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Rob Hernandez: Pairing Hunter Eichhorn with Tony Romo, the WSGA continues to find ways to challenge its bright, young stars

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Hunter Eichhorn.jpg

Hunter Eichhorn of Carney, Michigan with defending WSGA Match Play champion Michael Bielawski in the background.

SHOREWOOD HILLS — The Wisconsin State Golf Association has a long, proud history of preparing its bright, young golfers for whatever might come next.

Gene Haas' legendary pin placements and tough course set ups for Wisconsin State Amateurs and other WSGA events jettisoned a generation of golfers into the professional ranks. And the former WSGA executive director is still praised on occasion by Edgerton native Steve Stricker, Madison native Jerry Kelly and Milwaukee native Skip Kendall for making the PGA Tour seem not so bad.

The spirit of Haas has carried over to the creative minds on the current staff, but the WSGA might have out-kicked its coverage Monday in its assignments for the stroke-play qualifying round for the WSGA Match Play Championship.

Its subtle pairing of 19-year-old Hunter Eichhorn in a decorated foursome that included Tony Romo, the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback, current CBS-TV football commentator and forever Burlington native with the boyish grin gave the sophomore-to-be at Marquette University something to think about as he reached the first tee at Blackhawk CC and made his debut in this tournament.

"On the first tee, I would admit to being a little more nervous than usual because, obviously, Tony Romo was there," Eichhorn said afterward. "It was exciting. It's exciting to play with people like that to really push yourself through kind of pressure moments. I don't know; overall, it was kind of fun."

It didn't hurt that the 2018 Big East Conference freshman and player of the year wowed a group that also included defending champ and former Golden Eagles golfer Michael Bielawski and former University of Wisconsin golfer Bob Gregorski, a member of the WSGA Hall of Fame, with the way he played in shooting a 4-under-par 68 and qualifying second for the match-play portion of this event won by Jerry Kelly the last time it was contested here in 1989.

Eichhorn birdied five of six holes between Nos. 9 and 14 to turn an otherwise average round into something remarkable on a course that hosted the 2015 WSGA Junior Championship. That was one week before the Carney, Michigan native burst onto the Wisconsin PGA Junior Tour scene in earnest four straight victories to end the summer with eye-popping rounds of 68 (Reid Municipal in Appleton), 66 (Ridgeway CC in Neenah), 62 (Royal Scot GC in New Franken) and 67 (Washington County GC in Hartford) over an amazing 20-day stretch. 

"I was 1-over through six or seven and I stood on the eighth tee thinking 'Man, this is just golf,'" Eichhorn said. "Like, I've got to get back to normal here. I was able to get myself together and play well on the back."

In the process, Eichhorn picked up a fan in Romo, whose own journey from small-town (Burlington) and small-college (Eastern Illinois) stardom to the NFL is not unlike the meteoric rise his young playing partner is trying to make as ventures from Michigan's Upper Peninsula with an eye to the PGA Tour.

"You can tell why (he's a rising star)," Romo of Eichhorn. "He's got a lot of speed. I like his action. I think he's got a bright future. I think you'll see him make some noise for a long time. I think you might see him move on past Wisconsin at some point, too. He's special."

Romo wasn't so bad himself Monday.

Romo and Bielawski.jpg

Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo hits a drive from the second tee during the first round of the WSGA Match Play Championship at Blackhawk CC. Defending champion Michael Bielawski looks on at right.

Coming off another short course at Lake Wisconsin CC in Prairie du Sac, where Romo shot 76-71 and finished 18th out of 56 golfers Sunday at the 53rd Dairyland Open, Romo did a remarkable job figuring out Blackhawk CC sight unseen. His 4-over 76 featured six bogeys and two birdies and was more than enough to earn one of the 64 berths in match play, which begins Tuesday at 7:30 a.m.

"(Monday) was just getting through to the match-play portion," Romo said. "Having never played the course, I just tried to keep the ball in front of me and below the hole. You can make a few bogeys. But we got through and now you can have fun and attack the golf course."

Romo seemed as excited as a quarterback with keys to the playbook as he looked ahead to the possibilities of how to do just that when the takes on recent Illinois Wesleyan grad Conner O'Neil of Green Bay in the first round. Romo drove at least one green Monday and took aim at a few others on a course that rewards such behavior when tee shots stay between the trees.

"You can be aggressive in different spots," Romo said. "The course rewards aggressiveness in different parts. But, until you see the golf course, you're guessing where to hit it and the slopes and things of that nature. ... Match play is different than normal golf; usually you just play against the course and yourself. (Tuesday), you'll make decisions based on other people and how they play and, really, how well they're playing. We'll see how that plays out."

The way the brackets play out, Romo wouldn't see Eichhorn again until the semifinals on Thursday. But both golfers left here Monday — Romo after spending more than an hour at the range — poised to take what's next as any coach worth their weight in cliches would advise them: One match at a time.

"I love match play; match play is really fun," Eichhorn said. "Different spots and different (positions) to be in is kind of what I took away from (Monday). Match-play can go any which way so I'll probably play a little more aggressive in match-play. ... I don't know what my record is; I've only played a few match-play events. But I'm really looking forward to (Tuesday)." 

1Jack Schultz  Whitefish Bay, WI-5F67 
2Hunter Eichhorn  Carney, MI-4F68 
3Bennett Hutson  Onalaska, WI-3F69 
T4Brady Sarauer  Fond du Lac, WI-2F *70 
T4Joe DuChateau  Fond Du Lac, WI-2F70 
T4Aaron Gavin  South Milwaukee, WI-2F70 
T7George Kneiser  Oconomowoc, WI-1F *71 
T7Samuel Anderson  Stoughton, WI-1F71 
T7Phillip Johnson  Colgate, WI-1F71 
T10Garrett Jones  Madison, WIEF72 
T10Christopher Colla  Fond du Lac, WIEF72 
T10Ryan Isaacson  Eau Claire, WIEF72 
T10Ryan Zikeli  Hartland, WIEF72 
T10Daniel Ozga  Edgerton, WIEF72 
T15Isaac Prefontaine  New Franken, WI+1F73 
T15Charles Maleki  Mequon, WI+1F73 
T15Matthew Bachmann  Sheboygan Falls, WI+1F73 
T15Ricky Kuiper  Racine, WI+1F73 
T15Josh Thomas  Nekoosa, WI+1F73 
T15Cory Aune  Lake Geneva, WI+1F *73 
T15Matt Tolan  Eau Claire, WI+1F73 
T15Jonathan Fall  Cedarburg, WI+1F73 
T15Matt Behm  Janesville, WI+1F73 
T24Conner O'Neil  Suamico, WI+2F *74 
T24Andrew Knoll  New Berlin, WI+2F *74 
T24Jim Walkley  Onalaska, WI+2F *74 
T24Sam Schlosser  West Bend, WI+2F *74 
T24Nate Thomson  Greendale, WI+2F *74 
T24Michael Bielawski  Waukesha, WI+2F74 
T24Steven Young  Cedarburg, WI+2F *74 
T24Steven Tylke  Lisbon, WI+2F *74 
T24Zachary Reiser  Pewaukee, WI+2F *74 
T24Blake Wisdom  Lake Geneva, WI+2F74 
T34Bryce Burke  Jackson, WI+3F75 
T34Emmet Herb  Middleton, WI+3F *75 
T34Rocky Sperka  New Berlin, WI+3F75 
T34Adam Garski  Wauwatosa, WI+3F75 
T38Tony Bilich  Sun Prairie, WI+4F *76 
T38Carl Hottmann  Middleton, WI+4F76 
T38Derick Disch  Brookfield, WI+4F76 
T38Jacob Michel  Lodi, WI+4F76 
T38Colton Duwe  Oconomowoc, WI+4F76 
T38Tony Romo  Burlington, WI+4F76 
T38Garth Gilster  Eagle River, WI+4F *76 
T38Clayton Tribus  Madison, WI+4F76 
T46Ryan Penfield  Madison, WI+5F77 
T46Patrick Murphy  Middleton, WI+5F77 
T46Matthew Davidson  Mcfarland, WI+5F *77 
T46Wyatt Wilderman  Waukesha, WI+5F *77 
T46Joe Weber  Onalaska, WI+5F77 
T46Ed Dzirbik Jr.  Brookfield, WI+5F *77 
T46Trey Hewuse III  Tomah, WI+5F *77 
T46Jimmy Albright  Manitowoc, WI+5F *77 
T46Kari Hannula Jr  De Pere, WI+5F77 
T46Gabe Dahl  Green Bay, WI+5F *77 
T46Nicholas Bauer  Oshkosh, WI+5F *77 
T57Blake Dilworth  Madison, WI+6F78 
T57x-Nick Corban  Madison, WI+6F *78 
T57Myles Miller  Waukesha, WI+6F *78 
T57x-Adam Miller  Lodi, WI+6F78 
T57x-Austin Elsner  New London, WI+6F *78 
T57x-Zach Hentrich  Lancaster, WI+6F *78 
T57x-Lee Reinke  Brillion, WI+6F78 
T57Joe Knapton  Mt Pleasant, WI+6F *78 
T57x-Sam Galloway  Neenah, WI+6F78 
T57Robert Gregorski  Menasha, WI+6F78 
T57x-Christopher Dupuis  Chicago, IL+6F *78 
T57Drew Arndt  Madison, WI+6F *78 
T57x-James Gilmore  Verona, WI+6F78 
T70Ross Johnson  Middleton, WI+7F *79 
T70Dawson Hinz  Baraboo, WI+7F79 
T70Ryan Prickette  Neenah, WI+7F *79 
T70Sam Cianciola  Neenah, WI+7F *79 
T70Garrett Loomis  River Falls, WI+7F79 
T70Kevin Cahill  Waukesha, WI+7F *79 
T70Paul Schwarz  Appleton+7F *79 
T70John Triller  Green Lake, WI+7F *79 
T70Andrew Sharafinski  Greendale, WI+7F79 
T70Jack (John) Blair  Wauwatosa, WI+7F *79 
T70Lance Ott  Black River Falls, WI+7F *79 
T70Logan Walzer  Lodi, WI+7F *79 
T70Nathan Farrey  Lancaster, WI+7F *79 
T70Shaun Borre  Holmen, WI+7F *79 
T70Brent Sloat  Madison, WI+7F *79 
T85Todd Bramson  Verona, WI+8F80 
T85Sean Halverson  Janesville, WI+8F *80 
T85George Botts  Janesville, WI+8F80 
T85Derek Pirkl  Madison, WI+8F80 
T85Barry Fruth  Franksville, WI+8F *80 
T85Ryonen Faris  Fond du Lac, WI+8F *80 
T85Edward Martin  Elm Grove, WI+8F *80 
T85Johnny Decker  Middleton, WI+8F *80 
T85Daniel Benedum  Menomonee Falls, WI+8F80 
T85Tony Roberts  West Salem, WI+8F *80 
T85Andrew Otto  Kewaskum, WI+8F *80 
T85Alec Sheaffer  Pewaukee, WI+8F *80 
T85Tom Halla  Colgate, WI+8F80 
T85Alexander Haas  Hartford, WI+8F80 
T85Mitchell Scott  Appleton, WI+8F *80 
T85Simon Mitchell  Mineral Point, WI+8F80 
T85Doyle Kelly  Fond du Lac, WI+8F80 
T102Eric Goldapske  Sun Prairie, WI+9F *81 
T102Dane Zachman  Milwaukee, WI+9F *81 
T102Alex Yost  Hartland, WI+9F81 
T102Mike Aumann  Blue Mounds, WI+9F *81 
T102Robbie Morway  Mequon, WI+9F *81 
T102Jim Rollefson  Franklin, WI+9F *81 
T102Oliver Sadiq  Elkhart Lake, WI+9F81 
T102Kevin Belza  Wisconsin Rapids, WI+9F81 
T102Joel Preeshl  Onalaska, WI+9F *81 
T102Jacob Sherwood  Woodland, CA+9F81 
T112Jackson Eversoll  McFarland, WI+10F *82 
T112Kyler Royston  Wisconsin Dells, WI+10F82 
T112Jeff Budd  Waupun, WI+10F82 
T112Bradley Hill  Brown Deer, WI+10F *82 
T112Greg Alberte  Glendale, WI+10F *82 
T112Eric Chambers  Union Grove, WI+10F82 
T112Jeremy Weinrich  Mequon, WI+10F82 
T112Brian Morris  Shorewood, WI+10F *82 
T112David Pyszora  Neenah, WI+10F82 
T112Brent Wiskirchen  Mequon, WI+10F *82 
T112Ryan Candell  Oregon, WI+10F *82 
T123Gregory Wagner  Cambridge, WI+11F83 
T123Alex Premo  Madison, WI+11F *83 
T123Joshua Haunty  Middleton, WI+11F *83 
T123Bentley Glass  Fort Atkinson, WI+11F83 
T123Josh Hentrich  Lancaster, WI+11F *83 
T123John Bechard  Wind Lake, WI+11F83 
T123Steve Brault  Hartford+11F83 
T123James Matthews  Burlington, WI+11F83 
T123Jackson Rehm  Franklin, WI+11F83 
T123Andrew Schultz  Franksville, WI+11F83 
T133Thomas Wettstein  Neenah, WI+12F84 
T133Paul Knaapen  Muskego, WI+12F84 
T133Kyle Willer  Hartford, WI+12F *84 
T136Sam Johnson  Colgate, WI+13F85 
T136Chad Anderson  Oconomowoc, WI+13F *85 
T136Paul Borek  Greenville, WI+13F85 
T136Josh Willis  Rhinelander, WI+13F85 
T140Tom Schoewe  Sun Prairie, WI+14F *86 
T140Cory Sokol  Mineral Point, WI+14F86 
T140Collin Laundrie  Appleton, WI+14F *86 
T140Kyle Smith  Grafton, WI+14F *86 
T140Steve Peterson  Oconto, WI+14F *86 
T140Brandon Talaska  Brookfield, WI+14F86 
T140Michael Shomo  Lake Geneva, WI+14F *86 
T147Scott Rutherford  Middleton, WI+15F87 
T147Jason Greguska  Waukesha, WI+15F87 
T147Ben Fetters  Wauwatosa, WI+15F *87 
T147Robert Hughes  Milwaukee, WI+15F *87 
T147Steve Schreck  Franklin+15F87 
T147Wesley Schwarz  Kaukauna, WI+15F *87 
T147Charles Collins  Milwaukee, WI+15F87 
T154Justin Allen  Middleton, WI+16F88 
T154Thomas Hau  Kiel, WI+16F *88 
T154Brett Boyer  Bayside, WI+16F *88 
T157Travis Galston  Fort Atkinson, WI+17F *89 
T157Conor Farrell  Brookfield, WI+17F *89 
T157Peter Weber  Cedarburg, WI+17F *89 
T160Rob Pero  Cambridge+18F90 
T160Braden Demark  Waukesha, WI+18F *90 
T160Thomas Bleich  Beaver Dam, WI+18F90 
T160Ben Gordon  Pleasant Prairie, WI+18F90 
T160Adam Lofy  Menomonee Falls, WI+18F *90 
T165Matt Elstad  Oconomowoc, WI+19F *91 
T165Paul Suralski  Winter, WI+19F91 
T165Jeremy Banaszewski  New Richmond, WI+19F91 
168Blake Grenier  Marinette, WI+27F99

x = won playoff for final eight spots in match play.

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.