7 past champions return for County Am this weekend

This year’s edition of the 31st annual La Crosse County Amateur Golf Championships as presented by Pepsi-Cola of La Crosse looks like a “Who’s Who in County Amateur history.”
Seven past champions return to the storied 36-hole tournament, which dates back to 1932.
Ryan Quinn, Mason Milner, Paul Williamson, Joe Weber, Michael Drugan, Don Nontelle and defending champion Jake Dunn (pictured) return.
Two of the past champions - Ryan Quinn and Mason Milner - are taking advantage of an eligibility change allowing amateur players who were former champions, regardless where they currently live, to enter the tournament. This year’s edition of the tournament will be played Saturday and Sunday at The Golf Club at Cedar Creek in Onalaska and Drugan’s Castle Mound Country Club in Holmen.
Quinn, a five-time Championship Flight winner who now resides in Bloomington, Ill., with his wife and twin sons, is taking advantage of the new eligibility rule after regaining his amateur status in 2013.
“Meghan and I talked and that weekend works for us. Plan on me playing. I’m super excited for it,” Quinn said several weeks ago.
Quinn, formerly of Galesville, returned to Wisconsin last week and won the Wisconsin State Golf Association State Par-3 Championship at Sand Valley Golf Resort in Nekoosa.
Milner, who resides in Burnsville, Minn., won the 2006 title and said he is looking forward to playing again.
“It’s sort of going to be like a reunion getting together with all the guys again,” he said.
Holmen’s Paul Williamson, who also is Quinn’s uncle, is the all-time County Am winner with seven titles. He also has won five Seniors championships, including his latest less than a week ago.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” said Williamson.  
When reminded that no one has ever won the Men’s and Seniors County Am titles in the same year, Williamson chuckled about his chances.
“You have to remember I’m playing courses 6,200 to 6,300 yards long. Cedar will be 6,500 and Drugan’s will be stretched out to 6,500 to 6,600,” he said. “These college kids will be bombing the ball 50 yards past me, but my equalizer is my wedge game. They’ll knock it on in two on all the par-5’s. I have to hit within 100 yards away and then try to get up and down for birdie.”
Dunn, 2020 defending champion, admits this year’s County Am will be an emotional two days. Dunn’s 61-year-old mother recently died from pancreatic cancer.
“She lost the fight. She’s been battling it a few years and things went downhill ending up her passing away,” Dunn said. “It’s bittersweet, but she’s in a better place now and looking down at me as I hopefully play some pretty good golf going forward.”
Dunn said last year’s victory was “sweet,” but he doesn’t expect any added pressure.
“No, it’s the same pressure with every tournament. I’m going in like always with expectations that I’m going to play well and hit shots I know I can hit and hope everything works out,” he said.
Dunn shot 70-73-143 last year for a one-stroke victory over Jordan Graf and Tom McClintock. Graf returns, but McClintock withdrew a few days ago because of an injury.
“I think he’s nervous,” Dunn joked. “That’s my opinion.”
Reflecting on last year’s title, Dunn said he didn’t play as well at Drugan’s, where he finished with 3-over par 73.
“I’m not shooting 73 at Drugan’s again. That would be silly,” said Dunn, current course superintendent at Forest Hills Golf Course in La Crosse, although he spent several years at Castle Mound as a member and course worker.
Yet, if Dunn is fortunate enough to win again this weekend, it will be very emotional, especially because his mother’s funeral was July 31.
“Yeah, I’d probably start crying if I won,” he said.
Glancing at the other past winners, Weber, who lives in West Salem, won back-to-back titles in 2016 and 2017 and returns after a three-year absence.
Drugan, co-owner of Castle Mound in Holmen, is one of only four players to appear in the County Am since it was revived in 1991. He captured the 2005 championship.
Nontelle, now 75, won the 1975 Championship Flight, a title he held for 16 years before the tournament was resurrected.
Nontelle and his wife lived on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina for 10 years before returning to La Crosse last August. However, he said they have decided to move back to Hilton Head Island this fall.
“I am delighted to have entered the Am again,” he said. “My first entry was 1963, so that stretch until now is 59 years I think.”
Nontelle’s return to the County Am has been successful so far.  He won the Super Seniors Flight in last weekend’s Seniors County Amateur with a low net 67 after an impressive low gross 75. However, he is competing in the Third Flight this weekend.
Ross Wilhelm, who won the 2009 County Am, believes it was an excellent decision to expand player eligibility rules, but he said he won’t be able to play this year.
“I’m not sure if this busy life will allow me to play this year,” he said several weeks ago. “I’m currently living in Oklahoma City with 1- and 3-year-old boys.”
Meanwhile, Eric Flack, Jordan Rudolph and Mitch Gault are flighted champions returning for another title run. Flack captured the Fourth Flight crown in 2020 but moved into Third Flight this year. Rudolph won the Second Flight title and returns in the same flight. Gault attempts to defend his 2020 First Flight championship.
A new winner is assured in the Third Flight as last year’s champ, James Freng, did not enter this year.