Guiser & Kulka Claim Tour Championship
Sponsored by The Suter Group
Sporting a UW-Green Bay golf bag and a matching Phoenix polo shirt, Zak Kulka looked and played like a veteran Monday morning in the final round of the Morgan Stanley Tour Championship.
The tournament, which invites the top players from the Wisconsin PGA Junior Foundation Tour, has been held at Washington County GC in Hartford the last two seasons.
Kulka, an 18-year-old from Beaver Dam, is set to join the Phoenix in a month or so for his first college practices. But he has a couple more junior events to complete first, and he played like a man among boys on the back nine Monday to win one of them.
“It’s fun to finally win one; I’ve never won a big tournament before,” Kulka said Monday. “I’m glad I broke through.”
Kulka took control with a 32 on the inward nine thanks to five birdies and just one bogey. He shot a final-round 69.
Kulka got hot at the turn and started bombing tee shots and hitting it close on the greens, which led to birdies on Nos. 10-12 – all par-4s. He hit a flop shot on the downhill 10th hole on his second shot to about 12 feet, and then hit full iron shots to 6 feet on No. 11 and no more than 3 feet on No. 12. He drained all three putts.
“On the back nine I was hitting some pretty good approach shots to start, which set me up for some good birdie putts,” Kulka said. “Those first three holes on the back nine were fun.”
Kulka hit a couple shaky shots coming in but stayed away from any big numbers with some impressive short-game play, particularly after hitting what can only be described as a shank into some tall fescue on the 15th hole. He hit a nice recovery shot and was unable to save par, but it could have been so much worse.
“I was just hoping for bogey after that,” he said. “I got up there and it wasn’t the best lie, but I managed to pop it out of there and onto the green. I was pretty happy about that.”
Kulka almost rolled in an eagle putt on the par-5 17th but settled for a tap-in birdie. He closed with a par on 18.
After opening with a 1-over 73 in the first round Sunday afternoon, Kulka finished at 2-under-par 142 for a two-stroke victory in the boys competition over Drake Wilcox of Sheboygan.
Wilcox, who shot scores of 72-72–144, had an up-and-down front nine Monday but rallied on the back with two birdies. He could easily have had more, as he hit several approach shots tight coming in but had difficulties getting putts to drop.
Jamozzy Skenadore of De Pere finished third (73-72–145) and Samuel Nielsen of Fond du Lac finished fourth (72-74–146).
Players in the final group of boys weren’t the only ones to have trouble on Washington County’s large, contoured putting surfaces. Just ask girls medalist Jessica Guiser of Hartland, who won despite missing several short putts in the final round.
“My putting could definitely use some improving,” Guiser said afterward when asked to assess her play in the tournament. “I had a couple three-putts and missed a couple short putts, but other than that I played pretty well.
Guiser shot 76 Monday to go with her opening 71 to finish at 3-over 147. She finished two strokes clear of Sarah Balding of Brookfield (74-75–149). Elise Hoven of Grafton finished third (78-73–151).
Rachel Kauflin of Wauwatosa finished fourth (79-75–154), and she had the shot of the day, too. Kauflin made an eagle on the par-4 second hole Monday when she holed her 155-yard approach shot.
At 13-years old, Guiser is at the opposite end of the junior golf spectrum from Kulka. While Kulka is heading to college, Guiser will begin eighth grade in September. She plans to attend Hartland Arrowhead a year from now.
In two years of hosting the WPGA Junior Foundation Tour’s best, Washington County GC has proven to be a tough test. Scoring was a little better last year thanks to somewhat calmer conditions, but strong wind gusts raked the course for this year’s finale.
“It’s a great course. The greens are always hard and fast, and when the wind comes up here it’s always tough to put up a good score,” said Kulka, who admitted his Beaver Dam High School team played several tournaments at the course.
Guiser agreed, saying: “The fescue makes it hard, and it’s crucial to hit greens because it’s so hard to get up and down on these greens.”
WPGA tournament officials were happy to report that despite challenging conditions both rounds were played at a snappy pace. Monday’s shotgun-start final round was completed in four hours.