.

Yet, come match play, and Mellin is a terror.

He won the Northland Invitational two summers ago and was the Arrowhead runner-up the past two years, losing to Dan Moline in 2016 and Taylor Sundbom a year ago.

“I’m better at match play than I am stroke play,” Mellin said. “I like just playing one guy. You know you are playing against and what you have to beat. It’s easier to get aggressive on some shots when you have to chase, and it’s easier if you get an early lead. You can play to the center of the green and force them to make shots.”

That’s what Mellin, who played 36 holes with Kelos during Wednesday’s practice round, did from the first tee in the afternoon semifinals after dispatching good friend Ryan Peterson in the morning semifinals.

After Mellin made a 15-foot birdie putt to win the first hole, he took the third hole with a par, the fourth with a birdie putt from the fringe and the eighth and ninth holes to go 5-up.

He won the 11th and, when Kelos hit out of bounds at No. 12 and Mellin hit the center of the green, he only needed to leave his putt close to the hole to end the match.

For Kelos, who sells real estate in Toronto and first started coming to Ridgeview in the mid-1970s, it was the end of a long tournament.

He defeated defending champion Taylor Sundbom 2 and 1 in the morning semifinals.

“I played well this morning but I didn’t play very well this afternoon,” Kelos said. “It was a long day. It was a long week. I ran out of steam.”

The final was moved up 90 minutes to accommodate Kelos, who had a 6:40 p.m. flight from Duluth to Chicago en route to his Toronto home.

Kelos, who grew up in Thunder Bay, Ontario, has returned to play every Arrowhead Invitational since 1992. He says he and about eight buddies from Ontario come to Ridgeview every year.

“This is our summer vacation,” he said.

Kelos calls Ridgeview “an extended family” and has plans on returning again next year.

“The hospitality we’re accorded here is just unbelievable,” he said. “From the general manager to the chef to the pros, the Duluth people are fantastic. I’ll come back until I can’t.”

For Mellin, he’ll be back this week at his home course, where he serves as a bartender on weekdays.

“The boss gave me a week off,” Mellin said. “His exact text was, ‘If you are taking the week off and are not on the podium on Sunday, your boss might be angry.’ ”