By: Noah Nelson 6/28/2023
90 years ago, the state of Wisconsin held its first major golf tournament – the PGA Championship at Blue Mound Country Club in Wauwatosa.
Since then, the state has held three more PGA’s, a U.S. Open, a U.S. Senior Open, multiple U.S. Women’s Open’s, and a Ryder Cup.
The most recent event, the 2021 Ryder Cup, was captained by Wisconsin native Steve Stricker, who, as a non-playing captain, helped lead the United States to a decisive 19-9 victory at Whistling Straits – the state’s premier golf course.
Stricker has championed golf in the state for decades. Growing up in Edgerton, he won WIAA state as an individual in 1984, and as an amateur in 1987, he won the Wisconsin State Open.
Surprisingly, after high school, Stricker went to the University of Illinois. Many people, including then-Wisconsin coach Dennis Tiziani, were shocked by this decision, having expected Stricker to stay in the state. It turned out to be the right choice; he went on to be one of the most decorated golfers in Illinois’ history, winning three Big Ten Individual Conference Titles while helping his team claim the Big Ten Conference Championship in 1988.
Although he may have been surprised, Tiziani remained supportive. Stricker highlighted, “…one thing he said was, ‘No matter what happens, don’t be afraid to call’.”
So, in the summer before his junior year, he did.
Stricker contacted Tiziani, and the two began working together at Cherokee Country Club, the course that Dennis owned just outside of Madison. In that same summer, Stricker began dating Tiziani’s daughter, Nicki, who was Wisconsin’s best women’s golfer at the time. The two married in 1993, and their family has continued to dominate golf in the state.
Their daughters – Izzi and Bobbi – both play and are extremely successful. Bobbi won the Wisconsin Women’s Amateur Championship in 2021 and more recently, Izzi won WIAA State in 2022.
The Tiziani family’s roots in Wisconsin golf run even deeper than just their connection to Stricker – Dennis was a PGA professional himself, as was his brother. In 1976, Dennis won the Wisconsin State Open, and in 1978, his brother, Larry won it as well.
Dennis is also the longest tenured golf coach in Wisconsin history with 40 combined years with the university, including 26 with the men and 14 with the women. Upon Dennis’ retirement from coaching golf in 2003, former Wisconsin Athletic Director Pat Richter said of Tiziani’s tenure, “Dennis Tiziani IS Wisconsin golf,” and while he may not be a coach anymore or the competitive player he once was, he still holds influence in the state’s golf environment today.
On May 23, 2022, the PGA Tour’s Tournament Players Club (TPC) Network announced that Dennis’ Cherokee Country Club would become the 30th TPC location, rebranding to TPC Wisconsin. The course is undergoing a significant redesign led by Stricker, who holds great sentimentality to the location, saying of the project, “I couldn’t ask for a better scenario with my first golf course design project to be the same property that I spent the better part of 30 years of my golf career and where I have raised my family.”
The course is scheduled to re-open in August 2023 and will be the next high-caliber golf course in the state of Wisconsin.
Dennis’ son Mario has also been personally involved in the course:
Mario Tiziani was a former professional golfer himself and has won a Wisconsin State Open of his own, continuing his family’s dominant legacy. He also played under his father at Wisconsin, winning the Big Ten Conference Freshman of the Year and captaining the team in his last few years in Madison.
He went on to play golf professionally, and after many attempts, he graduated from the PGA Tour’s Qualifying School in 2004. His professional career was short lived, however; Mario quit professional golf in 2010 and showed little interest in attempting to rejoin any competitive league. That was until 2020, when he was offered a sponsor’s exemption to play at the PGA Champions American Family Insurance Championship (AmFam Championship for short).
His brother-in-law, Stricker, is the tournament host of the AmFam Championship, which helped soften Tiziani’s nerves enough to convince him to play his first competitive golf in over a decade. In his return to competition, Tiziani shot +7 during the three days of competition and tied for 71st. He continued to compete on the tour, placing tied for 11th in his next event, earning over $40,000 in the process. He has continued to make a name for himself, placing in the top 10 multiple times in the past two seasons of competition.
The AmFam Championship has done more than just revive careers of former golfers; the event has connected with hundreds of charity sponsors since the event began in 2016, raising over $14 million for charity and providing grants for 700 organizations. Wisconsin golf legend Andy North complimented the event and its mission, saying, “The way Madison has supported the event from day one, what Am Fam has done from day one, it’s a great marriage, and we’ve created a ton of money for a lot of people who can use it here in town.”
Currently, the event is held at the University of Madison’s home course, University Ridge, but in 2025, TPC Wisconsin will replace U-Ridge as the event’s venue. Before the event, Stricker and a group of high-ranking PGA officials toured TPC Wisconsin to determine its viability as a pro-level course. Stricker said, “Yeah, we walked around it yesterday [June 5, 2023] with… Brian Claar, the rules official, and then the design team of the PGA TOUR… it should be a good test of golf and hopefully one that people are going to enjoy and play,”.
Moving the event to a Stricker-designed, Tiziani-owned course will increase the family’s influence in Wisconsin golf and will allow the AmFam Championship to be sustainable for years to come.
The AmFam Championship is not the only PGA Tour Champions event in the state this year. The 2023 U.S. Senior Open is coming to Stevens Point’s SentryWorld from June 29-July 2. The event is the third major championship of five on the PGA Champions Tour’s annual schedule and is only the second senior major ever in Wisconsin. Stricker has won both majors so far this year and is looking to become one of three golfers ever to win three senior majors in the same season; the other two golfers are Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus, some elite company to say the least.
Wisconsin golf has grown into a powerhouse in the last 25 years, due in large part to the increased development of championship-level courses hosting major events. However, these major events are not annual, leaving gaps in Wisconsin’s golf schedule. This year’s U.S. Senior Open is similar: a major event that will not return to the state in the immediate future. The American Family Championship is different; it provides the state with a consistent event, suitable for all ages and demographics.
While many of the high-level events in the state have been one-offs, their contribution to the growth of golf in the state cannot be understated.
Mario Tiziani agrees:
When the AmFam Championship switches to TPC Wisconsin in 2025, the Stricker-Tiziani influence in Wisconsin golf will only increase. The new venue will take Stricker’s design and incorporate it into his own event, hosted at the course where he and his family have played for over 30 years, creating an incredibly sentimental environment for the Edgerton native.
As golf continues to grow in Wisconsin, the Stricker-Tiziani families will remain at the center. Stricker’s dominance of the PGA Tour Champions has provided him a platform to grow the game of golf in the state, not just at the AmFam Champ, but at the Ryder Cup as well. Time will tell if Stricker can continue winning, but one fact remains certain: competitive golf in Wisconsin isn’t going away any time soon, thanks to the efforts of the Stricker-Tiziani families.