Write-Up Provided By: Rick Pledl
Bennett Knapek has had exactly one bite at the apple known as the Lake Arrowhead Invitational – one of the most prestigious junior tournaments on the Wisconsin golf calendar. Knapek, who lives in Hartland and is off to college in the fall, played the event for the first – and last – time this week and came away as medalist among boys thanks to a stellar final round.
Meantime, first-round leader Maria Seeman of Milton barely held on to her lead over the final 18 and emerged as girls champion.
Knapek, 18, made seven birdies and two bogeys in the final round Monday morning on the Pines Course at Lake Arrowhead in Nekoosa, tying him for low-round-of-the-day honors. Combined with his opening score of 74 Sunday afternoon, Knapek finished at 3-under-par 141 to win the boys title by three strokes.
“It’s a nice way to start the summer,” Knapek said afterward with a smile on his face.
Monday’s other 67 was authored by Tyler Leach of Spring Valley, whose card looked eerily similar to Knapek’s – seven birdies with a lone double bogey. Leach (77-67) eventually finished tied for second place with Hunter Eichhorn of Carney, Mich., (73-71) at 144.
Knapek started the final round with three straight birdies, but it was his finish that brought home the trophy. He rolled in a birdie putt on the narrow par-5 16th hole before dropping his tee shot on the par-3 17th onto a greenside bunker and a tricky downhill lie. No worries, however, as he hit a nearly perfect bunker shot to about 18 inches from the hole.
“It was a downhill lie so I tried to land it on the green,” he said. “And it was perfect and spun right down there.”
On the par-4 18, Knapek dropped a birdie putt of about 25 feet to end his day in style.
“I think my ball striking was the best,” Knapek said when asked what was the strongest part of his game in the final round. “I hit a lot of shots into the greens that were pretty close. I didn’t make as many putts as I would have liked, but I still had a great round.”
Knapek is on a roll this spring, having recently participated in Hartland Arrowhead’s Division 1 team championship at the WIAA Boys State Golf Championships. He tied for 12th among individuals.
Knapek will join the UW-Madison golf team in the fall.
Joseph Ploch of Oconomowoc held the lead in the boys competition after a hot, windy first round on Sunday afternoon in which he shot even-par 72. But Ploch ballooned to a final-round 80. Afterward, Ploch said his mindset was to be aggressive in the final round and make as many birdies as possible, but his ball-striking wouldn’t let him do it.
“I didn’t make any putts like I needed to, I didn’t hit many chip shots when I needed to get up and down,” he lamented. “A lot of that kind of stuff.”
Seeman, 17, was beaming at the trophy presentation after shooting twin rounds of 75 to win the girls division, and she admitted she had not previously won a tournament this big.
Seeman held a four-stroke lead over Emily Lauterbach of Hartland after Sunday’s round, but Lauterbach made up most that ground in the final round. When the dust settled, Seeman (75-75–150) won the girls title by a single stroke over Lauterbach (79-72–151)
Abby Cavaiani of Wales (83-77) and Jo Baranczyk of Green Bay tied for third at 160.
Seeman played the Lake Arrowhead Invitational the two previous years, and her finishes have improved each time after a rough start.
“This is the third time I played in it, and I really like the course. The first year I did not do well at all because you have to get your ball in the fairway – that’s your main goal here,” she said with a laugh. “I didn’t know that the first year.”
Comparing her two rounds, Seeman said she struck the ball better Sunday, but her short game was solid Monday.
“My drives kept going right all day, so I would say my short game really saved me today,” she said. “I had a couple good bunker shots which also helped.”
The Lake Arrowhead Invitational was held for the 30th consecutive year this season, but with an important difference this time around. For the first time, the boys and girls winners (Knapek and Seeman) earned exemptions for the PGA National Junior Championship later this summer in Missouri.