Jake Wisniewski handles stress to win Ray Fischer title

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Eric Schmoldt
Sunday, June 29, 2014

JANESVILLE--Jake Wisniewski had plenty of opportunities to lose his cool at Riverside Golf Course on Sunday afternoon.

Tied for the 54-hole lead at the Ray Fischer State Medal Championship, he opened his final round with a bogey. Wisniewski didn’t bogey another hole until the par-4 16th, but that hiccup put him down one shot with two holes to play. Then, after making birdie at 17 to regain a share of the lead, his birdie putt to win the tournament on the 72nd hole was halfway in the cup before it lipped out.

Every single time he faced adversity, Wisniewski had an answer. The Sussex native’s final one came when he drained an eight-foot putt for birdie on the first playoff hole, topping Andrew Cobb to win the championship.

“I was just glad the putt on 17 went in and that I had the opportunity. … I knew I was still going to be in the playoff, so there was still hope,” said Wisniewski, who showed very little emotion on the lipped-out putt on 18 despite the gasps of a stunned gallery. “Sixteen I kind of wanted to forget about, and I played good on 17 and 18, so I was feeling good going into (the playoff).”

Wisniewski had to fend off Cobb, whose final-round 65 tied for the low round of the tournament. Cobb made par in the playoff, which was on the par-5 10th.

Janesville’s Sam Van Galder, who was tied for the 54-hole lead, shot 73 to close and finished tied for fourth. After Saturday’s cut, 72 players golfed a marathon 36 holes Sunday.

Wisniewski, 21, recently graduated from UW-Parkside and shared the lead at the end of every round until claiming it for his own on the 73rd hole.

He opened Sunday’s final round with a bogey 5 on the first hole, but rebounded with a birdie at the par-4 second. He birdied Nos. 4 and 10 to get to 10-under par but briefly lost the lead with the bogey on 16. But Wisniewski holed an eight-foot putt for birdie on 17.

He also pointed to a 20-foot par putt on the par-5 14th as a key moment.

“As long as you made a good effort and did your best, that’s all you can ask for,” Wisniewski said. “I would have liked to make that putt on 18 and win outright, but a playoff victory is just the same.

“I always thought between the WSGA state match play, the state amateur and this (tournament), they were the three tournaments that if I could play well enough, I could contend and win. It’s great to check this one off the list.”

After a third-round 71 Sunday morning, Cobb told his friends that he was going to try and match or beat the course record of 62 in the afternoon.

He didn’t quite make it there, but he made five birdies and four pars on the back nine to put a charge in the players behind him. Cobb, a 24-year-old Edgewood graduate who was in the final threesome at the rain-shortened Fischer in 2013, also narrowly missed a birdie putt on the 18th.

“I was going to try and beat (the record). … I said I had to do it if I wanted to have a chance,” Cobb said. “My brother (Tyler), on the bag, he just said ‘Do what you do and do what you’ve been doing.’

“Lots of props to my brother.”

Middleton’s Mitch Johnson shot matching 69s on Sunday to finish alone in third, one shot out of the playoff.

Van Galder, the four-time and defending city champion, was another two shots back but posted his best-ever finish in the Fischer. He was disappointed to have played himself out of contention with a front-nine 42 in the final round.

“It stings; I think I just tried too hard,” Van Galder said. “I hit a bad putt for birdie on No. 1, and I think it just kind of shifted gears for me. … By No. 6, I was pressing so hard I was just flustered.

“I think I just played a little defensively. I was just trying to beat the guys I was playing with, where (Cobb) shoots a 65. I should’ve been thinking like (him), and I wasn’t. I’ll be back.”

The winning score of 278 was the highest winning score at the Fischer since Ben Walter shot 280 to win in 1993.

Tom Halla, who lost in a playoff in 2013, also finished tied for fourth at 7-under.

Brent Wong, who won the tournament in 1986, was 13th at 4-under. Janesville’s Matt Behm, who set the course record when he won in 2006, finished at 2-under.

But the day belonged to Wisniewski, whose ability to handle the stress helped him capture the biggest victory of his career.

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