MARION — Nate Yankovich was completely unaware of the developments behind him.
The former University of Iowa golfer was locked in a rousing battle with his two playing partners during Saturday’s final round of the Greater Cedar Rapids Open at Hunters Ridge Golf Course.
Two threesomes behind the lead group, Yankovich, Michael Davan and Chris Gilman made a spirited climb up the leaderboard as second-round tournament leader Brant Peaper tumbled downward over the final three holes.
“I heard nothing on the golf course,” said Yankovich, who tied Peaper at 14-under par after 18 holes, then won the 20th annual golf tournament on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff. “I asked actually on (hole No.) 10. I was like, ‘Where are the leaders at?’ He said the leader was at 13 (under par) and I was at 10 (under par) at that point. … I knew I had to make more.”
Yankovich entered the final day two strokes behind Peaper, a former Indiana golfer. Peaper’s lead grew to four strokes at 17-under par with just three holes to go, but his double-bogey on the par-3 No. 16 suddenly placed the tournament outcome in doubt.
“It’s 200 yards, feeling a little jacked up I guess,” Peaper said. “We’re waiting on the group in front of us to clear, which is not fun because you just have a bunch of thoughts. I just pulled a 6-iron, thinking middle of the green, no problem and I kind of pushed it a little and the wind took it a little more right. Didn’t see where it ended up.”
The ball ended up plugged into the downside of a bunker. Peaper considered declaring it unplayable, but instead elected to putt it, which found even more roughage that needed two more strokes to escape.
“That kind of rattled me,” Peaper said. “I was never really out of the moment until then.”
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As Yankovich wrapped up his round with a final-round score of 64 that included birdies on four of the final eight holes, a Peaper bogey on No. 17 signaled a likely playoff with a tie at 14-under par.
“All I had to do was play a solid round,” Yankovich said. “I knew going into the day that wind was going to be low and the weather was going to be perfect, so I knew I was going to have to shoot a score. … Luckily, I got off to a pretty hot start and just kept it rolling.”
The playoff needed just one hole to resolve. On the par-4 No. 1 hole, Yankovich got within 5 feet of the hole in two shots, while Peaper was farther away after three. After Peaper bogeyed the playoff hole, Yankovich ended it with a par putt from 2 feet away.
“Just play how I played it this morning,” Yankovich said. “I made birdie on it this morning, so I figured just hit 3-wood because I had been hitting 3-wood solid on that hole. Hit it actually center strike. I was right in front of the 100 marker. I was pretty much dead center and as soon as I saw Brant hit it over the green, I knew I could probably just hit the green and I would be fine.”
It was the first year in which the GCRO was decided in a playoff since 2008, when Derek Lamely won his second GCRO.
Yankovich, 24, played at Iowa from 2012-16 and earned second team all-Big Ten honors as a senior. He played in Arizona during the winter on the Dreamchasers Pro Golf Tour, then earned his professional status with the PGA Tour Canada on the Mackenzie Tour, but could not garner any starts.
Rather than trying to get into Canadian Tour tournaments via Monday qualifier stroke play tournaments, Yankovich opted for a more reliable schedule of events that included The Dakotas Tour, last week’s Waterloo Open, the GCRO and this week’s Iowa Open in Riverside. By that time, he will have played six weeks in a row.
“That was my thought process and it was to play a more consistent schedule,” Yankovich said. “This year, I decided to shift my focus from gaining status to getting into a better rhythm, trying to make some dollars. Because that is obviously what we are trying to play for here is dollars.”
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After the Iowa Open, Yankovich will travel to Milwaukee and caddy for his girlfriend, Sarah Schmelzel, who plays on The Symetra Tour, previously known as the LPGA Futures Tour.
In the fall, Yankovich will participate in a Web.com Tour qualifying school in hopes of earning a spot on that tour. Winning can be a powerful motivator, one that Yankovich hopes he can parlay into more successes.
“I knew my game was close,” Yankovich said. “I knew I was playing solid, just the scores weren’t showing. It’s nice to see that the game is still there. I still feel like I am playing the same way, I am just getting a little more out of my rounds.”
Gilman finished third at 13-under par, while another former Iowa golfer, Brian Bullington, was tied for fourth at 12-under. Davan was sixth at 11-under, while Sean McCarty of Solon was tied for 15th at 8-under.
Last year, Yankovich entered the final day of the GCRO tied for fourth and finished 13th. This year, he claims a winner’s check of $30,000, the largest of his young pro career.
“Every time you get in that situation, I feel like it helps you whether you succeed or you don’t,” Yankovich said. “I learned a lot from it and even after this event last year, I went to the Iowa Open and came in second by a shot. I used it as fuel. I wanted to come out and win, that was the goal and I was lucky enough to succeed.”
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