Cementing his status: Sam Daley makes history with a runner-up finish

Junior Sam Daley practices his putt on Feb. 26 at the golf team’s indoor practice facility.

Mike Randleman

Coming down to the final hole, Sam Daley had a chance to cement a spot in program history. A shot at a team and individual conference title had passed, but if he could close with a runner-up finish, it would be the best performance by an ISU men’s golfer in more than 60 years.

“At the end of the day everyone was sitting and watching at 18. I was a little bit nervous, as you should be, but I was just telling myself that nerves are a good thing,” Daley said. “If you aren’t nervous you aren’t really human.”

Daley was tied with Beau Hossler of Texas, a player best known for stealing the spotlight at the 2012 U.S. Open at the age of 17. The two were neck and neck throughout the final two rounds, a competition that came down to the closing 72nd hole.

In the closing hole, Daley fended off his nerves to make par while Hossler made double-bogie. A spot in the Iowa State record book was now his.

“I’m just really happy for Sam. It’s a great field that he competed against and to finish second place is a huge accomplishment,” said ISU coach Andrew Tank. “It’s something that hasn’t been done at Iowa State in the Big 12 era.”

By shooting under par in three of four rounds en route to a two-under-par finish for the tournament, Daley led his team to a fourth-place finish, its best result at the Big 12 Championship since 1997 as well as in Tank’s four years at Iowa State.

“It was a big step forward for our program,” Tank said. “To finish fourth in the Big 12 is a really big accomplishment for Iowa State and something that we’re all very proud of.”

Not only did the Cyclones finish fourth, but they played their way into the final groups for the last 36 holes, joining leaders No. 18 Texas and No. 37 Texas Tech.

A torrid pace set by the Longhorns and Red Raiders in the first two rounds resulted in an insurmountable gap for the Cyclones to climb out of, but they did not go down without some pushback.

One year removed from languishing at the bottom of the leaderboard, 45 shots behind Texas in the 2013 Big 12 Championship, Iowa State outscored Texas by 11 shots this year. With momentum on its side, Iowa State was left wondering what could have been accomplished with more time.

“Coach summed it up perfectly when he said ‘We only needed nine more holes to be able to contend,’ meaning the way we’re going and the scores we’re shooting, we just needed a bit more time,” said freshman Nick Voke, who tied for ninth place at the tournament.

Whether or not more holes would have proved beneficial or not, Iowa State went from licking its wounds one year to barking at the heels of some of the nation’s elite in the next.

“I thought that was a great opportunity for us. It’s not a position that we’ve been in at the conference championship before,” Tank said. “To have the opportunity to play with the lead groups on Saturday and Sunday is something that will help us in the future.”

In the long term, the experience will serve well for a team that will return all five starters when it returns to the Big 12 Championship next season.

On a much shorter scale, competing against some of the top teams in conference play could pay dividends as No. 47 Iowa State prepares to return to NCAA Regional competition after a one year absence.

“We played on a very, very demanding course. We competed against some of the best teams in America and we were in contention,” said freshman Ruben Sondjaja, who also tied for ninth place. “It’s definitely a big move forward for our program. Everything’s trending in the right direction for what we want the program to be like.”

Daley, a junior, said there is a freeing feeling in knowing this year’s run will not be his last. Nonetheless, as the team prepares for a postseason push, he and his teammates will look to turn up the intensity sooner rather than later.

“It is a little bit freeing that we’ll get another chance [next year], but in no way are we not going to take this opportunity,” Daley said. “Yeah, we’ve got next year with all the same people, but I’m sure we’re all just as hungry as we will be next year to make it to Nationals. It [making Nationals] hasn’t been done in the program for a long time, so it’s very motivating.

“We can do it, I know we can.”