Wayward Shots – Remembering the Greater Milwaukee Open

One of the saddest days during my career was when the last Greater Milwaukee Open was played in 2009. After 42 years, Bo Van Pelt tapped in for victory and ended what was a very popular event among the players and caddies. I have been living in Milwaukee for the last 20 years, and it was the only time I’ve ever had an event at home. For most guys on Tour, having a tournament in your hometown is a blast, albeit a little hectic. The hectic part comes in the form of trying to secure 40-60 tickets for all your friends and family while you’re trying to work. Famous caddy and long lost friend Scottie Steele and I would ask players for tickets early in the week, and then share them as needed. But that’s nothing compared to seeing your friends and family having fun while they follow you on the course; and let’s face it, sleeping in your own bed is a huge bonus. Plus, you can always count on that one week a year where there is no airfare, no rental car and no hotel. So when PGA Tour officials eventually cancelled the tournament, it was really a disappointment.

The GMO started in 1968, where it was played briefly at North Shore Country Club and Tripoli Country Club for four years, before settling in at Tuckaway for the next two decades. In 1994, the tournament moved to what would be their final home at Brown Deer Golf Course, one of the city courses in Milwaukee. Its lack of length and exciting finishing hole lent itself to some great moments and some low scores. In 2006, Corey Pavin set the PGA record for nine-hole scoring with a 26, en route to a course record 61, which he shares with Steve Lowery. In 1997, trailing by a shot, Scott Hoch chipped in for eagle on the 72nd hole to beat Loren Roberts and David Sutherland. Oh, and who could forget the young phenom named Tiger Woods who made his debut there in 1996, and delighted the crowd with his first professional hole-in-one.

In all the years since the GMO’s last event, whenever it’s brought up in conversation amongst the players and caddies, it’s always talked about with a smile. The guys used to love going there. It was a Mom and Pop tournament in a sea of national corporate events. Was the golf course spectacular? Not really, but it was short and fun, in good shape and produced a lot of birdies, which the crowds loved. Many of the guys stayed downtown and had full walking access to pubs on every corner, great restaurants and the weekly festivals that occur during the summer months. Others would stay closer to the course and hit the famous Kopp’s burger joint. Usually on Tuesday, you could even find players taking batting practice with the Milwaukee Brewers before one of their games. But I have to say, the main reason the GMO is near and dear to my heart is because it is where I met my wife during the tournament week of 1996. She is an amazing jazz saxophonist and singer, and would schedule shows at various jazz clubs around town during Friday or Saturday nights of the tournament. I would bring players, caddies, officials and Tour staff, and we would pack the house while her and her band performed (Suzanne Grzanna-Saxdiva.com … shameless plug, but I’m owning it!).

It would be wonderful for Milwaukee to host an annual PGA or Web.com event like it did for so many years before. The U.S. Open at Erin Hills and multiple PGA Championships at Whistling Straits have proved that the surrounding communities will still support a big professional golf event. The interest from the fans is healthy, based on the big crowds Madison gets for its Champions Tour event. Plus, all PGA events provide millions of dollars to charities and the local economy gets a healthy boost as well. Will Milwaukee ever get a new event? I’m hopeful, but understand that hope is a narrow bridge over a chasm of doubt. Ideally, a big local sponsor would have to come forward to keep the community involved, and in a perfect world, Arthur Fonzarelli would be the tournament director.

Chris Mazziotti is a veteran Tour caddy of more than 20 years. He currently loops for Paul Goydos. He has worked all four majors on the PGA Tour, and has caddied for players such as Brian Henninger, David Gossett, Brandt Jobe and others.. Mazziotti currently resides in Milwaukee, Wis. E-mail him at cmaz1@msn.com.