The stage was set for a trio of the top players in the Wisconsin Section to battle it out for the Wisconsin PGA Professional Championship title on Tuesday. After opening with a bogey-free 6-under-par 66 in round one, Michael Crowley would take a one-shot lead into the second and final round on Tuesday at the Links Course at The Golf Courses of Lawsonia.
His nearest pursuers just happened to be the two individuals that won the last three championships, Mick Smith and Jamie Christianson.
The three players would form the final group of the day, and the two chasers would be ready to capitalize on any mistake from Crowley.
However, Tom Petty summed it up best “The waiting is the hardest part.” For Smith and Christianson, they were forced to wait, and wait some more, as Crowley just wouldn’t give anything back throughout the day.
It was exactly what the head PGA professional at Morningstar Golfers Club has done over the course of 2023, play solid and consistent golf.
He’d open up the front nine with another stretch of bogey-free play. Smith and Christianson would hang tight, as Crowley could not capitalize on some of the best scoring opportunities on the course, the par 5s.
“With the five par 5s out here, to make five pars instead of making a birdie on any of them,” Crowley said. “I thought for sure I was going to have to make three or four of them. Usually that is something I thrive on. I just didn’t put myself in great positions.”
The Fox Point resident made up for it with birdies on the par-4 2nd and the par-4 6th. Each of which came from about 15 feet out.
The birdies helped him maintain a share of the lead throughout the front nine. Smith would have a strong start too, as he’d card birdies of his own on nos. 1, 5 and 6. The string of birdies would draw him even with Crowley as they approached the par-3 7th.
Both players would miss the green. Crowley short right, Smith long and left. They would then execute very difficult shots just to get their balls on the green.
“I was in an old divot,” Crowley said. “I hit a good shot up there and thought I hit it better than I did, and it kind of caught the slope. Then I really hit a nice putt. That really gave me a big boost and kept the momentum going because I hadn’t made a bogey in the whole tournament.”
As for Smith his 18-foot par putt would not drop, but he was just happy that the damage wasn’t worse.
“I pull flushed it [tee shot] and it just went too far,” Smith said. “I was really happy just getting a four there.”
Christianson, the defending champion, would quickly remind Crowley and Smith that he shouldn’t be forgotten.
A great approach shot on the par-4 8th resulted in a short birdie putt. After converting that putt, he would back it up with another birdie on the par-5 9th. The combination of birdies would pull Christianson into a share of the lead with Crowley as the group made the turn.
The three-way battle would continue into the back-nine as if the trio kept hitting great golf shots.
Momentarily the three players would all share the lead on the par-3 12th green, after Smith holed out a chip-shot for birdie.
Crowley would again take ownership of the lead moments later as he’d roll in a 16-foot birdie putt.
“So, I was a little past the pin on the right,” Crowley said. “I kind of saw Mick’s ball and it was perfect speed. He hit a great shot. I got a nice line from him, and I was fortunate to be putting up the hill.”
Over the course of the next three holes the final group piled up some pars and also a costly three-putt bogey on the par-3 14th for Christianson. The bogey would put him two shots off the pace.
With the holes dwindling the group would approach the hardest hole on the course on Tuesday, the par-4 16th.
Crowley would successfully hit the green in regulation but leave himself with a 50-foot birdie putt.
After lagging it up to about four feet, his par attempt would catch the left edge and horseshoe around the rim of the cup. The resulting three-putt bogey put him back into a tie with Smith.
It was the opening that Smith and Christianson had been waiting for all day.
Just as the door was cracked open, Crowley quickly closed it on the very next hole.
From the lefthand rough he would hit the pin with his second shot from 62 yards out. The near hole-out would result in a short birdie putt, which he would convert. Once again, the 53-year-old would have a one-shot lead.
On the home-hole Crowley would again put the pressure on his fellow competitors by hitting the par-5 in two. He would then lag his 60-foot eagle putt up to five-feet.
Smith’s last-ditch birdie effort to grab a share of the lead for the time being would miss. At that point Crowley knew he could two-putt to claim his first WPGA Professional Championship. He’d end up with a par in the end and a one-shot victory. Shooting rounds of 66 and 69, for a 9-under-par 135 total.
Christianson would cap off his tournament by getting up and down for birdie from the right-hand bunker on no. 18, which pulled him even with Smith for second place at 8-under-par.
The close call for Smith and Christianson was bittersweet but the friends had plenty of fun battling back and forth throughout the day.
“I love playing with them,” Smith said. “It is exactly what you want. It isn’t always going to go your way when you are playing with good players.”
Finishing in fourth place was David Bach of Whistling Straits at 5-under-par 139. He would card the low round of the day with a 5-under-par 67.
Ryan Helminen, Andy Hansen and Brian Brodell would share fifth place at 2-under-par 142.
Crowley, Smith, Christianson, Bach and Helminen will represent the Wisconsin PGA at the 2024 PGA Professional Championship in Frisco, Texas next spring.
As for Crowley he adds the WPGA Professional Championship win to an already impressive summer. This year he has finished second at the Wisconsin Senior PGA Professional Championship, a tie for third at the Wisconsin State Open, a tie for fourth at the Wisconsin State Senior Open, and two victories at one-day WPGA stroke plays.
Since being elected to PGA membership in 1997, Crowley has had plenty of shots at winning this championship. The waiting was the hardest part, but with the way he is playing, the next wait won’t take very long.
“I’m 53 and playing the best golf of my life,” Crowley said. “It is crazy that I’m playing that well against such great players.”
He will look to keep the momentum going this fall as he will make appearances at the Senior PGA Professional Championship in October and then another attempt at PGA Tour Champions Q-School in November.