Bob Gregorski has seen his share of eras in Wisconsin amateur golf since the 56-year-old from Menasha with two Wisconsin State Amateur championships to his name first burst onto the scene himself during the late 1970s.
The former University of Wisconsin golfer saw J.P. Hayes, Steve Stricker and Skip Kendall dominate in the mid-to-late 1980s on their way to the PGA Tour. He watched the likes of Ron Wuensche, Casey Brozek, Jason Samuelian, Tim Cantwell Jr. and Mark Wilson win State Am titles in the 1990s before guys his age — career amateurs like Mark Bemowski and John Pallin — started to re-establish their influence. By the early 2000s, another stream of young golfers with an eye toward the pro ranks emerged and names such as Jon Turcott, Neil Johnson, Garrett Jones, Dan Woltman and Jordan Elsen led another youth movement to the 2010s when Max Hosking, Jordan Niebrugge and Charlie Danielson ushered in another era reminiscent of the 1980s.
And now, deep in the forests of Wisconsin's celebrated Northwoods, the day of another era has dawned and the northernmost Wisconsin State Amateur in the tournament's brilliant history is set to identify its 117th champion. Gregorski, whose 2-over-par 218 total fueled by a 7-under 65 during Wednesday's third round used to be enough for a front-row seat to all the drama on the final day, will watch with interest from 12 shots back to see how it all unfolds.
Hunter Eichhorn, the 19-year-old Marquette University golfer who captured the Big East Conference championship as a freshman, will have the pole position entering the final round after he broke 70 for the third day in a row. His 3-under 69 helped him stay one shot ahead of first-round co-leader Thomas Longbella, 20, the junior-to-be at Minnesota, who bounced back from a second-round 73 with a 4-under 68 to get to 9-under 207 after 54 holes of this 72-hole event.
Vanderbilt golfer Harrison Ott, 19, of Brookfield put on a dazzling display in the middle of his third round, making five straight birdies starting at No. 9 at the back end of a stretch in which he birdied seven of eight. His 4-under 68 put him alone in third place at 8-under 208 and just two back of Eichhorn.
But the line of young talent doesn't stop there. A high school golfer has never won the State Am — Jeff Bisbee of Stevens Point won the summer that he graduated in 1983 and Stricker did the same in 1985 — and there are two in the mix going into the final round with Hartland Arrowhead junior Piercen Hunt (69), 16, the two-time defending WIAA Division 1 state champion, and Kaukauna senior Brock Hlinak (70), 17, tied in fourth place at 6-under 210.
"I don't know them all, but I can tell you this: I know Hunter Eichhorn; I got to play with him at (in June) the (WSGA State) Match Play and his aunt was my paralegal so I heard about him for years and years and years," Gregorski said. "I got to see him play at the match play and he's the real deal. I really think he could be the next guy out there (on the PGA Tour). He really has fearless offense and a great game. I love watching him play."
The only golfer in the field to break 70 all three rounds, Eichhorn has been worth watching all week.
For the second day in a row, the native of Carney, Michigan who now plays out of Brown Deer Park GC in Milwaukee, made just one bogey (giving him four for the week — the fewest number of over-par holes in the tournament). He started birdie-birdie, but then made nine pars and a bogey before making two more birdies on the two par-3s on the back nine (Nos. 13 and 16) to put himself in position to take the outright lead after Longbella bogeyed No. 18.
"I knew I was around the lead," Eichhorn said. "I played with Longbella and he played phenomenal and I knew Ott was making a move in front of me. At the end of the day, I knew I'd be close to the lead. I didn't know if I'd be on top."
Sspectacular during the middle of their rounds, Longbella and Ott both took their turns there.
Ott got there first after he birdied five holes in a row, starting at No. 9, to get to 10-under. In fact, the Commodores' No. 6 golfer made back-to-back birdies after a bogey at the par-3 fifth hole, giving him seven in eight holes before bogeys at Nos. 16 and 18 left him to 8-under and cost him a piece of the lead.
"Right after the round, I was a little down about it," Ott said. "But I started thinking and the 2-footer I missed on 5 (for par) and the 2½-footer I missed (for par) on 18, those were equivalent; it's just that the one on 18 feels a lot worse. Both were just misreads, but the one on 18 was kind of tricky; the worst 2½-footer you could get on the golf course. But I hadn't missed one of those (length putts) in awhile, ... so you kind of take the good with the bad.
"(Thursday) is all about getting better and learning from it. I really want to shoot a low score. The past two rounds, I feel like I haven't gotten everything out of a round — I know it's dumb to say when you have seven birdies in eight holes — so I'm just looking forward to the challenge. I think it's going to be a huge stepping stone for me in my college, amateur and future golf career."
Wednesday was a big stepping stone for Longbella, who played his final three holes Tuesday in 4-over to fall out of the lead. He also started his third round birdie-birdie and then played a nine-hole stretch starting at No. 7 in 4-under.
"(Tuesday), my finish wasn't really a good representation of the other 15 holes, I would say" said Longbella, who "hit a really good shot in a really bad spot" on the par-3 16th hole in the second round and made a triple-bogey. "That's the way it goes. (Wednesday) I hit the ball solid, just kind of kept it in play all day and gave myself birdie looks. It turned out to be a solid round."
Still, with this much talent this close to the top of the leaderboard after what usually is the final day to make a major move, Longbella knows what's next.
"In the last four State Ams that I've played, the third day (Wednesday) is usually where they move a couple tee boxes up and have a couple scoreable pins and that makes it fun, which I think was reflected in the scores," he said. "I think (Thursday) it will play (tough). All the tee boxes will be all the way back, just like expected. There will be pins you have to watch out for and there will be some scoreable ones. They're not going to throw them all in weird spots. I couldn't tell you what wins, but I'm just going to go out there with my same game plan and play the same golf course I've been playing."
|1||Hunter Eichhorn Carney, MI||-3||F||-10||69||68||69||206|
|2||Thomas Longbella Chippewa Falls, WI||-4||F||-9||66||73||68||207|
|3||Harrison Ott Brookfield, WI||-4||F||-8||69||71||68||208|
|T4||Piercen Hunt Canada||-3||F||-6||71||70||69||210|
|T4||Brock Hlinak Kaukauna, WI||-2||F||-6||68||72||70||210|
|T6||Christopher Colla Fond du Lac, WI||-6||F||-5||71||74||66||211|
|T6||Kevin Van Rossum Hartland, WI||-2||F||-5||71||70||70||211|
|8||Johnny Decker Middleton, WI||-2||F||-4||66||76||70||212|
|T9||Andrew Knoll New Berlin, WI||-5||F||-3||74||72||67||213|
|T9||Jimmy Albright Manitowoc, WI||-4||F||-3||75||70||68||213|
|T9||Samuel Anderson Stoughton, WI||-2||F||-3||67||76||70||213|
|T9||Garrett Jones Madison, WI||-3||F||-3||72||72||69||213|
|T9||Ben Skogen Onalaska, WI||-1||F||-3||70||72||71||213|
|T9||Ryan Isaacson Eau Claire, WI||-1||F||-3||67||75||71||213|
|15||Chris Wood Mount Pleasant, WI||-1||F||-2||71||72||71||214|
|16||George Botts Janesville, WI||+2||F||-1||71||70||74||215|
|T17||Brian Murtagh Milwaukee, WI||-3||F||E||71||76||69||216|
|T17||Austin Kendziorski Germantown, WI||-3||F||E||73||74||69||216|
|T17||Garrett Loomis River Falls, WI||-2||F||E||72||74||70||216|
|T17||Tony Romo Burlington, WI||-2||F||E||75||71||70||216|
|T21||George Kneiser Oconomowoc, WI||+3||F||+2||68||75||75||218|
|T21||Robert Gregorski Menasha, WI||-7||F *||+2||72||81||65||218|
|T23||Joe DuChateau Fond Du Lac, WI||E||F||+3||71||76||72||219|
|T23||Matthew Bachmann Sheboygan Falls, WI||-4||F *||+3||70||81||68||219|
|T25||Max Rohlinger Jackson, WI||-1||F *||+4||77||72||71||220|
|T25||Hunter Pipik New Berlin, WI||-2||F *||+4||74||76||70||220|
|T25||Adam Austreng Cedarburg, WI||-3||F *||+4||76||75||69||220|
|T25||Joe Weber Onalaska, WI||+8||F||+4||70||70||80||220|
|T29||Nate Thomson Greendale, WI||+2||F||+5||77||70||74||221|
|T29||Tyler Leach Spring Valley, WI||+4||F||+5||73||72||76||221|
|T31||Matthew Zimmerman Janesville, WI||+2||F||+6||74||74||74||222|
|T31||Jack Schultz Whitefish Bay, WI||+1||F *||+6||76||73||73||222|
|T31||Jacob Michel Lodi, WI||E||F *||+6||72||78||72||222|
|T31||Zach Hentrich Lancaster, WI||E||F *||+6||74||76||72||222|
|T31||Todd Schaap Kenosha||+4||F||+6||73||73||76||222|
|T31||Mike McDonald West Bend, WI||E||F *||+6||73||77||72||222|
|T31||Trevor Thomas Junction City, WI||+4||F||+6||70||76||76||222|
|T31||Colton Duwe Oconomowoc, WI||-1||F *||+6||75||76||71||222|
|T39||Rocky Sperka New Berlin, WI||+2||F||+7||75||74||74||223|
|T39||Conner O'Neil Suamico, WI||+3||F||+7||75||73||75||223|
|T39||Matt Behm Valders, WI||+2||F *||+7||76||73||74||223|
|T39||Ryonen Faris Fond du Lac, WI||+1||F *||+7||74||76||73||223|
|T39||Ben Gilles Madison, WI||E||F *||+7||77||74||72||223|
|T39||Phillip Johnson Colgate, WI||-2||F *||+7||76||77||70||223|
|T45||Kevin Cahill Waukesha, WI||+3||F *||+8||72||77||75||224|
|T45||Robbie Morway Mequon, WI||+4||F||+8||72||76||76||224|
|T45||Grant Boyson Neenah, WI||+2||F *||+8||76||74||74||224|
|T45||Charles Maleki Mequon, WI||+1||F *||+8||79||72||73||224|
|T49||James Gilmore Verona, WI||+2||F *||+9||73||78||74||225|
|T49||Emmet Herb Middleton, WI||+1||F *||+9||71||81||73||225|
|51||Danny Sanicki Menomonee Falls, WI||+1||F *||+10||74||79||73||226|
|T52||Josh Thomas Nekoosa, WI||+7||F||+11||73||75||79||227|
|T52||Steven Young Cedarburg, WI||+6||F *||+11||78||71||78||227|
|T52||Adam Fazio Wauwatosa, WI||+7||F||+11||72||76||79||227|
|T52||Jed Baranczyk Green Bay, WI||+5||F *||+11||77||73||77||227|
|T52||Dawson Hinz Baraboo, WI||+4||F *||+11||75||76||76||227|
|T52||Tyler Beeck Sheboygan Falls, WI||+4||F *||+11||76||75||76||227|
|T58||Adam Miller Adams, WI||+5||F *||+12||76||75||77||228|
|T58||Chip Summers Richfield, WI||+5||F *||+12||76||75||77||228|
|T60||Josh Dirks La Crosse, WI||+5||F *||+13||76||76||77||229|
|T60||Paul Zarek Burlington, WI||+4||F *||+13||75||78||76||229|
|T62||Steven Sanicki Menomonee Falls, WI||+8||F *||+14||74||76||80||230|
|T62||Garth Gilster Eagle River, WI||+5||F *||+14||77||76||77||230|
|T64||Eric Goldapske Sun Prairie, WI||+13||F||+15||74||72||85||231|
|T64||Kari Hannula Jr De Pere, WI||+6||F *||+15||74||79||78||231|
|66||Derick Disch Brookfield, WI||+10||F *||+18||74||78||82||234|
|67||Alec Sheaffer Pewaukee, WI||+11||F *||+19||73||79||83||235|
|68||Austin Gaby Verona, WI||+11||F *||+20||77||76||83||236|
|69||Jakob Schroeckenthaler Cottage Grove, WI||+14||F *||+22||75||77||86||238|