RIVER HILLS – Thomas Longbella has knocked on the door so many times in the Wisconsin State Amateur, he’s worn out a spot with his knuckles. Three times in the last four years, he’s had good chances to win. Three times, he couldn’t quite get the job done.
In 2016, he shot 67-67 in Rounds 2 and 3 and took a one-stroke lead into the final round at North Shore Golf Club, but stumbled to a 73 and finished three shots behind Nick Nelson. In 2018, he bogeyed the 72nd hole at Minocqua Country Club and then lost to Harrison Ott on the eighth hole of a sudden-death playoff. Last year, he played his way into the final group at Lawsonia, but shot a 75 and tied for sixth.
A couple things are different this time around.
First, Longbella, of Chippewa Falls, has a six-shot lead going into Thursday’s final round of the 119th State Amateur at Milwaukee Country Club, where no one has taken it deep. There have been only 10 subpar rounds through 54 holes – Longbella has three of them – and no score lower than 67. It’s unlikely a pursuer is going to put up a ridiculous number.
Second, Longbella has learned from his close calls that he doesn’t have to change what has worked.
“I’m just going to go play the golf course,” he said. “I think that’s something I struggled with in the past in this situation. I did one thing the first three days, loved it, got myself in the lead and then the final day, something changed. For me, tomorrow, I just want to go out with the same game plan and whatever happens, happens.”
Longbella, who will be a fifth-year senior at the University of Minnesota, bounced back from a triple-bogey on the fifth hole Wednesday to shoot a 1-under 69 and was at 5-under 205. He is the only player in the field to break par in all three rounds.
His lead went from four shots to six when playing partner Nick Thomson of Greendale, a member of the University of Toledo golf team, lost a ball on the 18th hole and made a double-bogey. Thomson shot a 74 and was at 1-over 211.
“That’s golf,” Thomson said. “I hit one left off the tee. We didn’t think it was that bad. There were four or five guys up there and they heard it, but they didn’t see it. It was OK, though. Overall, I’m alright with how I played. Can’t be too mad about it.”
He was tied for second with Marquette University golfer Tyler Leach of Spring Valley, who shot a 70 despite a double-bogey on the par-4 10th hole, a converted par-5.
“That’s just a pin, you can’t go long there,” Leach said. “I thought I hit a good shot and it took a really firm bounce on the green and went over. When you’re in between clubs, you almost have to go with the shorter club. Even if you’re 40 feet short, that’s better than long.”
After two-putting for a birdie on the par-5 third hole to get to 5-under and extend his lead to four shots, Longbella had his own mini-disaster. He’d made just three bogeys in the first 40 holes, but the wheels temporarily came off on the 433-yard fifth.
“I hit my driver left and I was stuck behind some trees, but I had a lane up and over,” he said. “I was only 120 (yards) out, but I didn’t want to go over that green. I kind of just stupidly didn’t hit it hard enough. Ended up plugging in the bunker, took relief and then just started getting cute with it, trying to hit that perfect shot. I was trying to chunk one and roll it back there, then I chunked it short, then I launched it over, then I flopped it on.
“I knew I could do something like that out there. It’s easy to do. But I had steered clear of the big number. If I missed a green, I chipped it to 15 feet and, you know, take my bogey. It got the best of me today. A little mental error.”
The good news was that even after the triple-bogey, Longbella still had a one-shot lead.
“I told myself that I just needed to pull myself out of it,” he said. “I was still leading at the time. Nothing changed. Just get back to my roots and make better decisions. I wasn’t happy about it, but I was confident I was going to be able to get it back. I felt like I was swinging it great.”
Sure enough, Longbella rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt on No. 9, the drivable 270-yard par-4, and added birdies on Nos. 11 and 15 to get back to under par for the day.
In order for Thomson or Leach to have a chance Thursday, they’re probably going to have to break par and hope Longbella comes back to them.
“I’m playing pretty good,” Thomson said. “Just stick to the game plan and see what happens.”
Said Leach, “I think tomorrow, if I can go out and make no bogeys and stick to the process, stay disciplined, I’ll like where I am.”
Matt Tolan of Eau Claire and the University of South Dakota was at 213 after a 73. The 2017 State Amateur champion is in fourth place alone, but trails Longbella by eight shots.
Zach Place of Roselle, Ill., a rising sophomore at Northern Illinois University, shot a 75 and was in fifth place at 215, but at 10 strokes back his chances are remote, at best.
This is Longbella’s tournament to lose. He can’t get ahead of himself, but after three close calls he can be excused for thinking about how satisfying it would be to finally break through.
“Oh, it would be awesome,” he said. “It would kind of be that, oh, yeah, I finally was able to get it done.”
|1||-||Thomas Longbella Chippewa Falls, WI||-5||F||-1||69||67||69||205|
|T2||Tyler Leach Spring Valley, WI||+1||F||E||67||74||70||211|
|T2||-||Nate Thomson Greendale, WI||+1||F||+4||69||68||74||211|
|4||Matt Tolan Eau Claire, WI||+3||F||+3||69||71||73||213|
|5||Zach Place Roselle, IL||+5||F||+5||72||68||75||215|
|T6||Kevin Paek Glenview, IL||+6||F||E||75||71||70||216|
|T6||-||Nick Nelson Milwaukee, WI||+6||F||+2||71||73||72||216|
|8||Josh Teplin Mequon, WI||+7||F||E||70||77||70||217|
|T9||Garrett Jones Madison, WI||+8||F||+2||74||72||72||218|
|T9||Austin Erickson Sparta, WI||+8||F||+2||73||73||72||218|
|T9||-||Jack Schultz Whitefish Bay, WI||+8||F||+3||70||75||73||218|
|T9||-||John Kryscio Lake Forest, IL||+8||F||+3||70||75||73||218|
|T9||-||Carl Christiansen Naperville, IL||+8||F||+3||74||71||73||218|
|T9||Travis Engle Kenosha, WI||+8||F||+4||73||71||74||218|
|T15||Adam Miller Nekoosa, WI||+9||F||+2||77||70||72||219|
|T15||-||Jimmy Morton Sugar Grove, IL||+9||F||+3||73||73||73||219|
|T15||Michael Mattas Streamwood, IL||+9||F||+2||74||73||72||219|
|T15||-||Jordan Less Elmhurst, IL||+9||F||+3||72||74||73||219|
|T15||Samuel Anderson Stoughton, WI||+9||F||+4||72||73||74||219|
|T20||Christopher Colla Fond du Lac, WI||+10||F||-2||78||74||68||220|
|T20||Jack (John) Blair Wauwatosa, WI||+10||F||+2||74||74||72||220|
|T20||David Brock Mequon, WI||+10||F||+5||75||70||75||220|
|T23||William Nummy Winnetka, IL||+11||F||E||79||72||70||221|
|T23||Eddie Wajda Windermere, FL||+11||F||+3||73||75||73||221|
|T23||-||Aidan Lafferty Downers Grove, IL||+11||F||+4||71||76||74||221|
|T23||-||Emmet Herb Middleton, WI||+11||F||+4||69||78||74||221|
|T23||Brady Sarauer Fond du Lac, WI||+11||F||+5||72||74||75||221|
|T23||Johnny Decker Madison, WI||+11||F||+5||74||72||75||221|
|T29||Jacob Beckman Middleton, WI||+12||F||+2||73||77||72||222|
|T29||Joe Weber Onalaska, WI||+12||F||+5||74||73||75||222|
|T29||Kevin Van Rossum Hartland, WI||+12||F||+5||72||75||75||222|
|T29||Ben Skogen Onalaska, WI||+12||F||+7||75||70||77||222|
|T29||Evan Myers Northbrook, IL||+12||F||+8||74||70||78||222|
|34||Michael Bielawski Waukesha, WI||+13||F||+4||75||74||74||223|
|T35||Adam Garski Wauwatosa, WI||+14||F||+1||78||75||71||224|
|T35||Lukas Heckmann Middleton, WI||+14||F||+3||79||72||73||224|
|T35||Owen Butler Stoughton, WI||+14||F||+4||73||77||74||224|
|T35||Chris Hoff Hartland, WI||+14||F||+4||77||73||74||224|
|T35||Kevin Cahill Waukesha, WI||+14||F||+4||74||76||74||224|
|T35||Isaac Prefontaine New Franken, WI||+14||F||+5||74||75||75||224|
|T41||Jacob Mayer Delafield, WI||+15||F||+1||79||75||71||225|
|T41||Billy McKay Milwaukee, WI||+15||F||+3||73||79||73||225|
|T41||Danny Sanicki Menomonee Falls, WI||+15||F||+5||77||73||75||225|
|T41||Matt Polivka Muskego, WI||+15||F||+6||71||78||76||225|
|T41||Gabe Dahl Green Bay, WI||+15||F||+6||75||74||76||225|
|T46||Pete Kuhl Madison, WI||+16||F||+2||79||75||72||226|
|T46||Benjamin Pausha Delafield, WI||+16||F||+3||75||78||73||226|
|T46||Ty Mueller Mequon, WI||+16||F||+5||77||74||75||226|
|T49||Zak Kulka Beaver Dam, WI||+17||F||+3||74||80||73||227|
|T49||Ryan Smith Eatonton, GA||+17||F||+5||73||79||75||227|
|T49||Max Pasher Mequon, WI||+17||F||+5||75||77||75||227|
|T49||Joe DuChateau Fond Du Lac, WI||+17||F||+5||77||75||75||227|
|T49||George Botts Madison, WI||+17||F||+6||75||76||76||227|
|T49||Travis Meyer River Falls, WI||+17||F||+6||77||74||76||227|
|T49||Derek Fiestadt Kaukauna, WI||+17||F||+7||76||74||77||227|
|T49||Ricky Kuiper Racine, WI||+17||F||+7||79||71||77||227|
|T49||Rocky Sperka New Berlin, WI||+17||F||+7||77||73||77||227|
|T58||Cal Meyers Milwaukee, WI||+18||F||+4||77||77||74||228|
|T58||Aaron Gavin South Milwaukee, WI||+18||F||+4||77||77||74||228|
|T58||Ty Kretz Marinette, WI||+18||F||+6||80||72||76||228|
|T58||Kyle Wille Edgerton, WI||+18||F||+7||73||78||77||228|
|T58||P.J. Clemins Cedarburg, WI||+18||F||+8||75||75||78||228|
|T63||Jamozzy Skenandore De Pere, WI||+19||F||+5||76||78||75||229|
|T63||Jeff Glisch Middleton, WI||+19||F||+6||77||76||76||229|
|T63||Michael Kerns Milwaukee, WI||+19||F||+7||75||77||77||229|
|T63||Nick Satina Madison, WI||+19||F||+8||74||77||78||229|
|T63||Phillip Johnson Colgate, WI||+19||F||+9||78||72||79||229|
|T63||Jason Jahnke Kewaskum, WI||+19||F||+9||74||76||79||229|
|69||Matthew Bachmann Sheboygan, WI||+20||F||+14||72||74||84||230|
|T70||-||Cameron Huss Kenosha, WI||+21||F||+7||78||76||77||231|
|T70||Zach Dybul Big Bend, WI||+21||F||+8||74||79||78||231|
|T70||Chip Savarie Madison, WI||+21||F||+8||80||73||78||231|
|T73||Cole Stark Eau Claire, WI||+22||F||+8||76||78||78||232|
|T73||Shaun Borre La Crosse, WI||+22||F||+10||75||77||80||232|
|T73||Todd Schaap Kenosha||+22||F||+10||77||75||80||232|
|T73||Matthew Buckley Elmhurst, IL||+22||F||+10||71||81||80||232|
|77||Jim Doing Verona, WI||+24||F||+10||74||80||80||234|
|78||Michael Bastian Milwaukee, WI||+26||F||+13||75||78||83||236|