The first tee jitters hit us all. Whether it be a big tournament or just a casual daily round, it is one of the challenges of golf. The question is, can the player block them out, or possibly recover quickly to right the ship.
Or does it go the other way and derail the early part of the round, leading to a tough day on the links.
For Brian Brodell those jitters were ever present on Friday morning as the semifinals of the StrackaLine WPGA Match Play Championship got underway at West Bend Country Club.
However, it wasn’t just your normal jitters for Brodell. As he walked up to the first tee, he took a gander at the names on the WPGA Match Play trophy. The 1982 and 1985 name plates read, Bill Brodell.
The former long-time Butte des Morts CC head PGA professional’s name is scattered throughout the permanent trophies that line the trophy room at Golf House of Wisconsin. A constant reminder of the great run of golf he had throughout the 1980s.
It has been nearly two and half years since Bill Brodell passed away and moments like those would bring out the emotions in any son. Let alone someone that was on the first tee, trying to focus on winning their first WPGA major title.
The first task at hand before he could get to the finals, was a toe-to-toe matchup with Matt Sabol of Janesville CC.
After navigating those first tee emotions, Brodell would accumulate a 3up lead over the course of the first eleven holes of the morning match. He’d then see the lead vanish quickly on the next three holes. The match would stay all square until they made it to no. 18. With a left to right wind pushing the ball, Sabol’s second shot would find the penalty area next to the green. The miscue would lead to a double bogey and a 1up win for Brodell.
The PGA general manager at Golf Galaxy in Appleton had navigated his way past the first obstacle.
On the other side of the draw in the second semifinal was David Bach of Whistling Straits and Charlie Brown of Geneva National Resort.
Bach would quickly gain the momentum from the start with steady and overpowering play. After five pars to start the round, he would make two eagles and two birdies on his next six holes. The impressive stretch would lead to an 8 and 7 win.
The stage was set as two of the top playing professionals in the section would be looking to earn their first WPGA member major championship.
For Brodell those jitters would turn into focus in the afternoon. He’d get off to a hot start with some solid ball striking. A twelve-foot birdie would fall on no. 2 right away. Then after hitting the green in two on the par-5 3rd, he would hit a great lag putt from front left to the back right hole location, to set up another birdie.
The 2up lead would remain until the seventh hole, as once again a great approach shot would set up another birdie.
“Ball striking has always been a strength of my game,” Brodell said. “Driving it in play and putting the ball on the green. I knew I had to do that against David. I played one of my better front nines in a while. Playing against him you know he has plenty of offense.”
With the momentum on his side the great play would continue on the 158-yard par-3 8th. This time however the damage would come via the putter. With about 45 feet left for birdie. He would strike the right to left hard breaker and somehow it would find the cup. His lead had grown to 4up thru eight.
His hot play would however be cooled down a bit on no. 9, as a short par putt would not drop, and Bach had claimed his first hole of the match.
Bach would continue to chip away at the Brodell lead as he would make birdie on no. 11 and also take advantage of a missed green by his opponent on the par-3 13th. With five to play the UW-Stout graduate had whittled the lead down to just one.
The slim margin would be short lived though as Brodell would once again let his putter do the talking. On the very next hole he would roll in a 25-foot birdie putt to increase his lead to 2up.
With the number of holes dwindling Bach knew he had to make something happen. However, his attempts would be matched by Brodell. Including on the par-4 16th after Bach had nearly holed his second shot from the fairway. After the conceded birdie, Brodell would knock in a left to right 8-footer for his own birdie.
With the pressure on to win the final two holes to push the match to a 19th hole, both players would push their tee shots to the right on the 190-yard par-3 17th. Each player would hit a great chip onto the crowned green but neither player could roll in the par putt. For Brodell the bogey was a moot point, as he did what he needed to seal the deal.
For Bach not all was lost as it was just his second appearance in the event. After making it to quarterfinals in 2022 and now the finals this year, the future looks bright for the twenty-eight-year-old.
“I am happy with how I played, obviously I didn’t hit it as close to the pins and make as many putts as I did in the semifinals,” Bach said. “I think match play is often determined by the putter. There were a few I could have had but he made some lengthy ones, which is great in match play.”
Brodell’s journey through the 64-player bracket started back in May as the field gathered for the qualifying round and the first three rounds of matches at Glen Erin GC. Victories over James Komorowski, Erik Stenseth and 7-time champion Jim Schuman would help him find his way into the quarterfinals.
He would then defeat Andrew Troyanek by a margin of 2 and 1 in mid-June, to punch his ticket to the semifinals on Friday.
For Brodell his Wisconsin State Amateur title in 2003 and also his Illinois PGA Player of the Year award were great accomplishments, however this title has an extra special meaning.
“To put your name on a trophy with my dad, who is a two-time champion,” Brodell said. “I mean I cried on the first tee before I hit my first shot. I have to think some of those long putts he was looking down and coaxed them into the hole for me. That is the coolest thing.”
The WPGA would like to thank our event partners, StrackaLine, Ahead, and the PGA Tour, for helping make it another great WPGA Match Play Championship.
A big thank you also goes out to West Bend for playing host to the the semifinals and final match on Friday.