A year ago the world' best amateur golfers descended on Wisconsin to play Erin Hills for the U.S. Amateur, an event surprisingly won by Kelly Kraft over the world's top-ranked amateur, Patrick Cantlay.
Kraft and Cantlay are now professionals attempting to make a living in the game as the 2012 U.S. Amateur kicked off this week at Cherry Hills Country Club in Cherry Hills Village, Colo., and Wisconsin is represented by four players. They will be part of a 312-person field which play 18 holes of stroke play Monday and today, after which the field will be cut to the low 64 scorers.
Here is a look at the locals in the field:
Kyle Henning, Brookfield: A junior at Valparaiso University, Henning led the Crusaders with a 73.5 scoring average last fall. The civil engineering major was a two-time all-state selection while attending Brookfield East. He is in good position to make a run at the field of 64 with an opening round 73.
Keegan Drugan, Holmen: Long one of the state's top amateurs, the former Winona State golfer qualified for the 2010 tournament where he shot 77-79 and missed the cut. He opened with an 80 on Monday.
Taylor Johnson, Oconomowoc: A junior, Johnson redshirted his first season at the University of North Florida after coming in following several seasons at Brevard Community College in Cocoa, Fla., and Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. Johnson opened with an 86.
Charlie Danielson, Osceola: Danielson won two Division 2 WIAA state titles (2010, 2012) as a member of the Osceola High School team and is now headed to the University of Illinois. He is also coming off a win at the Wisconsin State Golf Association's State Junior Boys Championship at the River Club of Mequon on Aug. 6-8.
"It's just a privilege to be here," Danielson said from Colorado. "I'm kind of trying to take it all in and just trying to enjoy the experience right before I head out to college and take it with me."
Danielson's new coach at Illinois, Mike Small, is excited about the prospect of adding Danielson to an Illini team which has won five straight Big Ten titles and has produced two recent individual NCAA champions.
"You want to compete against those teams (from the west and the south) and you don't want to lose in recruiting, but you can't lose perspective or sight of what got you there, either. We recruit Midwestern kids, good kids that want to be there," Small said. "Even though we've had success there's still a perception of golf in the north that we're trying to break. We've been competitive with all the southern schools for a number of years now so it can be done here. We're producing national champions. The word is out to these kids that they can reach their goals and become a national champion at Illinois."
Should any of the four players advance through stoke play following today's cut, six rounds of match play begin on Aug. 15. The championship concludes with a scheduled 36-hole championship match on Aug. 19.
"My goal is just to definitely make match play," said Danielson, who needs a good second round to do that after opening with a 78. "Once you get to match play, anyone can beat anyone."
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.