Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Langdon brothers look for Milakovich 3-peat

IRONWOOD — The Milakovich Memorial Tournament is a golf event steeped in tradition and not prone to radical changes

The tournament has long been an integral part of the Milakovich family heritage and Jim Milakovich has said a number of times that there only have been "tweaks" in the tournament over the years.

Some 200 golfers and 100 teams along with anyone else associated with the Milakovich seem to like it that way.

In other words, why mess with success? But in today's world, change has become a part of our everyday lives.

The Gogebic Country Club and now the Milakovich Memorial have seen some of this change and more may be on the way.

Gary Mariani was hired in mid-March to be the course manager after Tyler Leskela left to pursue other employment opportunities.

Jim Milakovich said he wasn't surprised the transition from Leskela to Mariani has gone so smoothly.

"Gary had the chance to be the course manager and he's definitely been a positive for us," Milakovich said. "He has a business background and he's worked on the staff at the golf course, so everything wasn't new. He's also been a golfer, but his strongest asset is that he has great public relations skills. He's very good with people."

And Mariani seems to have fit right into his new position.

"It's been great," Mariani said. "The membership has been fantastic and there have been lots of donations."

Mariani now faces the very big task of planning, organizing and running his first Milakovich Memorial, a tournament with 200 golfers participating and high expectations from most everyone involved in the Milakovich.

Tyler Leskela once said that during the week of the golf tournament, he would arrive at the course at 5:30 a.m. and wouldn't leave until after dark.

But Mariani sounded confident he could get the job done.

"I've had the advantage of working here for the last three years and I've worked at the Milakovich Tournament," Mariani said. "I pretty much knew what had to be done and how to make this a go."

Jim Milakovich keeps a watchful eye on the tournament preparations and Mariani has his support and confidence.

"I know Gary is willing to do whatever it takes to make the tournament successful," Milakovich said.

No team had won the Milakovich back-to-back since Guy and Dave Vaara did it in 2000 and 2001, although Justin Borseth and John Houle won the championship flight in 2009 and 2011.

Golfers and tournament officials have been saying for years there was no clear-cut favorite in the field, because the competition has become much stiffer and 20-25 teams had a chance to be a Milakovich Memorial champion.

But brothers Zak and Cody Langdon changed that way of thinking when they won in 2013 and 2014. And how they did it was just as impressive.

In 2013, the Langdons needed to birdie the final hole of regulation play and then won a three-hole playoff as darkness set in.

In 2014, the brothers scorched the course with a stunning 62 and rolled in a 55-foot putt on the final hole to cap off a great round.

"You have to win the first one, that's the toughest one," Zak Langdon said. "To birdie 18 and then win a three-hole playoff, that took the pressure off and it gave us the confidence to believe we could win in a 100-team field. Last year, we were relaxed and everything went well when we shot the 62."

George Boline, Mariani and Milakovich all agreed the Langdons have to be the favorites going into this year's tournament because they are the defending champions two years running.

Zak Langdon said that when the brothers partner up (at the Milakovich only), they play well because they complement each other so well.

"I'm good around the greens and Cody hits the ball so well off the tee," Zak Langdon said. "And we ham-and-egg it and pick each other up when one of us hits a poor shot."

Boline said the brothers are real good players and both can "hit the ball a mile."

But could the Langdons pull off a rare three-peat, something that has not been done since 1991-94 when Boline and Scott Larson won four in a row?

"That would be unbelievable," Mariani said.

But Milakovich pointed out they are the only team in the field to have a chance for a three-peat.

"They're a good team and good golfers and a force to be reckoned with," Milakovich said. " They've done very well, but I think anyone that makes it to the championship flight has a chance to win."

Boline thinks the Langdons have the ability to three-peat, but he said no team is head-and-shoulders above the field.

Mariani and Boline both said the brothers will need to putt well and that 20-25 teams could make it to the winner's circle.

Langdon noted that with the way the Milakovich Memorial is set up, a team must play two really good rounds of golf to win. There's no way to cruise to victory.

On Saturday, teams look to post a low score to be placed in the championship flight.

But on Sunday, all the previous scores are wiped out and teams start from scratch. The low best-ball team score on Sunday wins the Milakovich championship flight.

"I'd say we are one of the favorites, but there are a lot of good golfers out there," Langdon said. "I'm not being arrogant, but you have to think you're better-that you can back it up. If we don't think we can win, we never will."

Boline said the course has some wet, mushy spots in certain areas, but he said some fairways are "beautiful."

"Fred Tijan and his crew have worked very hard, but the weather has worked against them," Milakovich said.

But Mariani said the greens are in great shape.

"If you miss a putt, it's your fault," Mariani joked.

As competitive as the Milakovich has become, it still retains the hometown, reunion-type atmosphere people enjoy so much.

“We haven't lost any of that," Milakovich said. "People come for the camaraderie, to see family, relatives and other events (such as the Ironwood Festival). It's competitive and they want to do their best, but we want people to enjoy themselves, too. It's a win/win situation for everybody. I'm very honored to still have our family name on the tournament and very grateful and happy for the success the tournament has enjoyed after all these years."