MADISON — One might assume, glancing at Blake Wisdom’s scorecard, that the senior from Lake Geneva Badger High School played a low-stress round on Day 1 of the WIAA state tournament Monday.
Three birdies. One bogey. Ho hum.
But you know the old saying: There’s no room for stories on score cards, only numbers.
Wisdom put his short game to the test and turned a couple would-be bogeys into pars with spectacular saves at University Ridge Golf Course en route to a 2-under 70 and the first-round lead over a crowded leader board in Division 1.
“I’m super happy,” Wisdom said. “I’ll go work on some things now and tomorrow I’ll go after it and be aggressive and hopefully get it done.”
Wisdom is trying to de-throne two-time defending champion Piercen Hunt of Hartland Arrowhead, who overcame a pair of double-bogeys to post a 71. Hunt is trying to become only the third three-time WIAA individual champion and the first to do it his junior year.
But it’s far from a two-horse race.
Jack Blair, a senior at defending team champion Milwaukee Marquette, also shot a 71, as did Bay Port junior Preston Cedergren, Mukwonago senior Nick Schroeder and Merrill junior Russell Dettmering. All except Schroeder had top-10 finishes at the 2018 WIAA tournament: Dettmering finished fifth, Blair was sixth and Cedergren tied for ninth.
Brock Hlinak, a senior at Kaukauna who tied for third last year, shot an even-par 72 and was tied for seventh with Mount Horeb senior Kasen Fager. One shot further back at 73, and alone in ninth place, was Middleton sophomore Jacob Beckman, who helped his team stay in the chase for a trophy.
In all, there are 12 players within four shots of Wisdom’s lead, and 22 within five shots. That could make for a wild shootout Tuesday.
Hunt, a University of Illinois recruit and unquestionably the player to beat going into the tournament, knows he’ll have to be on top of his game in order to win his third consecutive title.
“There’s a lot of guys up at the top that are really talented,” he said. “I have no doubt that it’s going to be more than me and Blake out there (Tuesday) competing for the individual title.”
Wisdom, a Bucknell recruit, birdied two of the first seven holes but then faced his first big test on the par-3 eighth hole, missing the green left and short-siding himself. He hit a good flop shot but the ball rolled 25 feet past the cup. Then he stepped up to the putt and rolled it in to save par.
“He made another great one on 12,” said Badger coach David DeShambo. “He got up and down out of the bunker there and that was huge to keep the round going.”
All three of Wisdom’s birdie putts were shorter than 10 feet: a 2-footer on No. 2, a 7-footer on No. 7 and an 8-footer on No. 15.
“The key to the round today was definitely putting,” he said. “I made a lot of big comebackers for par. Some big birdie putts, too. But the 4- and 5-footers were definitely the key to my round.”
Hunt started on the par-4 10th and made a double-bogey right out of the gate. He got those strokes back, and then some, with birdies on Nos. 13, 14, 15 and 17 before finishing his front nine with a bogey on No. 18 after going bunker to bunker. He made the turn and birdied the second hole but then gave two back with a double-bogey on the par-4 fourth.
“I’d like to say uncharacteristic but I made two doubles in the opening round last year, too,” he said with a laugh. “When I made that second one (Monday), I just tried to accept it and roll with the punches. I did a good job of that and stayed patient right through to the end.”
He finished with what he called his best shot of the day, a towering flop from behind the green that landed “like a sandbag” and set up a final birdie to get him to 1-under.
Blair’s 71 helped put Marquette in good position to successfully defend its team title. The Hilltoppers also got a 74 from Jack Lutze, a 75 from Drew Sagrillo and a 76 from No. 5 player Liam More O’Ferrall for an 8-over 296 total.
Marquette takes a seven-shot lead over Middleton into the final round Tuesday, with Lake Geneva Badger 10 back.
“No cushion is big enough, but this is a good day,” said Marquette coach Brad Niswonger. “Every one of them thought they left three or four shots out on the golf course, so it will give them a little chip on their shoulder. It’ll be fun (Tuesday).”