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Golf: Leach earns praise for aggressive push

Tyler Leach hits a tee shot at a Dunn-St. Croix Conference match in May. Despite having a chance to make a run up the leaderboard on the final nine of the Wisconsin State Amateur golf tournament in Oconomowoc, Leach finished with a six-over 285. Jalen Knuteson / RiverTown Multimedia

Tyler Leach went into the 116th Wisconsin State Amateur golf tournament in Oconomowoc with his eyes on winning the whole thing.

To put that into perspective, the Spring Valley senior-to-be was competing with Wisconsin graduate Ben Skogen, current Wisconsin golfer Eddie Wajda, and University of South Dakota golfer Matt Tolan from Eau Claire.

Leach not only hung with them, but he competed with each of these accomplished Division 1 golfers. Tolan won the four-day event finishing with a 7-under 273.

Leach went into the back nine of the final round within striking distance of the leader. At the turn, he said he looked at his dad and said he was going to go after it.

"If I'm going to be there, I might as well be golfing to win," Leach said. "What's the point in going into a tournament without the mentality that you can win?"

He said on the back nine there were multiple near misses that kept him from making a late charge at the leaders. Those near misses all led to a train of five bogeys to open the final nine of a tournament that he had shot a perfect par.

Even though he was frustrated with that, he didn't let it show.

"I started five shots back and knew I had to make a bunch of shots to win," Leach said. "I knew I needed to score well. I got off to a good start, I was one over through seven. I made two birdies on Hole 8 and Hole 9.

"Then I started missing greens and hit a couple of bad tee shots. It was weird, no matter how hard I tried, I was just a little bit off. I was always just a little bit off of the green, or just a little bit out of position to make a chip at the green."

His composed, aggressive play caught the attention of Skogen, an Onalaska native that golfed at the University of Wisconsin for four years and will graduate in the next academic year.

Skogen and Leach were paired for the final round.

"I knew Tyler going into the round, but had never played with him," Skogen said. "I was very impressed with his game. He struggled on the back nine but I respected how he acted. He had a very good attitude and never gave up. I really respected that."

Leach said his struggles were all close, which was why he felt like at any point he could snap out of it.

"I needed to get off of that train," Leach said. "I felt like if I got one par, I could have made a run."

He needed to make up ground fast, though. Against experienced Division 1 golfers, though, making a run is hard to do.

"Every day playing against people older than you, it's fun," Leach said. "Every day I was playing with people who were in college. It was good to see their games and learn a couple of things from them. It was fun to see how my game compared to the college player.

"I actually felt like I matched up really well. Until the final round, I think I beat everyone I was paired with until that final round."

"He was right there with nine holes to go," Skogen said. "He will learn from those last nine holes and become a better golfer because of it. I was really impressed with his game and I look forward to watching him grow as a golfer through the years."