Write-Up Provided By: Rick Pledl
Joe Leonard recognized the formidable challenge in front of him at the beginning of Tuesday’s final round of the Wisconsin PGA Professional Championship at The Legend at Merrill Hills.
Entering the day a stroke off the lead, Leonard obviously had some ground to make up, and the other two players in his threesome – the second to last of the day – clearly were not going to make it easy on him, either. Those men were David Roesch and defending champion Jim Schuman, state golf Hall of Famers who have won this tournament a combined five times.
After the final 18, Leonard, the head PGA professional at The Oaks GC, wore a smile symbolic of his two-stroke win. He closed with a 71 to finish at 3-under-par 213 for a two-stroke win over Roesch.
“Those guys have been here, so I was actually happy to be playing with them,” Leonard said of his pairing with Roesch and Schuman. “I just thought if I can keep up with them, or maybe keep a lead on them, I’ll have a chance because they are the guys to beat. I think that was my mindset coming in here: I’ve always kind of been around in these big tournaments, but I’m never really in the mix. Today, I wanted to get out there and see what I got. Show what my game is.”
Leonard, 36, showed some game early in the final round Tuesday, making two birdies in his first four holes. He gave those two strokes back with bogeys on Nos. 5 and 8, but closed the front nine with a key par on Merrill Hill’s tricky 170-yard par-3 ninth hole.
After seeing Roesch and Schuman go long off the tee, Leonard said he tried to throttle back a little on No. 9, and as a result he came up short, in a greenside bunker fronting the green. However, he played a nice bunker shot out to about 6 feet, and rolled in the par putt with an adamant fist pump.
“That was huge,” Leonard said. “That was a big putt for me. (Schuman) just made double and Roesch made bogey, so I thought I could make up some ground I lost on the front nine.”
Schuman, who works at Blue Mound G&CC, thrust himself back into the tournament with three straight birdies on Nos. 11-13, and Roesch, of Storm’s Golf Range, also put up birdies on 12 and 13, setting up an intriguing finish.
On the tee of the par-5 17th hole, Leonard and Roesch were tied for the lead at 2 under par, and Schuman was one stroke back at 1 under. Leonard’s tee shot on 17 sailed right into the rough and settled in a spot with a large tree blocking his path to the green. But Leonard recognized the situation, so he pulled out his 3-wood and carved a shot nicely around the tree, up the hill and almost to the green.
“I had just hit the same shot on 13, so I knew I could do it,” Leonard said. “I actually like that little cut 3-wood out of the rough – I was kind of surprised when it came up short.”
Leonard made his up-and-down for birdie to get to 3 under par. Schuman made par and Roesch made bogey, both the result of painful rim-outs from inside 5 feet. Schuman’s birdie putt rimmed out from about two and a half feet.
“I had it dialed in there perfectly,” Schuman said of his approach on 17 and the ensuing putt. “That was a hard one (to take). You gotta make it, bottom line. You just gotta have the right speed and the right break. I played it with too much speed, and it lipped out on the high side. Heck, I had farther coming back than I did on the first one.”
Leonard split the fairway with his drive on 18, leaving about 145 yards into the wind to the green. Wanting to make sure he made it, he played a knockdown 8-iron, which he expected to go 155 to 160 yards, but it still came up short. From the fairway short of the green, he hit a chip to about a foot, which he eventually made for par and the win.
Before hitting that putt, Roesch put his arm around Leonard’s shoulders and encouraged him to finish off the win right there and then, which he promptly did.
Brad Munn of The First Tee of South Central Wisconsin held the 36-hole lead with opening rounds of 71-70, but by his own admission he had trouble hitting fairways in the final round. Munn shot a closing 79 and fell into a tie for seventh place at 220.
“It felt great,” said Munn, who admitted the final grouping was a new challenge. “It was exciting because it was a new position for me, but I just struggled hitting the ball today. Just wasn’t my day.”
The other two players in the final threesome also fell off the pace Tuesday. Craig Czerniejewski of Washington County GC began the day at 2 under par, but he shot 75 and finished alone in fourth place. Thomas Burton also started at 2 under, but he shot 78 to fall into the tie for seventh place.
The WPGA Professional Championship also doubled as a qualifier for the 2019 PGA Professional Championship. Earning a trip back to the coveted championship was the group of Leonard, Roesch, Schuman, Czerniejewski and Mark Voeller of Golf Galaxy in Brookfield. With the PGA Championship moving to May the national event will now take place in late April versus prior years where it was in late June. The seasoned group of WPGA professionals will look to use their combined 20 past appearances to play their best at Belfair GC in Bluffton, SC.
The WPGA would like to thank both our presenting and supporting sponsors of the 2018 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 gratitude to our host site, The Legend at Merrill Hills. The club and its staff did a great job of the hosting the Wisconsin PGA once again. In 2018 the WPGA was fortunate enough to hold five different events at The Legend Clubs different courses. There generosity is truly an integral part of helping us put together a great slate of venues on a yearly basis.