Minnesota Golf Association

Kluver Is Medalist with 203 at Gopher Invitational; Kansas & Notre Dame Share Team Title

September 13, 2021

INDEPENDENCE -- When former tournament golfers over the age of about 60 watch the younger guys play tournaments these days, they come away shaking their heads. This isn't the same game they used to play. 

Fifty years ago, the 1971 U.S. Open was played at the iconic Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., and the course measured 6,544 yards. Yes, it was short, but no one was under par at the end of 72 holes. No stats were kept back in those days, but Lee Trevino, who won the tournament in a playoff with Jack Nicklaus, says the average driving distance for PGA Tour pros then was 250 yards, "and I was on the short side. Jack Nicklaus was a monster at 270 yards." 

The greens at Merion were considered treacherously fast for the time, but that would have meant something like 8.5 on the stimpmeter. After all, when the modern version of the stimpmeter was introduced in the mid-70's, the USGA tested greens around the country for two years, and the average was 6.5.

As an example of how much things have changed since 1971, consider what the field did at Windsong Farm Golf Club on Sunday and Monday in the Gopher Invitational. 

The course didn't play quite as long as the official scorecard said it did -- 7,342 yards. But it was still well over 7,000 yards. Probably about 7,250. The par is 71. There wasn't all that much wind during the two days, maybe 8 to 10 mph on average, but at Windsong, there are virtually no trees, and the players feel the full effect of whatever wind there is. There were times Monday when the flags on the greens were fully stretched out, and the wind was more like 12 to 15 mph. The greens were stimping at well over 10.0.

In other words, this was not an easy test of golf. A course like that, in those conditions, would have produced a winning score of something like 220 in the 1970s or '80s, and maybe even in the early '90s, before Tiger Woods.

The winning team score 30 or 40 years ago would have been at least 10 over par (862), probably more like 20 over. 

But on Monday, Luke Kluver, a Kansas sophomore, shot a 5-under 66 and claimed medalist honors with a 54-hole total of 203 (10 under). The key to his victory was a run of four consecutive birdies, beginning with the 435-yard, par-4 11th hole, where he hit a gap wedge to 4 feet. Kluver then hit a 330-yard drive and a 190-yard 7-iron onto the green at the 520-yard, par-5 12th and two-putted for his second birdie in a row. 

The PGA Tour average for driving distance is now 296.2 yards, and it's possible that the college guys are even longer. Kluver estimates that he averages right around 315 yards, and that squares with what he did in his round on Monday. 

The tees were up on the 13th hole, which played 325 yards, and Kluver hit a drive that ended up pin high. From there, he chipped to 6 feet and made the putt. The 470-yard, par-4 14th is one of the two or three hardest holes at Windsong, and it was playing into the wind Monday. Nevertheless, Kluver had only a 150-yard 8-iron to the green, and the former two-time Nebraska state high school champion -- and two-time Nebraska Junior Player of the Year -- hit it to 8 feet, then converted the birdie putt.

"I played a clean round yesterday (67-70)," Kluver said, "and I was solid today. My only bogey was on the eighth hole, where I three-putted. My short game was good today, and I putted really well both days."

Kent State senior Josh Gilkison hit the shot of the day, a 197-yard 7-iron that he holed for an albatross, a double-eagle 2, at the par-5 12th. That capped off a stretch of 6 under for four holes (9 through 12), and he parred out from there for a 66, which gave him a 205 aggregate -- and second place.

Ben Carr, a former four-time Georgia state high school champ, started the day tied with Gilkison, and he made four birdies on the front nine. The Georgia Southern senior got to 5 under for the day when he birdied the 12th, but he bogeyed the 457-yard, par-4 15th (seven of the 11 par-4s Windsong were playing longer than 450 yards for the Gopher Invitational) and ended up with a 67. That put him at 206, and he finished third. 

Kluver's Kansas teammate Callum Bruce was another shot back, at 207, after a 69, and he tied Palmer Jackson of Notre Dame for fourth.

Both Kansas and Notre Dame had three individuals in the top 16, and that helps to explain why they tied for first in the team competition. (No playoff.) Jackson contributed a 68 to the Notre Dame cause. The Irish also got a 68 from Taichi Kho, who tied for sixth at 208, and a 67 from Davis Chatfield, who tied for 13th at 211.

The Jayhawks' third player in the top 16 was junior Ben Sigel, the former Minnesota state high school champ (Class AAA) from Minnetonka. He started his round with three pars, but made only two pars in the next 10 holes. Things got really interesting on the back nine, beginning with a bogey at the 11th hole. He then eagled the 12th but followed that with a double bogey at the 13th. He got back to 1 over for the day by making a 30-foot putt for birdie at the treacherous 16th hole, a 202-yard par 3 with the pin set 20 feet beyond the water hazzard that guards the front of the green.

So he finished with a 72, and that gave him a total tab of 212, which put him in a tie for 16th.  

Notre Dame's 275 on Monday was the best single-round score of the tournament, and it enabled the Irish to come from six shots behind Kansas at the start of the day. The Irish were still one behind when Jackson and Kluver, playing in the final threesome, teed off at the 18th hole, a 571-yard par 5. Kluver had to lay up, but Jackson hit a gorgeous, 250-yard 3-wood shot that finished 18 feet from the cup. Kluver's lay-up wound up in the left rough, and he did well to get his wedge shot from there to within 20 feet of the hole.

He barely missed his birdie putt, which was on virtually the same line as Jackson's eagle putt. Despite having Kluver's putt to help him get a read on his own, Jackson missed his eagle putt, too, and the two teams had to settle for a tie, at 838 (14 under). 

Michigan State was nine behind in third at 847, and Kent State was the only other team to break par, with an 849. 

The Gopher Invitational's most distinguished field, in retrospect, was almost certainly the one that assembled in the fall of 2012, the last year the tournament was played at Spring Hill. Kent State's Corey Conners won that one, and he has gone on to win on the PGA Tour. Max Homa of Cal tied for second, and he, too, has won on the PGA Tour.

The sixth-place finisher in 2012 was Bryson DeChambeau. Also in the field that year was a Spanish kid barely able to speak a word of English who was a freshman at Arizona State. He was playing in his first college tournament, and it didn't go all that well. He opened with an 81, followed that with a 73 and a 78, and the resulting 232 put him in a tie for 41st place.

His name was Jon Rahm. 

This year's tournament had a couple of players in the field who are sort-of celebrities already -- this year's U.S. Amateur champ, James Piot of Michigan State, and the 2021 runner-up, Mark Goetz of West Virginia. Goetz had the better result of the two at Windsong. He shot 74 on Monday and tied for 18th with 213. One of the three guys he tied with was Miami (Ohio) senior Jack Ebner, the former Minnesota Junior Boys champ from Edina.

Ebner might have been the only player in the field to birdie both the 16th and 17th holes on Monday. That got him back to even par for the day, and 2 under for the tournament, but his tee shot at the 18th was unlucky enough to wind up under the lip of a fairway bunker, and he made a double from there. Despite that, he finished three strokes ahead of the U.S. Am champ, Piot, who closed with a 73 on his way to 216.

It wasn't a good day for the host team. Minnesota got a 73 from Lincoln Johnson, a junior from Chaska, and that gave him a 217, which put him in a tie for 31st. The Gophers' Ben Warian, a sophomore from Hill-Murray, shot 71 and he, too, wound up at 217. But he was playing as an individual only, and his score didn't count toward the team total for the round, which was 307, and that dropped Minnesota from sixth to 12th. The Gophers' overall score was 882.          

2021 Gopher Invitational

At Windsong Farm Golf Club

Par 71, 7,250 yards


Final results

T1. Kansas                280-277-281--838 (14 under par)

T1. Notre Dame         283-280-275--838

3. Michigan State       276-285-286--847

4. Kent State              281-284-284--849

5. Arkansas State      286-293-282--861

6. West Virginia          285-285-292--862

7. Marquette               298-280-288--866

8. Iowa State              285-292-290--867

9. Furman                  291-292-287--870

10. Ga. Southern       294-288-289--871

11. Miami (Ohio)        286-292-296--874

12. Minnesota           293-282-307--882

13. Iowa                      292-295-297--884

14. Rutgers                 292-290-303--885


1. Luke Kluver, Kansas                     67-70-66--203

2. Josh Gilkison, Kent State             67-72-66--205

3. Ben Carr, Georgia Southern        71-68-67--206

T4. Palmer Jackson, Notre Dame    70-69-68--207

T4. Callum Bruce, Kansas                71-67-69--207

T6. Danny Fisher, Miami                   68-72-68--208

T6. Taichi Kho, Notre Dame              70-70-68--208

T8. Jack Crosby, Furman                  71-72-66--209

T8. Lachlan Barker, Iowa State         69-72-68--209

T16. Ben Sigel, Kansas                   71-69-72--212

T18. Jack Ebner, Miami                   69-71-73--213

T31. Lincoln Johnson, Minnesota 74-70-73--217

T31. Ben Warian, Minnesota           73-73-71--217 (competing as an individual only) 

T35. Ian Meyer, Iowa                         71-71-77--219 

T41. Harrison Arnold, Minnesota    74-70-77--221

T45. Will Grevlos, Minnesota           73-72-77--222 (individual only)

T45. H. Plowman-Olington, Minn.    75-72-76--222 (individual only)

T48. Bennett Swavely,. Minnesota   75-72-76--223 (individual only)

T54. Alex Eickhoff, Minnesota          77-71-78--226 (individual only)

T56. Eduardo Galdos, Minnesota      78-71-78--227

72. Connor Glynn, Minnesota            79-76-79--234

DQ Antoine Sale, Minnesota                67-71--138

For complete tournament results go to:  http://results.golfstat.com/public/leaderboards/gsnav.cfm?pg=team&tid=23008


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