HOLMEN — Their names and faces — and most importantly, their golf games — are recognizable to anyone in the know of golf in the Coulee Region.
One is the two-time defending County Amateur Tournament champion; the other a professional and the defending champion of the Wisconsin State Open and the Lawn Care Specialists Open.
Joe Weber, an Onalaska man whose golf game has never been stronger, and PGA pro Max Hosking stayed consistent throughout play Friday at the Lawn Care Specialists Open, and are tied for the lead after the first day of the 36-hole tournament at Drugan’s Castle Mound.
Weber and Hosking shot matching 68s despite overnight rain that soaked the course, which was hit with multiple hours of steady rain during play of the 90-player tournament.
“We played (Thursday) afternoon, and the course was playing really firm and fast,” Hosking said in the Drugan’s banquet room after his group finished its round. “So it played a lot different than it did (Thursday).
“The greens were soft enough all day, so it was easier than it could’ve been. But it was tough to make putts. From the sounds of it, talking to guys, no one really made putts.”
Hosking is competing for a $2,500 purse for the pros, while Weber could win $750.
Hosking’s round was evidence of the challenges players faced. He said he felt good from tee to green on Friday, and he roped drives down the fairways consistently. The wet greens allowed players to attack pins with approach shots, but didn’t allow for many easy birdie attempts.
Hosking — who won last year’s Lawn Care Specialists Open with a 135 (69-66) and won the State Open last August at North Shore Country Club in Mequon, Wis. — went 34-34 to card his 68 on Friday. He had three birdies, a bogey due to a three-putt on the back nine, and 14 pars.
“I never really got myself in trouble today,” Hosking said.
Weber got rolling on the back nine after going 1-under on the front. His 32 coming in — aided by two birdies in the final four holes — was the best score of the championship flight on the back nine.
It was reminiscent of Weber’s performance at the second day of last year’s County Am, held at Drugan’s, no less. Weber was able to fend off hard-charging opponents and handle a rainstorm to win the tournament by three strokes.
“I feel like I’m probably playing the best that I have for the year,” Weber said. “We had a really good group today, and I had a lot of fun. Historically, guys take a little lower here, so I didn’t expect to be in the lead, but it turned out well.”
The two will be in the final group for Saturday’s final round, but despite their solid opening rounds, they’re in no way clear of the field. Holmen native and pro Keegan Drugan sits two shots back after going 34-36—70.
Tyler Church, Jake Dunn and Connor Frawley (71) are all three shots back, and there’s eight players within striking distance tied at 72.
The rain was one of the common conversation topics as players recounted their rounds. Despite standing water in some bunkers, Hosking said the key was to keep the ball and club head dry. Weber said the biggest difference was felt around the green with chips and approach shots, and players had to adjust their distances with the knowledge that the ball wasn’t going to bounce and roll as much as normal.
Weber, who played with Hosking for a round at the State Open last year, said playing with professionals is a fun experience.
“It elevates your game,” Weber said. “It makes you want to compete. Hopefully tomorrow goes well and we can come out on top.”
OTHER FLIGHTS: Mitch Gault took a narrow lead of the first flight with a 73 on Friday.
James Freng and Jeremiah Shimshak tied for the second flight lead with 82s, while Damian Bork is tied with Bob Roers for the third flight lead with 83s. Bork drained a 22-foot birdie putt on the fourth green that got him off to a good start.