Two Wisconsin natives now living out of state battled over the final holes of the 39th Wisconsin State Senior Open Wednesday afternoon at Maple Bluff CC in Madison.
Tony Rohlik, who grew up in the Chippewa Valley but now lives in Arizona, defeated Derek Stendahl, formerly of Middleton but now a Minnesotan, by one stroke to win the title.
“This is spectacular,” Rohlik said. “Any time you win, it’s great, but to win here against a bunch of guys I grew up watching and admiring, it’s amazing.”
The closing stretch at Maple Bluff can be treacherous in the best of conditions – many a state golf tournament has been decided there over the last 100-plus years – but on Wednesday it got really interesting when a rain squall rolled through the course just as the leaders were about to hit their key shots.
Stendahl was the first-round leader after he posted a round of 3-under-68 on Tuesday, so he entered Wednesday’s finale with a one-stroke lead. Stendahl stood three strokes ahead of Rohlik, after Rohlik shot even-par 71 in the opening round – with Stendahl in the final foursome and Rohlik in the second-to-last.
However, Rohlik dominated the final round, recording four birdies while shooting a bogey-free 67. Along the way, he rolled in a key 5-foot putt for par on the 16th green.
Stendahl still held a one-stroke lead as he played the 16th hole in the final round, but then he was the victim of some poor luck when his approach shot clipped a tree branch fronting the green, and his ball lost momentum and dropped short. He putted onto the green, but then he missed his own par opportunity from about 5 feet.
“I knew I was up by one, and I thought that was a really good opportunity (on 16),” he said, while adding that he never thought the branch was in play for him. “I thought if I could get another one there I’d be in good shape.”
About that same time, Rohlik was playing the par-4 17th hole, where he rolled in an 11-foot birdie putt.
Now trailing by one instead of leading, Stendahl knew he had to make a birdie on one of the last two holes. He drilled a perfect drive on no. 17 up the right side of the fairway, and then the hard rain came.
The drenching downpour lasted only about 10 minutes, but it surely had an impact. Unfortunately, Stendahl was standing over a 97-yard shot at the time, a distance that he thought was his perfect wedge yardage.
The players hardly had time to put on their rain gear as the downpour approached. Stendahl, playing without a golf glove, hit his shot in the heaviest of the rain, and his soggy effort came up short. He eventually missed his birdie putt from 20 feet.
Rohlik was on the 18th hole, marking his ball, when it started pouring. He missed his birdie putt from about 8 feet, but it didn’t matter.
On no. 18, Stendahl had one more shot to force a playoff, but he missed the fairway left with his drive. The pulled drive gave him a difficult second shot with tree trouble. His ensuing approach shot would come up 35-feet short of the back hole location. The last-ditch birdie effort missed on the high side, handing Rohlik a one stroke victory.
Afterward, Rohlik felt he did a good job of managing his game around Maple Bluff, a century-plus-old golf course with narrow fairways and slippery greens.
“I didn’t make anything long this week,” Rohlik said of his putting performance. “But I also didn’t miss any short ones, and that’s key out here.”
Rohlik, a Southwest Section PGA professional who operates a retail golf business in Mesa, Ariz., shot 71-67–138 over two rounds to finish at 4-under-par. The native of Eau Claire said he decided to enter the State Senior Open this year because of one reason: Maple Bluff CC.
“I love this course,” he said. “When I saw (the tournament) was at Maple Bluff this year, I looked into it, and I’m glad I did.”
Stendahl, who grew up in Middleton, is the longtime PGA general manager at Rush Creek GC in Maple Grove, Minn. He shot 68-71–139.
Having won the Minnesota Senior Open in 2022, Stendahl was looking to join Mario Tiziani as Wisconsinites that have won Senior Open titles in both states.
Both Rohlik, 54, and Stendahl, 52, are Wisconsin natives who have lived out-of-state for several years. They both played the State Senior Open this year after the eligibility guidelines expanded a few years ago, allowing players who have graduated from high school or college in the state of Wisconsin to enter.
JT Johnson of Eden Prairie, Minn., shot 73-69–142 to finish third and also earn low amateur honors.
Michael Crowley of Fox Point, the 2020 Wisconsin State Senior Open champion, finished fourth after shooting 70-73–143.