RIVERSIDE — There were so many Hawkeye Polo shirts roaming the final round of the 86th Iowa Open at Blue Top Ridge golf course Sunday, it looked like a private party for University of Iowa athletic boosters.
You know, the ones with fancy triangle sandwiches and plenty of Koozies?
That was because the University of Iowa’s golf team showed up in full force at Blue Top Ridge, the Hawkeyes’ second home.
“It’s great,” said Iowa golf coach Tyler Stith regarding his teams’ two, top-quality homes (Finkbine is the other). “We do play quite a bit of golf down here and it’s a nice course. This is certainly one of the best courses in the state and we’re lucky to be able to come out here and practice and play.”
By Sunday afternoon, it became clear that the Hawkeyes were going to be contending for the $25,000 purse handed out by the PGA Iowa Section.
“I knew I had to get out to 4- or 5-under-par on the front nine,” explained tournament champion Matt Walker of Ottumwa, who recently graduated from Iowa after a four-year career with the Hawkeyes. “I ended up turning in a 5-under par and that’s when I knew I’d have a chance on the back, as long as the guy at 12-under didn’t go low.”
The guy Walker is referring to is Dan Woltman of Beaver Dam, Wis., who won the Iowa Open last year and collected the $30,000 prize last weekend at the TrueNorth Greater Cedar Rapids Open. Woltman remained stuck at 12-under and finished third, one stroke ahead of Ryan Cole of Mount Airy, Md., and two ahead of a two-way tie for fifth-place between Joseph Gunerman of Chicago and Alex Schaake, the top amateur finisher at 10-under, who is also the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year for the Hawkeyes.
“I had a really good chip-in for eagle on No. 12,” said Schaake, who hails from Omaha and is the four-time defending champion of the Nebraska Amateur Open. “That sparked my imagination to think that maybe I could win this as an amateur, and that would have been unreal. More than I could’ve asked for.”
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Before Walker could claim his first career win and check, he had to hold off Gavin Hall of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., who birdied No. 17 and eagled No. 18, including an incredible shot he sank from 122 yards out to force a one-hole playoff.
But the 19th hole of the day was relatively anti-climactic after Hall hit the sand trap on the right side of the fairway while Walker went second and was able to lay up.
“I think when a playoff starts, you’re trying your best just to play your own golf ball,” Stith said. “In a situation like that, it almost becomes match play and you see your opponent in a difficult situation and you have to assume he’s not going to make better than a par.”
Hall placed a nice shot on the green, but Walker knew it was over.
“I saw where he ended up and realized he had a tough up-and-down. He had a fine chip, but he missed the putt and that’s when I fully relaxed and knew I could two-putt from 10 feet.”
The recent grad won’t have to live in his parents' basement after his $25,000 payday.
“It was a great win and being a Hawkeye was the best four years of my life,” Walker said. “I’ve always been a huge Hawkeye fan and it was an honor to represent them and it stinks I won’t be able to go back, but this is a great way to start my pro career.”