A past champion and longtime friend of the La Crosse County Men's Amateur Golf Championship as presented by Pepsi-Cola of La Crosse is returning after a five-year absence.
Brian Banasik, the 1998 Championship Flight winner, last played in the County Am in 2011.
The 1998 County Am was a memorable one, especially the final day when the tournament was called after 28 holes.
"I remember I was putting on the 11th hole when that storm came through," said Banasik, of the storm and heavy rain that drenched Castle Mound, leaving it unplayable.
Banasik shot 68 the opening round for a five-stroke lead entering Sunday. He finished with a 28-hole score of 110 and a three-stroke victory over Paul Williamson. Eric Haug and Josh Dirks finished in a tie for third place with 115, while Ryan Quinn was fifth with 118.
Banasik skipped the 2012 and 1013 County Amateurs to help his wife begin raising three young children, who are now 11, 8 and 3.
"With kids and their activities, I just took some time off from golf," he said. "We do lots of fishing with them. They all really like to fish."
Banasik, now 40, planned to return to golf and the County Am eventually, but three years ago, he had his appendix removed. It was the beginning of a long road to recovery. While removing the appendix, surgeons also discovered cancer in the appendix and thought it had spread. They removed 10 inches of Banasik's colon followed by 12 rounds of chemotherapy.
Banasik lost lots of weight, became extremely weak from the side effects of chemo, and had a tough uphill climb. He also developed a hernia that required surgery in 2015.
He eventually returned to work full time, and began swatting golf balls and fishing with his wife and children. He said he is not considered cancer-free for another two years. Meanwhile, he returns for routine CT scans, blood work and follow-up exams.
Banasik feels good about returning to the County Am and admits there may be some butterflies on Saturday when he steps to the first tee at 11:39 a.m.
"It's going to feel good, but I'm not expecting a lot," he said earlier this week. "I'm just going to have fun and see the guys."
Banasik echoes what all past County Amateur champions say.
"Once you have that County Am jacket, no one can take it away no matter what happens," he said.
"Realistically, I don't know if I can win it this year, but there's always a chance," he added. "My wife said to just go out and have fun no matter what happens. Yet, once a competitor, always a competitor."
Banasik, like Quinn and 2017 strong contender Josh Dirks, were all considered "young guns," in 1998.
While Banasik doesn't include himself in this year's list of top contenders, he did list a few top names.
"Willie (seven-time champion Paul Williamson) has won the most and always seems to be there at the end," Banasik said. "Mac (Tom McClintock) won the Seniors County Am last week, and Dirks, who I played with in high school, won the Lawncare this year. Joe Weber is the defending champ and has played well the last couple years."
Banasik intentionally left one person off his top list until the end.
"There's my nephew, Tyler Church, but I want to beat him so much. I've been talking smack to him," he said with a big laugh.
Banasik looks forward to his return and said the whole family will attend the County Am on Sunday. He said his two oldest children will try to follow him both days. According to Banasik, his 3-year-old son, who is left-handed, is the golfer in the family.
The doctors said the cancer I had is normally found in 50-70 year olds. They said I won the wrong lottery," Banasik said. "Now I feel good, the best I have in a long time. And I'm playing in the County Am again."