D3 Spring Valley Tyler Leach

Spring Valley's Tyler Leach tests the wind during the opening round of the WIAA state tournament on Monday.

It was a cool, rainy Thursday evening last spring as I pulled into Spring Valley Golf Course to see a golfer some would describe as a big fish in a small pond.

On this day, Tyler Leach was presiding over a Dunn-St. Croix Conference boys golf mini-meet on the course his family owns at the top of Hidden Fox Court west of downtown in the Pierce County community of 1,372 residents. Mini-meets in this conference the last four years were, essentially, Leach against the field, but on this day it was Leach against the course that built him.

It was here that Leach learned to keep his drives between the towering trees that frame virtually every hole. It was here that Leach honed his short game on the practice tee by chipping to little, plastic swimming pools stationed at appropriate intervals for perfecting some of the game's toughest shots. It was here that Marquette coach Steve Bailey found his latest small-town phenom.

Just one year after plucking Hunter Eichhorn out of tiny Carney-Nadeau High School in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Bailey landed Leach not knowing if this big fish from this small pond could do what Eichhorn did for an NCAA Division I program that has been in and out of the top 25 over the last 12 months. 

Leach had won the WIAA Division 3 state championship by six strokes as a sophomore in 2016, but then blended into the small-school landscape a year later when he shot a pair of 76s and finished tied for third, two shots back. But Leach went out on top in dramatic fashion, rallying from a first-round 80 and a five-stroke deficit at University Ridge Golf Course in Madison with a closing 70 to edge Fond du Lac Springs' Doyle Kelly by a single shot.

For the first time since Wisconsin.Golf started ranking classes of high school golfers, first-semester collegiate performance has been incorporated into the final update for a graduating class and Leach proved the size of the pond was no factor in him being the biggest fish in it. His impact with the Golden Eagles validated what our rankings had suggested the last three years — that the bar Leach set among WIAA Division 3 golfers was high enough for him to make a smooth transition to college golf and find a home in the Marquette lineup.

His 73.33 average in 15 rounds this fall ranked him fourth on a veteran team that averaged 290.9 per round. His seven sub-par rounds ranked him third behind Eichhorn (10) and senior Oliver Farrell (nine) and his score counted in the Golden Eagles' score in 12 of the first 15 rounds of his college career.

That was more than enough to cement his position atop the Class of 2018 in Wisconsin.Golf's final installment of rankings for that class. And Leach was convincing in being the big fish in a deep pool of talent in that pond, too.

Bay Port's Jed Baranczyk and Madison's Clayton Tribus, who prepped at IMG Academy in Florida, continued to share the No. 2 ranking.

Baranczyk, who failed to qualify for the WIAA Division 1 state tournament after finishing second as a junior, bounced back to win the WPGA Junior Championship and showed promise in his first semester at North Dakota State. He only got one start for the Bison and made it memorable.

He shot 72-74-74 at the Zach Johnson Invitational in West Des Moines, Iowa, as Baranczyk (tied for 10th) and teammate and fellow individual competitor Van Holmgren (tied for seventh) finished ahead of the five golfers in the scoring lineup for the Bison, who finished second to Bradley with a 307-291-288 card. 

Neither could crack a veteran lineup that averaged 294.25 in 12 competitive rounds this fall. Fewer than four strokes separated No. 1 from No. 7 in the North Dakota State lineup on average this fall and, with two seniors, a junior, a sophomore and a freshman in the top five, it could be next fall before Baranczyk gets his next chance.

Likewise, Tribus made his mark as an individual in Davidson's season-opener, shooting 69-70 to finish tied for 13th at the Joe Feaganes Marshall Invitational in West Virginia. He was in the lineup the rest of the fall, averaging 76.27 in 11 rounds by the time it was done.

No. 4 Adam Garski of Wauwatosa East/West was one of four golfers in the top 11 who did not go on to play college golf but continued to stand out based on the strength of their showing in their final year of high school golf last spring.

Garski's playoff loss to two-time WIAA Division 1 state champion Piercen Hunt of Hartland Arrowhead thrust a golfer who had been a presence on the junior golf scene since 2009 squarely into the spotlight. While he came up short in his bid to dethrone the first golfer to win Division 1 state titles as a freshman and a sophomore, Garski's 71-71 showing was a career finish to remember.

Manawa's Ryan Schuelke rounded out the top five. After shooting 84-72 to finish tied for sixth at the WIAA Division 3 state tournament, Schuelke gained confidence with top-25 finishes at both the WPGA and WSGA Junior Championships before leaving for his freshman year at UW-Green Bay, where he played his way into the Phoenix lineup, averaging 75.3 in 15 rounds.

Which brings us back to Leach and that cool, cloudy night on his home course.

He shot 2-under 34 and won the nine-hole meet by five strokes. Afterward, Leach spoke with reverence for the opportunity growing up on a golf course afforded him, knowing only a few get the chance to play at the next level.

The Class of 2018 reflected that. More than a dozen golfers in the top 30 put academics first in picking a college, continuing a trend and sending a message that the volume of golf they have played through high school is enough.

Boys Class of 2018

No. First name Last name High school College Nov.
2017
Nov.
2016
1 Tyler Leach Spring Valley Marquette 1 1
2 Jed Baranczyk Bay Port North Dakota State 2 2
tie Clayton Tribus Madison (IMG Academy) Davidson 2 3
4 Adam Garski Wauwatosa East/West Alabama (academics) 18 6
5 Ryan Schuelke Manawa UW-Green Bay 9 8
6 Alex Yost Hartland Arrowhead Wisconsin (academics) 6 4
7 Jakob Schroeckenthaler Monona Grove Viterbo 5 5
8 Elliott Nielsen Fond du Lac Northern Iowa 4 12
9 Drew Arndt Madison Edgewood Wisconsin (academics) 8 NR
10 Matthew Phelan Madison Edgewood Wisconsin (academics) 17 22
11 Rory Gierhart Madison Edgewood Wisconsin (academics) 17 10
12 Dylan Brown Reedsburg Winona (Minn.) State 12 NR
13 Matthew Zimmerman Janesville Parker Viterbo 13 36
14 Austin Schnell Mishicot UW-Green Bay 10 16
15 Mason Gardner Waupaca UW-Eau Claire 37 NR
16 Ethan Graham Milwaukee Marquette UW-Milwaukee (academics) NR NR
17 Kyle Loose Kettle Moraine UW-Eau Claire (academics) 39 27
18 Josh Yang Wausau West Eastern Florida State College 7 29
19 Drew Severson Eleva-Strum Winona State (academics) 48 NR
20 Garrett Schultz Sheboygan North MSOE 11 34
21 Jack Du Chateau Fond du Lac UW-Milwaukee (academics) 43 31
22 Brett Grulkowski Franklin Wisconsin (academics) 15 NR
23 Solomon Zarling Kettle Moraine Lutheran Trevecca Nazarene 38 NR
24 Alex Pellegrini Brookfield Academy Wisconsin (academics) 30 38
25 Zach Mindel Brookfield Central Washington & Jefferson 35 18
26 Garhett Kaegi Verona New Mexico State (academics) 27 37
27 Zachary Reiser Hartland Arrowhead Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College 28 15
28 Owen Ahern Fond du Lac Springs Wisconsin (academics) 33 30
29 Ben Resnick Rice Lake Stetson 16 9
30 Ryan Candell Oregon Arizona State (academics) 44 39
31 Zachary Shawnhan Racine Case Carthage College 32 NR
32 John Birnbaum Mosinee UW-Parkside 42 NR
33 Andy Zucker Middleton Not available 19 35
34 Matt Fladten Eau Claire Memorial UW-Eau Claire 20 NR
35 Joey Ploch Oconomowoc Cardinal Stritch 21 25
36 Kyle Figlmiller Kimberly Carthage College 29 33
37 Josh Rowinski Waukesha Catholic Memorial Wisconsin (academics) 23 7
38 Brandon Staudt Milwaukee University School Not available 24 13
39 Ian Gatzke New Berlin Eisenhower Arizona State (academics) 26 11
40 Eric Hopp Appleton North Carroll (Wis.) 49 NR
41 Gavin Douglas Ashland Northland College 46 NR
42 Jaxon Knotek River Falls North Dakota State (basketball) 31 NR
43 Dawson Sarauer Fond du Lac Springs Marquette (academics) 47 NR
44 Colin Ahern Fond du Lac Springs Junior hockey 34 32
45 Isaac Heckmann Lakeside Lutheran Wisconsin (academics) 22 40
46 Chris Keider Neenah Arizona (academics) 40 26
47 Brady Stephenson Washburn Not available 41 21
48 Cole Runde New Glarus Clarke (Iowa) 50 NR
49 Mason Holcombe Argyle Southwest Tech HM NR
50 Dalton Collier Mineral Point Viterbo HM NR

rob@killarneygolfmedia.com

Rob started covering the Wisconsin golf scene in 1987 at the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison & has been the only reporter covering all levels of state golf. He joined Killarney Golf Media in Sept. 2015 & helped launch Wisconsin.Golf in Jan. 2016.