RACINE — To Sean Murphy, his round of golf Friday with Zak Kulka felt less like the championship match of the 17-18 age division at the Wisconsin Junior Masters and more like another summer day spent with a good friend.
The high school seniors-to-be — Murphy at Waunakee, Kulka at Beaver Dam — both play in the Badger North Conference and both qualified for the WIAA Division 1 state meet this past spring. And it was just a scheduled 36-hole stroll in the park — Johnson Park GC, that is — until things got tight in the end.
"I didn't feel too much pressure because I had played with Zak plenty of times before," Murphy said in a phone interview. "We're pretty good friends. We were a pretty good match-up for each other. We're both good players. I think our games are pretty similar; we both (have) pretty good short games.
"It was going really well. We had a good time together; we were talking the whole time. It didn't really feel like were against each other; it just felt like we were playing together and having a good time. At the end, it got pretty close."
Murphy, left of the green on the 38th hole, chipped to within a foot and tapped in for par. Kulka, who was in the middle of the green that had a back-right hole location, left his birdie putt about 10 feet short and then missed the par putt that would have extended the match.
It was a measure of redemption for Murphy, who lost on the 18th hole in what was then the 15-and-under finals two years ago to Andrew Clement of Pewaukee. It was also the last of 110 holes over five days for Murphy, whose final three matches were nailbiters after he edged Drew Severson of Eleva 2-and-1 and Matthew Raab of Hartland 1-up.
"Drew was a really good player and I thought it was pretty impressive that he beat the (No.) 1 seed (Danny Sanicki of Menomonee Falls)," Murphy said. "I'd say one of my most surprising matches was the second round; I really wasn't expecting to play Nathan Stine. He's a really nice guy and what made it interesting was he it about 70 yards further that met. It was hard to play well and beat a guy who's hitting it really far."
Meanwhile, two friends also did battle in the 16-and-under age group as Cameron Huss of Kenosha won the final two holes in the afternoon round to pull out a 2-up victory over Jack Lutze of Brookfield. Lutze squared the match on No. 16 in both sessions of the 36-hole finale, but never led against Huss.
"It was kind of a crazy match," Huss said in a telephone interview, confirming the score of the outcome even though it was posted as a 1-up win. "It was very up-and-down. I had a 3-up lead at one point on the last 18 and he closed it and we got back to all-square after 16. I managed to pull out the last two holes to get the win."
Huss won the first hole of the day and held the lead until Lutze won No. 16 to square the match. As he would do later in the day, Huss won Nos. 17 and 18 to take a 2-up lead to the final 18 and won No. 1 to go 3-up. Lutze missed great birdie looks at Nos. 2, 3 and 4 and Huss was still 2-up after nine.
The lead swelled to 3-up after No. 10, but Lutze again rallied to square the match with two holes to play. Huss won No. 17 with a par and then rolled in the birdie putt on No. 18 to close out his victory with authority.
"The pin was on the left side of the green so I just wanted to put the ball in the middle of the green; I thought that would do the job," Huss said of the approach shot that set up his closing birdie. "I put it a little closer than middle of the green and had 6 feet for birdie to close it out. ... It felt really great. I've played the tournament before. It's always a lot of fun. It definitely (ranks) up there as one of the bigger tournaments that I've won."
It was the first appearance in this match-play event for Lutze, who had ousted No. 1 seed Jacob Beckman of Middleton 5-and-4 in the semifinals.
"It was a lot of fun," Lutze said, "even though I'm a little disappointed I didn't pull out the win."
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