Write-Up Provided By: Rick Pledl
The field at the Wisconsin State Senior Open had been soaked, wind-blown and chilled to the bone for two straight days when Michael Crowley stepped to the tee on the par-3 17th hole at Nakoma GC in Madison early Wednesday evening.
With two holes to play in a tight tournament, Crowley buckled down and hit the shots he had to have to win his first Wisconsin State Senior Open. Crowley, 50, made birdies on those final two holes, providing the margin of victory he needed.
So many variables can impact the outcome of golf tournaments, particularly those determined a by a single stroke, but the story of this week was undoubtedly the weather. This was a tournament for grinders, as not a single under-par round was recorded and players dealt with truly wicked conditions.
Tuesday’s first round was delayed for about 40 minutes because of water on the greens, and dozens of players simply withdrew after the first round rather than come back a second day for more punishment.
But that didn’t bother Crowley.
“To be honest with you, I love playing in this stuff,” he said, standing under a canopy with a spitting rain still falling. “It’s just fun to me. You can look at it two ways – either you can complain about it or you can have fun in it.”
When asked to elaborate, he added: “I just kind of made it a point about 30 years ago to just have fun when it’s terrible out, because most of the people don’t like it. So I kept smiling and laughing and telling myself jokes.”
Crowley said he wasn’t even sure the second round would take place Wednesday due to the conditions.
“I’m glad we played,” he said, “because we weren’t sure what was going to happen today.”
Crowley, who lives in Fox Point and is the head PGA professional at Morningstar GC, hit a 6-iron to about 6 feet on the 182-yard par-3 17th hole, and he rolled in the birdie putt to tie two-time defending champion Jim Schuman for the lead at 4 over par.
Schuman, a PGA teaching professional who splits his time between Arizona and Milwaukee, kept pace on the 17th by holing a clutch shot for par from the greenside bunker, to remain at 4 over.
On the final hole, the shortest par-5 at Nakoma, both Crowley and Schuman came up short with their approaches, but Schuman clearly faced the more difficult shot – from short and right of the green in heavy, wet rough.
Schuman’s pitch carried past the hole to the upper section of the green, and he two-putted for par from there.
Crowley hit a nice bunker shot, and his ball rolled to about 4 feet short of the hole. Moments later he made the putt to complete his one-stroke victory.
Crowley and Kurt Mantyla of Wauwatosa led the 36-hole event after the first round with scores of 70. Schuman lurked one back at 71, along with Charlie Brown of Sturtevant and amateur Brian Liddy of Green Bay.
Schuman was paired with Crowley and Mantyla for the final round, and he drew even after just a couple holes. It was game-on from there.
But no one could catch Crowley thanks to his final kick on the last two holes. He finished at 3-over-par 143 with rounds of 70-73. Schuman finished one back (71-73–144). Mantyla finished third (70-75–145) and Brown ended up fourth (71-75–146).
There was a three-way tie for low amateur honors at 149 among John Kestly of Pewaukee (76-73), Rocky Sperka of New Berlin (73-76) and Jeff Lister of Greendale (72-77).
Schuman was solid as ever in defense, even in the brutal conditions. He made three straight bogeys on the front nine Wednesday (Nos. 4-6), but he reeled off 12 consecutive pars after that.
“It was a good test for everybody,” Schuman said of the conditions. “You had to be very patient. If you could make some pars, you were in good shape, and (Crowley) made two great birdies there right at the end. Just awesome stuff.”
Mantyla, who, like Crowley is 50 years old and was playing in his first Wisconsin State Senior Open, admitted he didn’t play as well in the second round as he did in the first. But he still had a good time.
“It was a grind,” Mantyla said. “I didn’t hit the ball well today. It was brutal out there, but it was a super-fun back nine with all three of us in there and trying to win.”
When asked if it was the cold, the rain or the wind that made conditions this week at Nakoma GC so tough, Mantyla said with a smile, “Yeah. All of that.”