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Third-round leader Phillip Johnson uses a little body English to help settle a putt on Wednesday.

GREEN LAKE — Phillip Johnson knows a two-stroke lead going into the final round of the 118th Wisconsin State Amateur is hardly safe, especially on a golf course that punishes even the slightest error in judgment or execution.

He also knows that being in front by two is preferable to trailing by any amount.

“Mathematically,” Johnson said, “it’s way better to be leading.”

The former University of Dayton golfer from Colgate will start the final round on the Links Course at The Golf Courses of Lawsonia with that two-shot margin, thanks to his closing eagle in the third round Wednesday. Johnson shot a 4-under 68 and was at 11-under 205 through 54 holes.

His lead would have been bigger, but Marquette University rising junior Hunter Eichhorn kept pace with birdies on Nos. 17 and 18 to finish off a 69. He was at 207.

And it’s hardly a two-man race. University of Minnesota rising senior Thomas Longbella of Chippewa Falls and 2017 State Amateur champion Matt Tolan of Eau Claire shot 66s to climb into contention at 209. Both have posted identical scores of 75-68-66.

Joining them in a three-way tie for third, four shots back, was Wisconsin golfer Sam Anderson of Stoughton, who started the day with a one-shot lead and battled to a 71.

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Matt Tolan goes low to take a long look before putting Wednesday during the third round of the Wisconsin State Amateur.

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Thomas Longbella sends the turf flying as he tees off Wednesday on the par-3 14th hole.

When the dust had settled, helped by a late-afternoon burst of rain with accompanying lightning that caused a 50-minute suspension in play, the State Amateur was looking like a five-man race.

But Johnson, runner-up in the 2017 State Open and winner of the Milwaukee District Match Play Championship earlier this summer, can’t worry about who’s behind him if he wants to win his first major Wisconsin title. Instead, he can only concentrate on what’s immediately in front of him.

“If Hunter comes out and shoots a 64 or something, I can’t do anything about that,” Johnson said. “I’m just going to go out there and keep playing the game that I’ve been playing. I’m just going to keep doing the same stuff.”

There’s no reason to change a game plan that has resulted in 45 of 54 greens hit in regulation. Johnson has made nine birdies and three eagles – one each day – and has bogeyed just two of his last 40 holes.

On Wednesday, he escaped potential disaster when he had to hit a provisional ball off the par-5 fifth tee after slicing his first drive into foul territory. But his first ball was located, inches from a road – another foot and it would have been on the pavement and out of bounds – and he hacked back into the fairway and went on to make par. He followed with a bogey on the sixth hole but then settled down.

“Obviously, it was a little stressful out of the gate,” Johnson said. “I mean, if it wasn’t, you’d almost be concerned. There were a couple holes where I wasn’t comfortable. The wind direction was a little different today so I kind of second-guessed a couple club choices off the tee.

“I really calmed down on the back nine and played some better golf.”

Eichhorn pulled to within one with an 18-foot birdie putt on the 17th and then birdied the par-5 18th, but Johnson trumped him with the eagle, rolling in a 15-footer after hitting the green with a 4-iron from 228 yards.

“It was just kind of a ho-hum day,” Eichhorn said. “I didn’t hit a lot of shots inside makeable (birdie) range. I hit a decent amount of greens but I was hitting it to like 30 feet all day. You’re just kind of two-putting from there and being patient. I was happy the way I finished and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”

In the 2018 State Amateur, Longbella and Vanderbilt golfer Harrison Ott tied after 72 holes and Longbella eventually lost on the eighth hole of sudden death.

“It’s always a good experience to be near the final group or in the final group and to have a chance,” he said. “I think the more I can give myself those chances, the better golfer I’m going to become, whether I win or not. It’s just gathering experiences and how I play under pressure and in different situations. I’m excited. Really excited.”

Tolan played the last 14 holes in 8-under and finished birdie-birdie to join the chase. On the par-5 11th hole, he hit a 6-iron from 208 yards to 18 inches for a kick-in eagle, then birdied Nos. 12 and 13.

“I’ve really been getting in a groove on the back nine,” he said.

Tolan is just two years removed from winning the State Amateur.

“It’s definitely a big confidence boost, knowing that I have done it before and it wasn’t that long ago,” he said. “It’s definitely a boost in the right direction that a lot of people don’t have, obviously. It’s one of the biggest tournaments in Wisconsin to win and to say that I’ve won it, I’m super humbled.”

Anderson made only a couple mistakes Wednesday but one of them was costly. With the flagstick tucked on the extreme left portion of the green on the par-3 10th, he short-sided himself in a greenside bunker and went on to make a double-bogey. He bounced back with birdies on the par-5 11th and 18th holes to fight his way into the mix.

Michael Harris, 41, of Brookfield, and 15-year-old Jacob Beckman of Middleton High School were tied for sixth place at 5-under 211. Harris shot a 69 and Beckman a 72. Matthew Bachmann of Sheboygan Falls, a rising senior at Marquette University, was alone in eighth at 212 after a 72.

1Phillip Johnson  Colgate, WI-11F-4706768 205 
2Hunter Eichhorn  Carney, MI-9F-3736569 207 
T3Thomas Longbella  Chippewa Falls, WI-7F-6756866 209 
T3Matt Tolan  Eau Claire, WI-7F-6756866 209 
T3Samuel Anderson  Stoughton, WI-7F-1687071 209 
T6Michael Harris  Brookfield, WI-5F-3697369 211 
T6Jacob Beckman  Middleton, WI-5FE697072 211 
8Matthew Bachmann  Milwaukee, WI-4FE707072 212 
T9Christopher Colla  Fond du Lac, WI-2F-5727567 214 
T9Tyler Leach  Spring Valley, WI-2F-2747070 214 
T9Cameron Huss  Kenosha, WI-2F-3737269 214 
T9Piercen Hunt  Hartland, WI-2F-2727270 214 
T13Johnny Decker  Madison, WI-1F-5707867 215 
T13Garrett Jones  Madison, WI-1F-1707471 215 
15Pete Kuhl  Madison, WIEF+3697275 216 
T16Cal Meyers  Richfield, WI+1FE707572 217 
T16Jamozzy Skenandore  De Pere, WI+1FE737272 217 
T18Drake Wilcox  Sheboygan, WI+2F-4757568 218 
T18Nate Thomson  Greendale, WI+2F-1717671 218 
T18Austin Resop  Berlin, WI+2F-1767171 218 
T18George Kneiser  Oconomowoc, WI+2FE747272 218 
T22Adam Garski  Wauwatosa, WI+3FE767172 219 
T22Zak Kulka  Beaver Dam, WI+3F+1727473 219 
T24Matt Polivka  Muskego, WI+5F-3817169 221 
T24Adam Miller  Adams, WI+5F-3747869 221 
T24P.J. Clemins  Cedarburg, WI+5F-2727970 221 
T24Matthew Raab  Hartland, WI+5F-2727970 221 
T24Emmet Herb  Middleton, WI+5F-1757571 221 
T24Dylan Brown  Reedsburg, WI+5F+2767174 221 
T24Nicholas Bauer  Oshkosh, WI+5F+2717674 221 
T31Clayton Tribus  Madison, WI+6F-3738069 222 
T31Nathan Daugherty  Lake Villa, IL+6F-3777669 222 
T31Brady Sarauer  Fond du Lac, WI+6F-1797271 222 
T31Joe DuChateau  Fond Du Lac, WI+6F-1767571 222 
T31Jason Jahnke  Kewaskum, WI+6F+5727377 222 
T31Jeremy Wesemann  Merton, WI+6F+7697479 222 
T37Joseph Ploch  Oconomowoc, WI+7F-1777571 223 
T37Russell Dettmering  Merrill, WI+7F-1767671 223 
T37Robert Gregorski  Menasha, WI+7FE718072 223 
T37Max Pasher  Mequon, WI+7F+2757474 223 
T41Peter Flory  Glencoe, IL+8F+4777176 224 
T41Cory Aune  Lake Geneva, WI+8F+4767276 224 
T43Zach Dybul  Big Bend, WI+9F+2747774 225 
T43Mike McDonald  West Bend, WI+9F+2757674 225 
T43Derek Hilmershausen  Wausau, WI+9F+2737874 225 
T43Todd Westrich  De Pere+9F+2777474 225 
T43Sam Van Galder  Janesville, WI+9F+2767574 225 
T43Grant Boyson  Neenah, WI+9F+4727776 225 
T43Danny Sanicki  Menomonee Falls, WI+9F+7757179 225 
T50Rocky Sperka  New Berlin, WI+10FE797572 226 
T50Gabe Dahl  Green Bay, WI+10F+2767674 226 
T50Joe Weber  Onalaska, WI+10F+2767674 226 
T50Chris Wood  Mount Pleasant, WI+10F+4767476 226 
T50Daniel Ozga  Edgerton, WI+10F+5767377 226 
T55Daniel Benedum  Menomonee Falls, WI+11F+1787673 227 
T55Christopher Weinfurt  Milwaukee, WI+11F+2787574 227 
T55John Stravinski  Windsor, WI+11F+6757478 227 
58Ben Gilles  Madison, WI+12F+4728076 228 
T59Brent Bartels  Pinehurst, NC+13F+3817375 229 
T59Jimmy Albright  Scottsdale, AZ+13F+3728275 229 
T59Jack Anderson  Brookfield, WI+13F+3777775 229 
T59Robert Hughes  Wauwatosa, WI+13F+4767776 229 
T59Kenny Rucker  Madison, WI+13F+3787675 229 
T59Connor Brown  Racine, WI+13F+4777676 229 
T59Mark Laken  Kenosha, WI+13F+4767776 229 
T59Derrick Meier  Waunakee, WI+13F+11727483 229 
T67James Gunsalus  Brookfield, WI+14F+5797477 230 
T67Garrett Gosh  Wauwatosa, WI+14F+5777677 230 
T67Ben Nichols  Waukesha, WI+14F+5767777 230 
T70Benjamin Shafer  Brookfield, WI+15F+5787677 231 
T70Austin Gaby  Verona, WI+15F+6747978 231 
T70Steven Sanicki  Menomonee Falls, WI+15F+7767679 231 
T73Matt Fladten  Eau Claire, WI+19F+9797581 235 
T73Jake Dunn  Trempealeau, WI+19F+10767782 235 


Gary has covered golf in Wisconsin since 1980 and is a multiple award winner in the GWAA writing contest. He was inducted into the WSGA Hall of Fame in 2017 and joined Wisconsin.Golf in 2018 after a distinguished career at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.