Result: Kurt Mantyla (Naga-Waukee GC) def. Mick Smith (Washington County GC) – 1up
Full Match Play Bracket – https://wiscpga.bluegolf.com/bluegolf/wiscpga19/event/wiscpga1917/contest/55/leaderboard.htm
The WPGA Match Play Championship wrapped up on Friday amidst a sun soaked day at Washington County GC. For the second straight season the championship featured a season long format. Back in mid-May a field of WPGA professionals battled the classic layout of West Bend CC for the qualifying round and first three rounds of match play. At the conclusion of the two days the field was whittled down to the final eight. The final three rounds of play would then take place over the course of the next two and half months. Players were given approximately five weeks to finish off each round and had the ability to mutually determine the site and date.
With the semifinals coming to a close just last week, the two men left standing wasted no time in scheduling their finals match. Those two individuals were Kurt Mantyla of Naga-Waukee GC and Mick Smith of Washington County GC. After a close call in each of their semifinal matches, the two PGA teaching professionals were now gunning for their first WPGA Match Play title. Each player had experienced the success of winning a Wisconsin Assistant PGA Professional Championship in the past, but this match gave them a chance to take their playing resume to another level.
With so much on the line you would think the mood and intensity level would be ratcheted up as the players hit the course. However that was definitely not the case, the relaxed environment with casual conversation throughout was just what the doctor ordered for both individuals. It ended up producing some fantastic golf and a nail biter until the final putt was holed.
The great play started right off the bat as each player ended up with birdie putts within 20 feet on the par 4 opening hole. The momentum would quickly swing in Mantyla’s favor as he would sink his after Smith missed. However the Appleton native would open the door for Smith on the very next hole. With a back right hole location Mantyla would push his second shot right. A tough flop shot would then produce a long par putt. The unsuccessful conversion and a solid two putt par by Smith would bring it back to all square after two.
On the very next hole the advantage would go right back in Mantyla’s court, as an almost carbon copy of hole no. 2 would take place except with the roles reversed. Mantyla left himself in a good position on the par 5 after two shots, while Smith pushed his second shot and short sided himself. The second shots told the story as Mantyla got up and down for birdie and Smith could not.
The two players would then halve the par 3 4th with pars, and it was on to the 350 yard par 4 5th hole. Both players would hit great second shots into short par 4 but the advantage swung in Mantyla’s favor quickly. He rolled in his 20 foot putt before Smith had his own 10 foot birdie putt. The putt for Smith would just break left and now Mantyla had a 2up lead after five.
The next shift in the match would take place on the par 5 7th. Mantyla took the long route to get home in three shots, while Smith took a gamble and tried to hit the 530 yard hole in two. The gamble would not pay off though as Smith pushed his shot right into the penalty area. However a nice shot over the creek would still give him a chance to halve the hole, if Mantyla was unsuccessful with his 12 foot birdie putt. The stroke was confident and the Naga-Waukee GC teaching professional knew it was in before it hit the hole. After seven holes of play Mantyla now had a 3up lead.
Over the course of the next three holes there would be some near misses for birdie and some fairway bunker trouble by both players. The play would produce matching scores by the pair, by going par, bogey and par.
With the number of holes dwindling it was time for Smith to make his move. A great drive off no. 11 would put him in a prime position to have just 40 yards to the green. The pitch left him with just 6 feet for birdie. After a successful conversion the lead was down to two for Mantyla.
The duo would then match pars over the course of the next three holes, but what happened in the middle of that stretch would stand out as one of the crucial moments of the match. On the par 5 13th Smith would catch a bad break as the firm conditions would propel his second shot into the penalty area behind the green. Things were once again looking in Mantyla’s favor as he was in the front bunker in two, while Smith was going to be taking a penalty drop. That drop would result in a very difficult flop shot with long grass right behind his ball. With the possibility of being three down with five to play, Smith pulled off an incredible shot. The ball just landed on the fringe and rolled down to 8 feet.
“You know how the saying goes, expect the unexpected,” Mantyla said. “That was an amazing par.”
That 2up lead for Mantyla would then be cut in half on the 15th hole. Both players once again struck great second shots and each were within 15 feet for birdie. Playing first Mantyla’s putt would just slide by and Smith would then roll in another 6 foot birdie putt.
“I thought I actually made that putt before him,” Mantyla said. “It started to get very nerve wracking at that point.”
Those nerves would quickly be calmed though as a huge par putt on the 16th hole would go down for Mantyla. After barely clearing the front bunker, Mantyla caught a bad a lie for his chip shot. The chip would come out chunky and leave him 20 feet. Breaking from right to left the putt just crept over the edge and dropped in the cup.
“That putt was huge,” Mantyla said. “That was a momentum shifter for me.”
Smith would not be deterred though as he kept coming at Mantyla in his attempt to even the match. The 17th hole showed exactly why the two players were in the final match. Again Smith made the decision to go for the green in two and this time he executed it perfectly. From about 280 yards he struck a fairway metal to approximately 12 feet. He had his eagle chance and an opportunity to square it up. For Mantyla a missed fairway would mean a layup. That layup though would leave him on a mound about 30 yards from the green. With the pressure on the 49 year old would knock his pitch to about a foot. Now Smith had to make it to win the hole. The Australian hit it right where he intended and at the last second it broke left and away from the hole.
“He is such a good putter,” Mantyla said about Smith. “That whole match could have been flipped around.”
The final chance for Smith to send the match to extra holes would come after another green hit in regulation on no. 18. This time around he would have 25 feet up the hill. It was another must make after Mantyla hit a stellar chip going down the very slope that Smith would have to go up. The putt would slide by another edge, then Mantyla would roll in his 2 foot putt for the par and the win.
“I’m happy with how I played, you know some time the putts don’t go down,” Smith said. “That’s golf.”
As for Mantyla it may take some time to realize what he just accomplished.
“Biggest win, sort of shocked,” he said. “Having to play such great players, you know I kind of squeaked out all of them in the end. I made a lot of putts I had to make. In match play that’s what it comes down to a lot.”
A big thank you goes out to all the event partners of the 2019 WPGA Match Play Championship. Their support was an integral part of making sure it was another great major championship for the WPGA. Each of the event partners have been on board as a supporter of the Match Play for at least nine years, which is truly special and appreciated.
The WPGA would also like to thank everyone at West Bend CC for hosting the first two days of the event back in May. The club accomplished the amazing task of hosting both the WPGA and WSGA Match Plays in 2019. A great gesture towards the game of golf in the state. In addition to West Bend CC the WPGA would like to express its appreciation to Washington County GC for hosting the final match.