18th-hole heroics salvage fourth place for ISU men’s golf at Big 12’s


Senior golfer Scott Fernandez works on his putting at practice on April 14.

Mike Randleman

The ISU men’s golf team may not be contending for Big 12 championships, but it is beginning to show its mettle as a respectable member of one of golf’s deepest conferences.

For the second straight year, the Cyclones grabbed fourth place in a conference filled with five top-25 teams and a handful of golfers destined for PGA Tour success.

Despite the ascension Iowa State has made since finishing ninth out of nine at the 2013 Big 12 Championship, ISU coach Andrew Tank said the expectations for his team were even higher.

“It tied the second-best finish in school history at Big 12’s,” Tank said. “When you put that perspective on it, it’s successful. I just think we have a special team and a special group of players. I guess it’s a good thing when you don’t play that well and you’re still raising the bar.”

For half of the tournament, No. 43 Iowa State had its sights set on reaching the lofty goals Tank and the players have for the team. Through 36 holes, Iowa State found itself in second place trailing only No. 2 Texas in the team event.

Though 16 shots behind eventual champion Texas at the time, it marked the second consecutive year Iowa State found itself in the coveted final group in round three.

Iowa State, who entered the tournament ranked seventh out of nine teams in Golfstat’s rankings, faltered with an 17-over-par 297 to drop to fourth. Nonetheless, the ability to play in that group was a step in proving Iowa State belongs at the same table as Texas and No. 9 Texas Tech.

“I think the guys were comfortable since we were in that position last year,” Tank said. “We played in that same pairing with Texas and Texas Tech for both the third and fourth round of last year’s Big 12’s. I think we felt like we belonged in that pairing. I just don’t think we played well [this year].”

Iowa State was unable to keep up with Texas, which went on to win by 24 shots, and were also passed by Texas Tech and No. 33 Texas Christian at tournament’s end.

Despite a trying weekend, some minor heroics courtesy of senior leader Scott Fernandez on his final hole helped Iowa State salvage a finish over one of golf’s blue bloods.

Unbeknownst to Fernandez, who was the final Cyclone to complete play, he was responsible on the 18th hole for helping Iowa State hang on to a one-shot lead over No. 20 Oklahoma State for fourth place.

Sitting 15 feet away for birdie on the 18th green, fourth-place seemed like a lock for Iowa State with Oklahoma State’s Jordan Niebrugge staring down an estimated 75 to 80-foot birdie putt of his own.

After his teammate, Zachary Olsen, sunk a 40-footer for birdie in the group before, the former 2013 Walker Cup and 2014 Masters participant improbably sunk his bomb of a putt to keep the Cowboys in it.

“I wasn’t aware of it, so I didn’t feel the whole meaning of it,” Fernandez said of the stakes of his own putt. When you’re in a bubble you kind of just focus on your routine and play. I holed some really good putts coming in, so I thought: “Why not do it again?”

Fernandez did do it again.

After the putt dropped and his teammates cheered in celebration, Fernandez had an idea that his putt had some significance behind it.

“The guys were cheering pretty hard and they made it seem like something big, which it was, it was to take fourth place,” Fernandez said. I was really pumped to finish strong.”

Iowa State will hope to finish its season strong, as well, as NCAA Championship play looms in two weeks.

Up next for Iowa State is the NCAA Regional tournament on May 7-9. The Cyclones will learn their regional destination during the NCAA Tournament selection show on May 4 at 10 a.m. on Golf Channel.