Jesse Mueller holds off late rally to win 57th annual San Juan Open Tournament
FARMINGTON — For Jesse Mueller, the path to his first San Juan Open Tournament victory was crowded every step of the way.
Mueller, as well as co-leader Kevin Velo at 14-under par, went into Sunday's final round atop a large and compacted group of nine golfers who started the day within two shots of the lead.
Mueller needed to take advantage of every scoring opportunity as he held off 2019 champion Zahkai Brown to win the 57th annual San Juan Open by one shot, firing an 8-under par 63 to win the title with a total score of 22-under par 262 for the event.
Mueller earned his first San Juan Open title the hard way, putting up birdies on the 15th and 16th holes before going even on the final pair while Brown, looking to win his first San Juan Open title since 2019, was charging up the leaderboard, firing a 7-under par 29 on the back nine including a hole-in-one on the 18th and final hole of the tournament.
"There were a lot of scoring opportunities out there and it was fun to be a part of the mix," Mueller said of the frenzied final holes.
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Mueller's final round was his personal best in the tournament's four days of action, and having played and having achieved moderate success over the course in the past had something to do with his success over the weekend.
"I think it depends on where my game is at around that time," Mueller said. "I think it's an advantage for those of us who have played there for a long time. It's a unique golf course so course knowledge definitely makes a difference."
Brown, the runner-up in the event, finished one shot ahead of Steven Kupcho, who finished one shot ahead of Velo. Behind those golfers were 2013 San Juan Open champion Jimmy Gunn and recent Sedona Open winner Sam Triplett, who each finished in a tie for fifth.
Mueller, currently an assistant men's golf coach at Grand Canyon University, is looking forward to his next event which will take place in Phoenix but is also looking forward to defending his title next year.
When that event takes place in 2022 is still a matter up for discussion, according to San Juan Country Club general manager David Crafton.
The event, which had been held in the early summer in years past, was moved to September last year due to the loosening of restrictions due to coronavirus. Crafton opted to keep the tournament in September of this year, but said there are talks of returning the tournament back to June.
"We'll sit down with the staff, the members and the golfers to determine what we do next as it relates to the timing of the tournament," Crafton said as Sunday's final round was getting underway. "There's a lot of variables to consider and we'll listen to them all."
Mueller said the timing of the tournament for later in the summer was a benefit for the field who took part in the event.
"I think this is a good time of year to have it," Mueller said. "A lot of summer tournaments are over so it makes this one stand out alone a bit."
For a complete leaderboard, visit sanjuanopen.org.
Steve Bortstein can be reached via email at SBortstein@Gannett.com, via Twitter @DTSBortstein or on the phone at (505) 635-2680