Baranczyk & Hunt Capture First Major

For Wisconsin juniors, the opportunity to play the Lake Arrowhead Invitational in Nekoosa is its own reward, as spots in the championship field are reserved for the top players from last year’s WPGA Junior Foundation points list and others selected entirely on merit.

But the real prize – two of them, actually, for one boy and one girl – is the chance to play in the 2019 PGA National Junior later this summer.

The medalists at this year’s Lake Arrowhead Invitational, Piercen Hunt and Jo Baranczyk, earned those two exemptions Tuesday afternoon on the Lakes Course at Lake Arrowhead. Both Hunt and Baranczyk played the National PGA Junior last season, and both were keen to get back this year.

            “Last year was amazing,” Baranczyk said of her 2018 PGA Junior experience, where she missed the cut. “It was incredible to watch (the other competitors) play. I played with a top-20 girls player in the country, and it’s just a different kind of golf. I really hope I’ll be able to do better this year. I had a rough time last year, but I feel more comfortable now.”

            Hunt said he considered playing the WSGA State Match Play Championship this week instead of the Lake Arrowhead Invitational, but he chose the latter for one reason only – that PGA National Junior exemption.

One more boy and girl from Wisconsin will earn berths in the national championship next week at the WPGA Junior Championship in Milwaukee, but Hunt said he’s playing the Western Junior next week instead, so this week was his one chance to get into the national event, where he has made the cut twice.

            “I really looked at this tournament like I have to play it,” Hunt said.

            Hunt’s path back to nationals turned out to be far more complicated that Baranczyk’s.

Hunt, a 17-year-old from Hartland, converted a tricky up-and-down from left of the 18th green on the Lakes Course Tuesday afternoon to shoot a final-round 74, leaving him at 146 after his 72 on the Pines Course Monday.

            Holing that 3-footer on the 18th green allowed Hunt to finish in a four-way tie at 2-over 146 along with Joshua Teplin of Mequon (74-72), Drew Sagrillo of Pewaukee (77-69) and Cameron Huss of Kenosha (74-72).

            Luckily, the sudden-death playoff lasted just one hole – the par-4 10th – before Hunt ended it. With thunder crackling in the distance and WPGA tournament officials watching the darkening sky, Hunt hit 3-iron to the middle of the fairway, 8-iron to the green and rolled in an 18-foot birdie putt to win the playoff and the tournament.

“That was a putt I was comfortable with because one of the guys in my group had that same putt earlier, so I pretty much knew what it did,” Hunt said of his winner. “It was kind of flat. I knew the read and picked my line and committed to it.”

It was a familiar feeling.

“The entire week was really a confident one for me,” Hunt said. “I felt very sure of my game and I was able to hit a lot of good shots.”

Teplin recorded a par on the playoff hole to lock down runner-up honors among boys, and Sagrillo and Hunt made playoff bogies to finish in a tie for third place. Thomas Kriewaldt of Madison shot 72-75–147 to finish one stroke out of the playoff in fifth place.

The top five boys and girls finishers at Lake Arrowhead also earned exemptions for the WPGA Junior Tour Championship, July 28-29 at Washington County GC in Hartford.

            Baranczyk, 16, who lives in Green Bay, won the girls division for the third time on Tuesday, adding to her 2016 and ’18 titles. This time she shot steady rounds of 76-78–154 to beat Mallory Swartz of Franklin (80-78–154) by four strokes.

Jessica Guiser of Hartland (79-81–160) finished third, followed by Skye Two Hawks Skenadore of DePere (85-77–152) and Brighton Young of Loves Park, Ill. (83-80–163) to round out the top five.

            After winning the girls title last year, Baranczyk admitted she never seems to score as well on the Lakes Course as she does on the Pines, and that frustrating trend continued this year. Despite beautiful golf weather for most of the round Tuesday, scores were high for boys and girls, and no one, it seemed, could make a putt longer than about 6 feet – until Hunt’s playoff-winning stroke.

            “It was a little bit worse today,” Baranczyk said with a laugh on Tuesday afternoon. “This course is so narrow, but it was OK. I was in the woods a few times.”

            Hunt agreed, saying: “This is a tough course – both (Lake Arrowhead courses) are – and 2 over is extremely respectable, despite all the things I could say about shots I missed and putts I missed. It’s still two good rounds of golf, and I’m extremely pleased with them.”