Former pitcher Ignasiak feeling at home in Erin

Mike Ignasiak

Mike Ignasiak

ERIN, Wis. – Mike Ignasiak hadn’t returned to Milwaukee since his career with the Brewers ended in 1995. He came this week for a special reason: he qualified for the U.S. Amateur at Erin Hills, about 35 miles from the town where he once took the mound. A remarkable round Tuesday extended his stay.

Ignasiak shot 66 Tuesday at Erin Hills, which included a 6-under 30 on his back nine. At even-par 142, he has a good chance to make match play. He was tied for 58th when play was called Tuesday; the field will be cut to 64 players when the second round is completed Wednesday. Tuesday’s weather delays kept play from being completed as scheduled.

Ignasiak’s prospects for match play were bleak after a birdie-free 76 at Blue Mound Country Club, the easier of the two courses being used for the Amateur’s stroke-play portion. He bogeyed his first two holes Tuesday to fall to 8 over par for the tournament. That’s when one of his friends, Billy O’Connor, gave him a pep talk during Tuesday’s 3-hour, 40-minute rain delay.

“He kind of put me in my place,” Ignasiak, 45, said. “He said, ‘Stop complaining. You’re capable of doing it. Just go do it.’ He gave me a little fire in my belly.”

Ignasiak played his next 16 holes in 8 under. He capped his round with an eagle at the par-5 seventh hole after hitting 3-wood to 10 feet. He also birdied No. 8. The 66 matched the low competitive round of his career.

Ignasiak was recruited to play shortstop at Michigan. “They had some guy named Larkin there,” Ignasiak said of future All-Star shortstop Barry Larkin. “So coach showed me a little slider, and it took off from there.”

Ignasiak, an eighth-round draft pick by the Brewers in 1988, played for Milwaukee from 1991 to '95, compiling a 10-4 record and 4.80 earned-run average. He had 88 strikeouts in 137 innings pitched. He signed with the Boston Red Sox in 1996 as a free agent, but retired after injuring his back in spring training.

Golf is a common off-day activity for many pitchers. Former Dodgers pitcher Rick Rhoden competed on the Champions Tour. Greg Maddux and John Smoltz became skilled amateurs while playing for the Atlanta Braves. Former Mariners pitcher Erik Hanson plays national amateur events.

Ignasiak played often with former Brewers teammate Jesse Orosco. “If there was a town and a golf course, Jesse had a number to the pro shop,” Ignasiak said.

He started playing competitive golf after retiring. “What else could I do? I wasn’t going to take up chess. I like to compete,” he said. He qualified for the 2000 U.S. Amateur at Baltusrol, and has played in three U.S. Mid-Ams and four U.S. Amateur Public Links Championships.

“It’s a totally different ballgame,” he said. “It’s like playing softball in the major leagues. You’re out there having fun with your buddies, then all of a sudden everything counts.”

Ignasiak, who owns a Dairy Queen in Saline, Mich., said he’ll try to make his first trip to Miller Park, which opened in 2001, this week. The Brewers return to town Friday, the same day as the U.S. Amateur’s quarterfinals. Thanks to Tuesday’s spectacular round, he still could be competing that day.

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