When Steve Stricker won the Ray Fischer State Medal Play Championship in 1989, he turned to tournament founder Gene Haas.
“This is a great tournament,” Stricker told Haas. “But who is Ray Fischer?”
Haas, the former Wisconsin State Golf Association executive director, heard that question before.
“Not many (present-day) golfers knew him,” Haas said of the late Ray Fischer.
One who did, however, was Janesville Sports Hall of Fame member Lyle Gifford, who served 12 years on USGA and Public Links committees with Fischer.
Fischer got in on the ground floor of the tournament that eventually took his name.
Surprisingly, Fischer did not earn that honor for his play.
“If he broke 100, he had a good day,” Haas said Tuesday afternoon.
Fischer made his mark in state golf by resolving disputes that developed during tournament play.
“He knew about the rules of golf,” Haas said.
And that was his “in” to the amateur tournament that will be held at Janesville Riverside for the 28th consecutive year starting Friday.
Many of the scheduled contestants—including Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo—probably don’t know the history of one of the two biggest state amateur tournaments of the year.
Haas started the tournament in 1967, making this the 42nd year.
At the time, there was only one 72-stroke play tournament in the state other than the State Open, and that one was limited to private club members.
“I thought, boy, we need a tournament,” Haas said.
Milwaukee courses were ruled out because the county-owned courses would not permit four days of tournament play. So Haas, who was a member of the Wisconsin Public Links Association board of directors, turned to a new course, Cherokee County Club in Madison.
Haas purchased the prizes for the 1967 inaugural event. Since he was participating in the tournament, Haas needed starters and a rules official.
Fischer, who worked in Fitchburg, was his choice as the tournament rules official.
Haas says Fischer did not get off to a good start.
“His first ruling was wrong,” Haas said. “And it involved two State Hall of Famers, Harry Simonson and Steve Caravello. They are legends in Madison.”
Haas said that Cherokee was built on a swamp, with canals on each side of the fairway on every hole. That helps water drain into Lake Cherokee, which flows into the Yahara River. When it rains, the canals expand, and stakes mark the hazard lines.
Caravello apparently hit a shot, and the ball plugged into the ground inside the hazard. While it was legal to lift and clean balls plugged in the fairway, it is against the rules to do so while in a hazard.
Fischer mistakenly gave Caravello clearance to lift and clean.
“It was clearly inside the hazard,” Haas said. “Word got around the course pretty quickly. Guys were asking, ‘Who is he?’ ”
Fischer got past that gaffe and was a fixture at the tournament. He also worked several national amateur tournaments.
The tournament then moved to Lake Windsor CC near DeForst for two years and to Yahara Hills in Madison for one year.
Ralph Parker, who had been at Cherokee when the event started, had since moved to Janesville and was club pro at Riverside and Blackhawk.
“He said he would like the tournament in Janesville,” Haas said. “He went to the Janesville board, and we have been there ever since.
“Ralph Parker was the guy responsible for the tournament coming to Janesville.”
Haas said another issue arose in 1973 when the Wisconsin Public Links Association board questioned having both a State Amateur event and the 72-hole Stroke Play Championship.
“The question came up, ‘Who is the true state amateur champion?’ ” Haas said. “The executive committee decided we would make the Janesville tournament like the Masters.”
So the tournament had to have a name.
Greenfield’s Phil Plautz recommended the tournament be named after Haas.
“I was still playing in it,” Haas said.
Haas recommended it be named after Fischer, and it stuck.
And on Friday, the “rules guy” will be honored again when the top amateur golfers in the state gather at Riverside to play 72 holes in three days.