Older golfers often talk about the "young guns" playing in the La Crosse County Men's Amateur Golf Championship as presented by Pepsi-Cola of La Crosse.
A few may be intimidated by the younger players' length off the tee, precise approach shots or care-free swagger. But you can bet your favorite putter the veterans will try their best to silence those long-ball hitting kids of today when they hit the courses this weekend.
The Men’s County Am begins with 18 holes Saturday at The Golf Club at Cedar Creek in Onalaska, followed by 18 holes Sunday at Drugan’s Castle Mound Country Club in Holmen.
Joe Weber (pictured), a 35-year-old dentist from Onalaska, proved he can play with – or better than - the youngsters when he won his second straight County Am title last year.
Weber fired birdie after birdie to the oohs and aahs of more than 100 spectators following the last group at Castle Mound. In the end, it was all Weber, who finished with a blistering 6-under par 64 and a County Am record 36-hole, 135 total to beat 20-year-old Tyler Church by three strokes. Jake Dunn, 30, finished third with 142, and then 22-year-old Ben Skogen fourth at 143.
Weber returns this year, along with all the young guns and more. Many more County Am veterans also return, hoping for that elusive sport coat or another title and traveling trophy.
Top contenders probably begin with Onalaska's Skogen. The former Hilltoppers' prep star and former member of the University of Wisconsin golf team tied for 13th place in last week's 117th Wisconsin State Golf Association State Amateur Championship. Weber tied for 25th place in the State Amateur after a disappointing 80 in his third round.
"in the State Am, I didn't play too bad, but I was extremely disappointed with my third round," Weber said Monday.
"Skogen is playing really well, and obviously (Josh) Dirks, too. I've heard that Church is not playing as much, but he's really good. And ‘Willie,’ you can never count him out," Weber added, referring to Paul Williamson, 62, the all-time County Am champion with seven titles. Williamson also has four Seniors championships under his belt and finished runner-up to Mike Bistodeau, 61, in last weekend's Seniors County Am at Forest Hills Golf Course in La Crosse.
"Next week? Oh boy, those young kids are tough," said Williamson as he stowed golf clubs in his car trunk after last weekend's Seniors County Am. “We don't get any younger, do we?"
Don't count out Bistodeau, either.
"I'd love to win the Men's because I've never won it, but those younger kids, Tyler, Josh and all the others, they're such good players, and they're so long," Bistodeau said. "I played with Weber in the Lawn Care... man, can he hit the ball."
Bistodeau added that to win this weekend he must putt well, take advantage of scoring opportunities and hope no one goes low like Dirks did in his last round to win the recent Lawn Care Specialists Open at Castle Mound a few weeks ago.
Tom McClintock, 53, last year's Seniors County Am champ, also is wary of the younger players in this year's field, but he remains one of the top contenders for this year's Men's County Am title.
"It will probably take 4 to 5 under par. You can't do that at Cedar," he said about the first-day course where he is a member. "You just have to keep your head above water and then the second day, try to hit the mid to high 60s. Try to shoot around even par at Cedar and then try to get 4 to 5 under at Drugan's."
Meanwhile, Weber is busy at his dental practice this week after basically taking four days off last week for the State Amateur.
"I'm full, full with work. Besides, I was gone all week from my girls," he said of his wife, Christa, and two young daughters.
Although Weber said he won't play much this week, he said he just hopes to "roll a tater and get there."
"As long as I putt well, I'll be fine, but there are a lot of good players," he said when asked if he can three-peat. "That's the goal. That's the goal," he said.
Other winners last year were:
* First Flight: Trevor Schultz, a member at Forest Hills Golf Course in La Crosse, 154.
* Second Flight: Tom Desjarlais, from The Golf Club at Cedar Creek in Onalaska, 163.
* Third Flight: Monte Jacobson, Fox Hollow Golf Course in Barre Mills, 171.
* Fourth Flight: Joel LaPlount, Drugan's Castle Mound Country Club, 167.