It was about 14 years ago (2005) when I first met Tyler Church.
We had just finished the awards ceremony for the La Crosse County Amateur Men's Golf Championship. Tyler's uncle, Brian Banasik, and other past champions were present at the awards ceremony donning their emblematic sport coats that went along with winning the prestigious championship. Brian won the 1998 Men's County Amateur.
Tyler, about 8 years old, was in attendance with his family, but didn't really understand what was going on other than he wanted to have a sport coat just like the other past champions were wearing.
One of the past champs grabbed my sport coat hanging on a chair. The next thing I noticed was Tyler wearing my jacket proudly while friends and family snapped photos of him, Brian, and two other past champions, Tim Thompson and Paul Williamson.
Now, in 2019, Tyler is among the top five favorites for this year's 29th annual La Crosse County Amateur Men's Golf Championship as presented by Pepsi-Cola of La Crosse.
Tyler, 22, has certainly elevated his game through the years. From a stellar four-year career at Holmen High School before graduating in 2015, to another four years of all-star golf for Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee, Tyler has been on top of his game, although he understands he has more work to do.
"My longer irons need a little work, but my wedges and driver have been really good lately," he said in a phone interview recently. "My putting has been pretty good, too," adding that he had only 25 putts during one 18-hole round this spring.
Oh, by the way, Tyler has played in the County Amateurs for a few years and has shown he can play with the very best La Crosse County offers. Need more proof?
Tyler finished third in 2016, second in 2017 and tied for third last summer.
Tyler lettered all four years at Holmen and four more years at Cardinal Stritch. He made the All-Mississippi Valley Conference team all four years at Holmen, including Player of the Year his junior and senior seasons. Tyler also advanced to the state meet all four years individually with his best finish being ninth in his sophomore season. The Vikings advanced to state as a team his freshman and junior years, finishing second his freshman year.
Although his parents live in the Town of Onalaska, he was in the Holmen School District.
As a member of the Cardinal Stritch Wolves, Tyler starred four more years, playing No. 1 all season his senior year, gaining All-Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference honors and being named Player of the Year this spring.
Unfortunately, Tyler and the Wolves did not qualify for the NAIA National Tournament, although he placed third individually, shooting 73-71-144 at the conference tournament. The tourney was shortened from 54 holes to 36 due to weather conditions. Cardinal Stritch finished second to Holy Cross College, just missing a trip to nationals due to a NAIA rule change. In past years, any conference with more than 10 teams sent both the first- and second-place teams to nationals, but the NAIA decided to add more at-large bids, so it only accepted the winning team from each conference tournament this year.
Tyler did make the All-Tournament team with his third-place finish, as well as being unanimously voted Conference Player of the Year by the coaches. He finished his college career ranked 57th nationally by the NAIA.
Tyler graduated on May 19, with an accounting major and a sports management minor. He has already been hired as a business analyst for Kwik Trip in La Crosse.
Tyler, a member at the La Crosse Country Club in Onalaska, is extremely familiar with the County Amateur courses - The Golf Club at Cedar Creek in Onalaska, and Drugan's Castle Mound Country Club in Holmen.
"Of course I'm playing in the County Am this year. Why wouldn't I," said Tyler, laughing. "Sure, I think I can win it. At least, that's the plan. I've been close, so hopefully, I can close it out this year."