As George Kneiser made his way to Jackson, Tenn., with the UW-Green Bay men's golf team this week to begin his final semester of eligibility at The Grover Page Classic, the Oconomowoc native felt his excitement growing.
"I was really excited to get out of the cold and get on the grass this spring," Kneiser wrote in a text message to Wisconsin.Golf. "It's always a nervous excitement with not having hit off actual grass in months. (I) was able to figure things out in my practice round and be ready to roll Monday."
After back-to-back 4-under-par 68s during Monday's 36-hole opener left him with a five-shot lead, Kneiser finished what he started Tuesday. He bounced back from a double-bogey on his opening hole by playing the next 17 in 1-under-par and rode a closing 73 and a 7-under 209 total to a five-shot victory over Southern Illinois' Riley Klingelberg (72-69-73) in the 54-hole event, the second collegiate triumph for the reigning Horizon League champion.
The Phoenix also counted a 75 from Max Pasher, a 76 from Brady Sarauer and one of the two 80s from Ben Gilles and Zak Kulka in a final-round 304. That dropped UWGB into third place with a 901 total — 24 shot behind first-place Tennessee-Martin and one shot behind Indian Hills Community College.
"It was definitely a solid showing as a team, but it also showed us how much room there is for improvement," Kneiser wrote, adding that the team was "pleased, but not satisfied" with its finish in its first time competing in the event. "Our team has the potential to compete well in the Horizon League this spring, so I think this week helped us realize ... we are good enough as a team now to play with anybody, but we also realized how many strokes we left out on the course this week and it's mostly short-game mistakes and management mistakes holding us back."
Kneiser managed to extend his solid start to a second day after matching his morning 68 with another during the afternoon during Monday's marathon. He said his putter, which helped him make nine birdies over 36 holes on opening day, helped him save several pars and make three more birdies Tuesday.
"Starting off with a bogey-free 68 was a really good start, but I've always found it tough to back up a good round with another in the afternoon," he wrote. "There (was) no break in between (rounds) so it was nice to continue my solid play the whole day. I had a good cushion after Monday, but the plan for (Tuesday) was still to play aggressive and just keep adding to the lead."
Now, the key will be building off his strong start to the spring schedule as Kneiser moves closer to his Horizon League title defense in May.
"I have been really excited to get things going this spring and this just adds to the fire," Kneiser wrote. "I know it'll be even harder to defend at conference this year than it was to win last year, so I've just been keeping my foot on the gas with workouts and practice, trying to get my game to an even better spot than it was last spring."