West Allis, WI (December 20, 2021) – The Wisconsin Section of the Professional Golfers’ Association of America (WPGA) is pleased to announce our 2021 Players of the Year. After a shortened season in 2020, a full slate of point-eligible events was on this year’s WPGA calendar. The journey to crown the champions kicked off in early spring and came to a close in the late fall.
Each year players are awarded Player of the Year honors in three different categories: member, senior and assistant. The member category was open to any Class A PGA professional in the section. The senior field looked to find the top player among Class A WPGA professionals aged 50 and older. Lastly, the assistant race was made up of Class A PGA assistant golf professionals and WPGA associates studying to become PGA members.
After Jim Schuman of Blue Mound Golf & Country Club had a tight grip on the member and senior player of the year awards for several years, new winners Mick Smith and Kurt Mantyla were able to step up to claim this year’s honors. For the assistant category, David Bach breaks up a streak of ten different winners in the past ten years, with his second award in three years.
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Member Player of the Year – Mick Smith, The Practice Station (New Berlin)
In just his third year as a PGA member Mick Smith would claim his first WPGA Player of the Year honor in 2021.
After winning the WPGA Professional Championship last September and a runner-up player of the year finish, Smith was certainly primed to make a run at this year’s title.
His great play would start right off the bat, as he would get his season underway at the PGA of America’s Professional Championship in late April. Facing the 312-player field of PGA Professionals from throughout the country, the Australian would open with an impressive 3-under-par 68 on the Ryder course at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, FL. He’d then back it up with a 74 in round two on the Wanamaker course, which would help him be the only WPGA professional to make the 36-hole cut. His steady play would continue into round three as he’d post a 73, moving him past the 54-hole cut. Finally, he’d finish the event with a 74. His 2-over-par 289 total would give him a tie for 22nd and a solid 225-point head start in the Player of the Year race.
“I just practiced hard and I played really solid for the four rounds,” Smith said about his performance in Florida. “So, I was feeling good about my game coming back home.”
The great play continued over the course of May and June, as the Summit resident would keep his grip on the points lead. He would finish second in WPGA Match Play Championship qualifying, make it to the final eight of the Match Play Championship, and tie for the title at the third one-day stroke play of the season.
However, the strong play of Joe Leonard in the middle of the summer would propel the director of instruction at The Oaks Golf Course into the points lead in July. Leonard would win the Stableford Classic on July 13, make it to the Match Play finals in late July, and cap it off as the low WPGA professional at the Suter Ward Group at Morgan Stanley Wisconsin State Open in August.
With just the WPGA Professional Championship left on the calendar in mid-September, the lead for Leonard almost seemed insurmountable.
Heading into the championship Smith had a lot of ground to make up, but he knew he could only control his own game.
“I knew where I was (in the standings),” Smith said, reflecting on his mindset. “All I could do was go out and win and see what happens.”
Over the course of those two days Smith would dig deep and never give up on his mission to claim the win. He would ultimately be the only player in the field to break par on both days. After an opening 1-under-par 70, he would be well positioned for the final round. However, a slow start on day two and a double bogey misstep on the par-4 6th would put him behind the eight ball. The self-employed PGA teaching professional would not be deterred, as he would go bogey free the rest of the round, with four birdies. The run would result in a one-shot drama filled win over Tom Burton.
The victory helped him leapfrog Leonard and gave him just enough points to secure first place in the standings.
“Initially afterwards I didn’t think I had enough points to win it, however Mark Voeller told me, no it was worth 400 points to win the Section Championship,” Smith said. “So, I was very excited at that moment, because I didn’t think it had happened.”
Smith had delivered at the right moment and the cards fell exactly the way he needed them to fall. More importantly he had accomplished something that is very elusive in the game of golf.
“One of the toughest things in golf is to be playing well at the right time,” Smith said. “To do it when I really wanted it, I’m really proud of that.”
According to Smith the honor is right near the top of his golfing accomplishments. He’ll add the accolade to a playing resume that includes a season-long amateur scoring average Vardon Trophy in New South Wales, the 2014 Illinois PGA Assistant Player of the Year and the 2018 Wisconsin PGA Assistant Player of the Year.
Senior Player of the Year – Kurt Mantyla, Naga-Waukee Golf Course (Pewaukee)
“The older you get, the wiser you become,” the saying certainly applied when it came to Kurt Mantyla’s golf game in 2021. The 51-year old has been on a steady climb the past few years and the hard work paid off with this year’s WPGA Senior Player of the Year honor.
After capturing the 2019 WPGA Match Play Championship his confidence has continued to build. Combined with a general improvement when it comes to the mental side, Mantyla was in a very good place throughout the season.
“I just played a lot calmer in my mind this past year,” Mantyla said. “Make a mistake, don’t let it bother you so much, and keep doing what you’re doing.”
From start to finish the Appleton native was remarkably consistent. He would finish in the top 5 among his senior counterparts in eight different events this year.
The self-employed PGA teaching professional would shine the most at all the WPGA senior major championships. He’d kick it off with an impressive playoff win at the Wisconsin Senior PGA Professional Championship in July, which earned him a shot at the national event in October. Next up would be a run at the title at the Wisconsin State Senior Open, as he’d finish second to Mario Tiziani. Finally, he’d take home the year-long WPGA Senior Match Play title, defeating Eddie Terasa, Jim Schuman, Mark Voeller, Doug Cheever, and Bill Graham along the way.
Even with his great play during the summer months the pressure was on him from a points perspective. Both Jim Schuman and Michael Crowley would be joining Mantyla in Florida at the national Senior PGA Professional Championship. Any type of slip up could cost him the Senior Player of the Year title.
The week turned out to be the highlight of the year for Mantyla, as he’d perform well under pressure. He’d post a 1-over-par 288 total over four rounds and tie for 46th place among the 264 competitors. The finish would turn out to be a difference maker, as both Schuman and Crowley also played well at the championship.
“I just played real solid.” Mantyla said about his performance. “Missing by just two shots to go to next year’s Senior PGA Championship, which would have been a blast. There was so many good players down there and I made both cuts.”
The honor marks the first time that Mantyla has earned the Player of the Year in any of the three WPGA races. In his eyes it ranks right up there with any of his major wins.
“It is pretty cool, definitely very proud.” Mantyla said. “Especially when you look at the competition, we have some great players.”
Assistant Player of the Year – David Bach, Whistling Straits (Sheboygan)
After winning his first WPGA Assistant Player of the Year in 2019, David Bach watched his Kohler Golf colleague and good friend Josh Grisa earn the title in 2020. An accolade that he was excited to see his friend win. However, the competitive fire burns deep with the Brown Deer native, and in 2021 he was determined to reclaim the honor.
It was a year of rock solid golf for Bach. Although victories in the individual point events were elusive, he would go on to card top-5 finishes among assistant professionals at each event he played in.
“I’m pretty happy overall, even though I didn’t win an individual event this year,” Bach said. “I really just tried to push to stay out in front of the other assistants that could make a run at me in the points.”
One of the biggest factors in his 398-point winning margin was his play at two of the WPGA major championships.
The former UW-Stout student would make a great run at the National Car Rental Wisconsin Assistant PGA Professional Championship. Two under par rounds would earn him a shot at the win in a playoff, but he’d come up short and finish second to Joaquin Diaz. Bach would then keep it rolling as he’d tee it up at the Suter Ward Group at Morgan Stanley Wisconsin State Open. Using his familiarity with the Meadow Valleys Course at Blackwolf Run he would card a T20 finish in the 204-player field.
“Going into the State Open, I had a nice comfort level,” Bach said. “It was two Sheboygan courses, so I was able to stay at home, and I could just play my game. It was huge.”
The two finishes provided him with nearly 700 player of the year points, basically securing the accolade.
His consistent play also showed up in his performance in the member standings. After earning his PGA membership in May he’d go on to finish fourth in that race.
An Assistant Player of the Year honor, elected to PGA membership, and the chance to work the Ryder Cup as part of the professional staff at Whistling Straits. It turned to be quite the year for Bach.