Write Up Provided By: Rick Pledl
There are a lot of reasons why the Wisconsin PGA Professional Championship is viewed as the most important annual tournament for the members of the Wisconsin PGA Section, but right at the top of the list is the opportunity to eventually tee it up in one of golf’s four major championships.
This year the top five PGA Professionals from the event would navigate the first step in that process. The result of that step would be earning an invitation to participate in the national PGA Professional Championship the following spring, which is where 20 coveted berths in the PGA Championship are awarded.
“This tournament is important to me because it gets you into the national event,” said Ryan Helminen on Tuesday afternoon after winning the Wisconsin PGA Professional Championship for the fourth time. “The first step to getting to the PGA Championship is right here, so I put a little more pressure on myself here. I always look forward to this event and the chance to go to nationals.”
The “here” Helminen referred to is La Crosse CC, site of this year’s tournament, where Helminen closed with a 1-under 71 on Tuesday to finish at 4-under-par 140 and win the title by a stroke over Jeff Kaiser. Helminen was one of three first-round leaders after shooting 69 on Monday.
The start of the final round would have to wait though as play was delayed an hour Tuesday morning because of storms in the La Crosse area. When the sky cleared, the course did not give up tons of birdies, which can be the case in soft conditions that allow players to take dead-aim at flagsticks. Eventually the sun came out Tuesday afternoon, humidity took over, and La Crosse CC was right back in great shape.
Helminen, 44, who is a PGA teaching professional at Ridgeway CC and lives in Menasha, made three birdies in the final round, including a key one on the downhill par-3 15th hole at La Crosse CC. The hole played at 186 yards in the final round with a hole-location on the far left side of the green. Helminen’s iron shot sailed just left of the flag but hit the green and settled on the left fringe about 16 feet from the hole. He made the birdie putt.
“That was a huge swing for me,” Helminen said. “Fifteen is one of the tougher holes out here. Making two there gave me a lot of confidence coming in.”
Helminen needed that confidence to pull off what turned out to be a vital bogey on the par-4 18th hole. Helminen missed the fairway right on his drive on 18, leaving a downhill lie in the right rough. His approach shot sailed long and right of the green, coming to rest in a tricky spot close to the flagstick but above the hole with the green flowing away from him.
Helminen hit a soft little chip, but the ball still rolled to the opposite side of the green. He two-putted from there to save bogey and preserve his one-stroke win.
Joining the champion in Tuesday’s final threesome was Joe DeRosa of Onalaska and Craig Czerniejewski of Hartford. All three carded 69s in Monday’s opening round.
DeRosa, an assistant professional at La Crosse CC, started strong on the front nine with birdies on Nos. 2 and 5. But he went 4 over from there and shot a final-round 74, good for third place at 143.
Czerniejewski, who made six birdies in a memorable front nine Monday, played well on the front again during the final round, but he faltered on the back. Czerniejewski closed with a round of 75 to fall into a four-way tie for fourth place at 144.
Kaiser, who lives in Verona and was playing in the second-last threesome, captured runner-up honors, shooting 70-71–141. Kaiser had a chance to put the pressure on Helminen on the 18th green, but his six foot par putt cruised by the top edge of the hole. The bogey left him one stroke back in the end.
The low round on Tuesday was authored by Tyler Siech of Plymouth, who posted a 6-under-par 66. The move up the leaderboard put him a four-way tie for fourth place along with Jim Schuman of Scottsdale, Ariz., Mick Smith of Summit and Czerniejewski, at even par.
Of the foursome Schuman and Czerniejewski were able to survive a four-for-two playoff to earn their spot into the 2020 PGA Professional Championship.
The Wisconsin Section will be well represented at Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa in Austin, TX next April, as Helminen, Kaiser, DeRosa, Schuman and Czerniejewski will make the trip south.
Helminen says this will be his 12th appearance at the PGA Professional Championship. There, he will seek to finish in the top 20 and earn a berth in the PGA Championship, May 14-17 at the TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, which would be his fourth appearance in the PGA Championship.
“This summer, I’ve seen my game progressively get better,” Helminen said. “Hopefully, I can work on it some more over the winter and play well at nationals.”
The WPGA would like to thank both our presenting and supporting sponsors of the 2019 WPGA Professional Championship. With their help and support the the WPGA was able to present a first class championship once again. A great deal of appreciation goes out to all the company representatives that made it out to the event and lent a helping hand.
We would also like to convey our appreciation to our host site La Crosse CC. A big thank you goes out to the membership, and also to the staff for the great support they provided throughout the two days. The course was in great shape and provided a terrific test for the championship.