The 2020 WPGA Match Play Championship came to a close on Wednesday. With the event undergoing a facelift just a few years back, this year’s edition ended up featuring a hybrid of that facelift. After attempting to continue the current makeup the WPGA was thrown a curveball by Mother Nature. The first two days of the championship were set for mid-May at North Shore CC but were rained out. Shortly after a decision was made to use the Hornung’s Classic in early June as a qualifying site, which would produce a 32 player bracket (normally 64). The altered event schedule and field size would then have players playing the first three rounds at mutually agreed upon sites over three and half months. The stretch would lead to a big finish, with the semifinals and championship match taking place on the same day in late September.
Maneuvering their way through the field and getting to the final four was John Freeman, Ryan Helminen, Chad Sandee and Jim Schuman. The foursome would be battling it out on Hidden Glen GC, the P.B. Dye design, known for its undulating greens and demanding layout. The first semifinal of the morning would feature Helminen and Sandee, while the second match would pit Schuman against Freeman. The two matches would turn out to be just an appetizer before the main course in the afternoon. In match one the consistency of Helminen would be too much for Sandee, as the Appleton native was victorious 3&2. In match two it would be Schuman holding off Freeman in a match where the putts would just not drop. Schuman would claim the win by a 1up margin.
The stage was set, two of the top players in Wisconsin PGA history would duke it out in the championship match. It would mark the first time the two had faced off the WPGA Match Play finals. For Schuman he would be seeking his seventh title overall, just one behind record holder, Bob Brue. For Helminen he would be looking for his second and first since 2007.
After tolerable conditions in the morning, the switch would flip just a few holes into the afternoon. In rolled some very nasty weather. The round would quickly turn into a battle with the elements and their opponent.
With a difficult golf course and tough weather conditions the focus on making pars would set the tone for the front nine. Schuman would jump out to a quick two up lead through seven as he opened with all pars. The Madison native would then have a chance to keep the momentum in his favor but a six-foot birdie putt on the par-5 eighth would not go down.
“You have to hang in there,” Schuman said. “There just wasn’t a lot of birdies out there today.”
The 2up lead would stand until no. 10, Helminen would then shift the momentum in his direction. A birdie on the par-4 to open the back nine, and a nice par save on no. 11, all of sudden the match was back to all square. The match would continue to swing Helminen’s way on no. 13. An errant 3-wood by Schuman on his second shot would find the water and give Helminen his first lead of the match.
Over the course of the next few holes the two players would put together some clutch par saves and the match would remain at 1up in Helminen’s favor. With the number of holes dwindling Schuman would step up his game on no. 16 and knock his 110-yard second shot to 10 feet and roll in the birdie.
With the match all square he would then take dead aim and fire an 8-iron on the 150-yard par-3 seventeenth to twelve feet. After rolling in the putt he would have a 1up lead with one to play.
“You know for me it was a really good shot,” Schuman said. “The pin was good for me and I could attack it.”
The fireworks would continue on no. 18 but this time around it would be Helminen providing the excitement. After a few errant shots by Schuman the advantage tilted in Helminen’s favor, however he still needed to execute. With a par putt still to come from Schuman, Helminen was faced with a 25 yard eagle pitch from just short of the green. The execution was flawless, he rolled it right over the ridge in the middle of the green and the ball caught the flagstick and dropped. The twosome was moving on to extra holes.
The extra holes would be filled with just as much excitement as the last three. Right off the bat Helminen would catch a great break as his approach shot hit the rocks inside the penalty area near the green and bounce back into play.
“Whoa, you watch a guy hole out for three on 18,” Schuman said. “And then you watch it hit off the rocks and he gets up and down on one.”
Fortunately for Schuman he would hang in there and not let those breaks deter him. He would hit a great chip on no. 2 and save par to push the match to the third extra hole. The pressure would then be put back on Helminen’s shoulders as he was forced to make a five-footer on no. 3 to extend the match.
The duo would then approach the difficult par-3 fourth, featuring an island green, playing straight down wind. Helminen would be first to play and unfortunately his ball would ride the wind, take a few hops, and find the penalty area over the green. With the pressure to find dry land on Schuman’s shoulders he would hit a great shot to four-feet. The shot would seal the deal and bring him title no. 7.
“You know for 117-yards it was a brutal hole.” Schuman said. “I just hit a fantastic shot, you know I was fortunate to put it away there.”
In addition to his WPGA Match Play win, he was also able to claim the WPGA Senior Match Play title just the other day.
Next up for the Blue Mound G&CC PGA teaching professional is a trip to the Senior PGA Professional Championship in two weeks in Port St. Lucie, FL.
A big thank you goes out to our year-long partners of the WPGA Match Play – Harris Golf Cars, Bushnell Golf and the PGA Tour. With their help we were able to provide a purse that was truly fitting for a WPGA major championship.
The WPGA would also like to thank Kevin Kramp, PGA and Hidden Glen GC for playing hosting to the final day of play.