ISU men’s golf finishes third, falls short of first by six shots


Senior Scott Fernandez  practices putting at the ISU golf performance center on U.S Highway 69 just south of Ames on Sept. 21, 2013.

Mike Randleman

In what was statistically the toughest tournament of the season, the ISU men’s golf team fell just short placing third and only six shots from first at the General Hackler Championship on Tuesday.

At the beginning of the final round, Iowa State began the day in fifth place and five shots behind Kent State. The Cyclones would shoot a five-over-par total of 293, the third-best round of the day and its best team round of the tournament, but it was not enough.

Iowa State finished the tournament with a team total of 26-over-par 890, six shots behind champion Middle Tennessee State and four shots behind No. 23 Kent State, last year’s co-champion.

Weather conditions were favorable, with temperatures around 70 degrees and light winds. Instead, it was the difficulty of the course itself that provided for a stern test.

“It’s cut out of the trees, the tee shots require you to hit it straight,” said ISU coach Andrew Tank of the TPC Myrtle Beach course. “If you miss by a little bit, you’ll be in a position where you have to punch out or you’re in the water. There’s a few greens that have water around them. You just have to be really precise.”

Given the precision that is crucial for success at TPC Myrtle Beach, it was fitting that junior Scott Fernandez and freshman Ruben Sondjaja, whose self-proclaimed strength is ball-striking, recorded top-10 finishes for the Cyclones.

For the second 54-hole tournament in a row, Fernandez posted the best total for Iowa State. After a two-over-par round of 74 in the final round, Fernandez finished with a four-over-par total of 220, good for a tie for fifth-place and four shots off of first place.

Like the rest of his teammates, Fernandez had to battle through double-bogies, but made up for some of the high scores on par-3’s and par-4’s with his long game, reaching many of the par-5’s in two strokes.

“They kind of saved me a little bit,” Fernandez said of the par-5’s. “I had kind of a high score at one point, but I had two or three par 5s coming up and I figured I could make a couple pars coming in and then give myself a chance on the par 5’s.”

Fernandez shot seven-under-par on the par-5’s for the tournament, which topped the field.

Fernandez began the day three shots out of first place in a tie for fourth place, but a double-bogie on his seventh hole of the day derailed his chances at medalist honors.

Ruben Sondjaja, co-leader after Monday’s first round of two-under-par 70 hung on for a top-10 finish, as well. Sondjaja shot a five-over-par total of 77 in Monday’s second round, but improved with a 74 on Tuesday.

Tank said he was impressed with Sondjaja’s work ethic during the team’s week of preparation, mentioning extra hours spent at the team’s facility.

Many hours at the facility were spent on the putting green. After the Wyoming Desert Intercollegiate in February, Sondjaja made a decision to change his putting grip for the first time in his life.

“I used to grip it left hand low, reverse grip and I’ve swapped it for the conventional grip [right hand below the left hand],” Sondjaja said. “I swapped for the conventional grip right before the Big Four Challenge.”

At the Big Four, Sondjaja said he sunk pressure putts using the new grip, boosting his confidence heading into this week.

“I know it’s a big change,” Sondjaja said, “But I know in the long term it will be beneficial to my game and will definitely take me to the next level.”

Sam Daley was the Cyclones’ third-highest finisher of the tournament and had the team’s best round Tuesday. With a one-under-par total of 71, Daley was one of three golfers — out of a field of 68 players — to shoot under par in the final round.

On a final round where the scoring average was 76.84, Daley’s 71 propelled him 14 spots up the leaderboard, finishing tied for 14th place with a 223 total.

Collin Foster provided Iowa State’s fourth qualifying score in the final round, matching Sondjaja and Fernandez with a three-over-par total of 74. Along with Daley (77-75-71), Foster improved in each round, carding totals of 81, 80 and 74 to finish in a tie for 46th-place.

Also in 46th place was Nick Voke. Voke began the day tied for 28th place, but recorded two double bogies and a quadruple bogie en route to a career high round of 83.

Iowa State will next compete March 21 through 23 at the Arizona State Thunderbird Invitational in Tempe, Ariz.