CEDARBURG – There probably wasn’t a direct correlation between Kaylor Steger’s experience at the Valspar Invitational and his performance Wednesday in U.S. Open local qualifying. Sometimes, though, a little inspiration goes a long way.
Steger, a minitour pro from Mount Pleasant, caddied two weeks ago for friend Michael Visacki, a journeyman who got through Monday qualifying for the Valspar – video of his emotional call to his father went viral – and then teed it up in the PGA Tour event at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, Fla.
Even though Visacki shot 74-71 and missed the cut, the experience was an eye-opener for Steger.
“It was awesome being out there and seeing all those guys and being inside the ropes,” he said “It was definitely inspirational. Seeing one of my good friends, Mike, playing and seeing all these other guys … their demeanors and how they act, it showed me that they’re not very different than everybody else. I knew that I could hit the shots they hit, too.
“That’s the goal. That’s what we’re working toward.”
Steger took a step in the right direction – and cleared the first hurdle on the road to the U.S. Open – by winning the 18-hole local qualifier at Hidden Glen at Bentdale Farms. He fired a 5-under 67 on a day that started sunny and pleasant but turned cold and windy to lead five players into 36-hole sectional qualifying.
Also advancing were minitour professional Peter Webb of Madison and amateurs Evan Myers of Northbrook, Ill., and Ricky Kuiper of Racine, who shot 2-under 70s, and amateur Tyler Cleaves of Kaukauna, who had a 71.
Cleaves, a rising junior at the University of Delaware-Wilmington, beat four-time Wisconsin State Open champion Dan Woltman of Sun Prairie in a playoff for the fifth and final spot. Woltman, who has conditional status on the Korn Ferry Tour, is the first alternate.
Steger, though, was the class of the field as he made six birdies and a lone bogey in difficult conditions. The wind became a factor, especially since the greens at Hidden Glen were firm and fast, many of them with runoffs into collection areas that made chipping an adventure.
“The greens are really firm out here right now and it’s tough judging some of those distances,” Steger said. “When the wind picked up, you had to try to give yourself full shots into some of these par-4s and be able to spin it a little bit. That affected some of the tee shots, laying back and trying to land wedges 10 yards short of where you normally would.”
Steger, 25, spends winters in Bradenton, Fla., where he plays in minitour events and caddies at The Concession Golf Club.
“Honestly, I haven’t been playing all that well down in Florida,” he said. “I was injured a little bit, took a little time off. I played Q School for the Canadian Tour and I missed getting my card by one shot. That was kind of tough. It just feels good to get a good tournament round under the belt again.
“I swung it really well today. Hit the ball well, putted it well. Felt really good about my game.”
Webb made an adventurous birdie on the par-5 18th hole to post his 70 and avoid what would have been a 3-for-2 playoff. He went for the green in two with driver off the deck but flared his shot so far to the right that his ball wound up on the ninth green.
After taking relief, he hit a 70-yard wedge shot to within 10 feet and curled in the putt.
“I had 285 to the flag (on his second shot),” he said. “There’s really no good place to lay up on 18 so I thought, ‘Why not? Maybe I can get to the front edge.’ So, I hit driver and I look up and the thing is like a boomerang. It actually was a good break ending up on the ninth green because I got relief.
“I kind of figured I had to make a birdie. It’s so hard to tell. At the beginning of the round, I thought I’d probably have to shoot 3- or 4-under.”
Webb spent a couple weeks in Florida in January but is back home in Madison. He’s taken a part-time job at an embroidery and screen-printing company in Verona and also picks the range at Vitense Golfland. He plans to play in all the Dakotas Tour events this summer except for the ones immediately before and after the State Open, which he plans to enter.
“Just gotta get the groove rolling,” he said, “then do Korn Ferry Q School in the fall.”
Myers, 19, is a member of the 14th-ranked Texas A&M golf team, though he did not break into the lineup this spring. He played in the Wisconsin State Amateur last year and finished T-19, after COVID-19 wiped out most of the Chicago District Golf Association tournament schedule.
Myers eagled the par-5 14th hole, his fifth, and got to 4-under with birdies on Nos. 18 and 1. Then he hung on in the wind, bogeying Nos. 2, 3, 6, and 8 before finishing with a birdie on No. 9.
“I knew the front nine, my back, was going to be a little bit harder,” he said. “Coming down the stretch it got a little windier. I knew it was going to be tough, but I knew it was going to be tough for everybody. To birdie No. 9, into the wind … I don’t know how I did it.”
Kuiper, a 23-year-old amateur, was playing in only his second U.S. Open qualifier. He got to 3-under before making an 8-footer for bogey on No. 11, which wound up being a crucial stroke-saver.
“At that point I was 3-under, so that would have set me back to 1-under had I missed that putt,” said Kuiper, who works at an accounting firm in Kenosha and is a former Racine County Open champion. “To mitigate the damages there and only make a bogey, that was huge for me.
“I made a lot of 3- to 6-foot putts for pars, a couple of them for birdies. That kept the round going. You miss a couple of those and things start to get away from you a little bit. This is the first time I’ve ever been in this position. To play well and keep it going down the stretch, it was pretty cool for me.”
Cleaves is a rising junior at Delaware-Wilmington, but the team has not played since the fall of 2019 because of COVID, so he is technically a redshirt freshman eligibility-wise.
“I’ve been playing on my own, amateur events, and trying to get ready hopefully for the fall (season),” he said. “I think COVID was a blessing. I’ve been able to come home and work on my game and hopefully keep going in the right direction and see where it takes me.”
It has taken him, and four others, to sectional qualifying. They are now one step away, albeit a big one, from the U.S. Open, June 17-20 at Torrey Pines in San Diego.
“Let’s play it one hole at a time,” Steger said with a laugh. “But, yeah, it would be a game changer. It would be a life changer.”
|1||Kaylor Steger (p) Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin||F *||-5||67|
|T2||Peter Webb (p) Madison, Wisconsin||F||-2||70|
|T2||Evan Myers (a) Northbrook, IL||F *||-2||70|
|T2||Ricky Kuiper (a) Racine, Wisconsin||F||-2||70|
|T5||Tyler Cleaves (a) Kaukauna, Wisconsin||F||-1||71|
|ALTERNATES - IN ORDER (2)|
|T5||Dan Woltman (p) Beaver Dam, Wisconsin||F||-1||71|
|T7||Ryonen Faris (a) Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin||F *||E||72|
|DID NOT QUALIFY|
|T7||Jacob Beckman (a) Middleton, Wisconsin||F||E||72|
|T9||Danny Behm (a) Hubertus, Wisconsin||F||+1||73|
|T9||Ian Johnston (a) Cedar Rapids, Iowa||F *||+1||73|
|T9||Joe Leonard (p) Madison, Wisconsin||F *||+1||73|
|T9||Tyler Leach (a) Spring Valley, WI||F||+1||73|
|T9||Blake Jens (p) Madison, Wisconsin||F *||+1||73|
|T14||Alexander Thomsen (a) Omaha, Nebraska||F *||+2||74|
|T14||Andrew Denenberg (a) Highland Park, Illinois||F *||+2||74|
|T14||Tony Albano, Jr (p) Park Ridge, Illinois||F||+2||74|
|T14||Evan Wartgow (p) Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin||F *||+2||74|
|T14||Kraig Joy (p) Appleton, Wisconsin||F||+2||74|
|T14||Griffin Barela (a) Lakewood, CO||F||+2||74|
|T14||Jordan Niebrugge (p) Mequon, Wisconsin||F||+2||74|
|T14||Cameron Huss (a) Kenosha, WI||F *||+2||74|
|T14||Ryan Helminen (p) Harrison, Wisconsin||F||+2||74|
|T14||George Kneiser (p) Oconomowoc, Wisconsin||F *||+2||74|
|T24||Cory Aune (a) Lake Geneva, WI||F||+3||75|
|T24||Nicholas Bavaro (a) Park Ridge, Illinois||F *||+3||75|
|T24||Aidan Lafferty (a) Downers Grove, Illinois||F *||+3||75|
|T24||John Langhoff (p) Delafield, Wisconsin||F *||+3||75|
|T24||Austin Kendziorski (p) Germantown, Wisconsin||F||+3||75|
|T29||Sam Osborne (a) Wisconsin||F||+4||76|
|T29||Brock Barnhart (a) Robins, Iowa||F *||+4||76|
|T29||Austin Gaugert (p) Lake Geneva, Wisconsin||F||+4||76|
|T29||Ryan Hughes (a) Grafton, WI||F *||+4||76|
|T29||Samuel Weber (p) Hartland, Wisconsin||F||+4||76|
|T34||Andy Hansen (p) Germantown, Wisconsin||F||+5||77|
|T34||Nathan Boltz (a) Elkhorn, WI||F||+5||77|
|T34||Chris Johnson (p) Columbia, Missouri||F *||+5||77|
|T34||Mark Voeller (p) Whitewater, Wisconsin||F||+5||77|
|T34||Hunter Eichhorn (a) Carney, MI||F||+5||77|
|T34||Charlie Delsman (p) Hartland, Wisconsin||F||+5||77|
|T34||Craig Czerniejewski (p) Hartford, Wisconsin||F||+5||77|
|T41||Sullivan Schrandt (a) Cambria, WI||F *||+6||78|
|T41||Adam Dolezal (a) Lake Forest, Illinois||F||+6||78|
|T41||Joe Weber (a) Onalaska, WI||F||+6||78|
|T41||Ben Resnick (a) Rice Lake, WI||F *||+6||78|
|T45||Brent Quade (p) Madison, Wisconsin||F||+7||79|
|T45||David Zeisse (p) Milwaukee, Wisconsin||F *||+7||79|
|T45||Chris Kostrewa (a) Wales, WI||F *||+7||79|
|T45||Michael Higgins (p) Madison, Wisconsin||F||+7||79|
|T49||Derick Disch (a) Greenfield, Wisconsin||F *||+8||80|
|T49||Jim Callahan (a) DePere, Wisconsin||F||+8||80|
|T49||Daniel Hughes (a) Mequon, Wisconsin||F *||+8||80|
|T49||Mick Smith (p) Summit, Wisconsin||F||+8||80|
|T49||Mike D. Mueller (a) Whitefish Bay, WI||F *||+8||80|
|T49||Robbie Morway (a) Mequon, WI||F *||+8||80|
|T55||Mason Kent (a) Fort Atkinson, WI||F||+10||82|
|T55||Chad LaFever (a) Buttedesmorts, WI||F *||+10||82|
|T55||Aiden Cudney (a) Appleton, WI||F||+10||82|
|T55||Kari Hannula Jr (a) De Pere, WI||F||+10||82|
|T55||Michael Crowley (p) Fox Point, Wisconsin||F||+10||82|
|T60||Martin Flores (a) Waukesha, Wisconsin||F||+11||83|
|T60||Zach Dybul (a) Big Bend, Wisconsin||F||+11||83|
|T60||Josh Grisa (p) Kohler, Wisconsin||F||+11||83|
|63||James Gunsalus (a) Brookfield, WI||F *||+12||84|
|T64||Christopher Vendl (p) Saint Germain, Wisconsin||F *||+13||85|
|T64||Ryan Smith (a) Eatonton, Georgia||F *||+13||85|
|T64||Tyler Raatz (a) Cecil, WI||F||+13||85|
|T64||Bennett Cotten (a) Winnetka, Illinois||F *||+13||85|
|T64||James Kruzich (p) Geneva, Illinois||F *||+13||85|
|T64||Jason Klein (p) Clintonville, Wisconsin||F *||+13||85|
|70||Mark Laken (a) Kenosha, Wisconsin||F *||+15||87|
|71||Rob Hamlin (p) Oak Creek, Wisconsin||F||+16||88|
|72||Tyler Murrie (p) Belgium, Wisconsin||F||+17||89|
|T73||Alex George (a) Chicago, Illinois||F *||+18||90|
|T73||Eric Regall (p) Milwaukee, Wisconsin||F *||+18||90|
|75||Dan Wells (a) Mt Horeb, Wisconsin||F *||+20||92|
|DID NOT FINISH|
|WD||Jonathan Fall (a) Cedarburg, WI|
|WD||John Gullberg (p) Franksville, Wisconsin|
|WD||Jordan Hahn (p) Spring Grove, Illinois|
|WD||Alex Okray (a) Stevens Point, Wisconsin|
|WD||Brian Payne (a) Flossmoor, Illinois|