GIRLS STATE GOLF: Good to the last putt

AMES – So many previous accomplishments needed one more accolade to complete the collection and make it whole.

And when South Tama County senior Paige Van Dyk finally had it, she allowed the emotions to overcome her at last.

After sinking a long birdie putt that sealed her second consecutive Class 3A Iowa Girls State Golf Tournament title, Van Dyk smiled from ear-to-ear before shedding a few tears as she put an arm around her father. With her family, friends and even former competitors there to support her, Van Dyk had achieved the last of her goals for her high school career.

A year after the second 18 holes of the 3A state meet was washed out by rain, the Northern Iowa-bound Van Dyk successfully defended her championship with an impressive 36-hole total of 75-73-148 to withstand freshman phenom Emily Snelling of Clear Lake by three strokes.

Her two-day total is tied for the ninth-best medalist round in Iowa girls’ state golf history.

“I always set goals at the beginning of the season about winning conference, going to state and winning state, and I achieved all those so it’s a great feeling now that I’ve done it,” Van Dyk said.

The two-time North Iowa Cedar League West Division champion finished her last two prep seasons undefeated, winning an astounding 23 consecutive meets and a pair of state crowns.

But not until she saved herself from geese on the 17th hole, looming danger on the eighth and sank an 18-foot birdie putt on her ninth and final hole was this year’s championship in the bag.

Van Dyk carried a two-stroke lead over Central Lee senior Alex Krehbiel from the first round into Tuesday’s finale at Ames Golf & Country Club, and a three-shot edge on Snelling. The trio combined to card 13 birdies on Tuesday, though nobody ever pulled even with Van Dyk.

Strong yet erratic play plagued all four golfers in the lead group, but Van Dyk turned around a frustrating finish to the back nine with a 2-under 34 on the front side. A day after four-putting on the first green for a double bogey, Van Dyk threw her pitching wedge approach to within a half-inch of the cup, nearly holing out her shot for an eagle.

It came just moments after Snelling, whose monster drive put her into position to attack the short par-5, mishit a long iron shot and her ball splashed down into the pond protecting the green on the right.

Van Dyk chalked up a birdie 4, Snelling and Krehbiel both penciled in a 6, and the Trojan senior’s lead returned to three strokes. Van Dyk birdied three of the final five holes, but it was the par on the homestretch that stood out.

On a Ames course that demanded precision and distance control off the tee, Van Dyk rarely missed. She saved her driver for the par 5s and the longer par 4s, relying on her hard work with her hybrid wood on the practice range.

Looking at a left-to-right fairway from the eighth tee, Van Dyk pulled her hybrid off the tee box into the left rough – just short of the fescue and the out-of-bounds markers therein. Still roughly 100 yards from the green, Van Dyk essentially won the tournament when her approach flew a huge bunker protecting a pin tucked into the front left portion of the eighth green, and she two-putted from 8 feet to preserve her two-stroke lead.

“My heart stopped a little there,” Van Dyk said of her tee shot. “But it set me up for the perfect line and shot. Everything happens for a reason, that’s how I take everything.”

Her father, STC assistant coach Randy Van Dyk, wasn’t so sure until his youngest threw her approach to within 10 feet.

“That was the shot of the day,” he said. “We said take the bunkers out of it, just play it to the middle of the green, so I don’t know if she pulled it a bit or hit it toward the pin but she hit a heck of a shot there.”

With a two-shot advantage and a finishing 130-yard par-3 ninth hole left, Van Dyk threw caution to her pitching wedge and attacked the pin hidden by another large bunker on the front left.

Randy Van Dyk offered his opinion before Paige teed it up.

“Aim for the middle,” he said, “and you notice she went right for the pin. But she has her own mind and that’s why she’s good. I always give a suggestion but I’ve always told her, ‘Whatever you feel you’re comfortable with, go with it.'”

Like a seasoned veteran of the game, Van Dyk dropped her tee shot pin-high left and rolled in the birdie putt to cinch the win. After shaking hands with her playing partners, Paige walked off the green with tears welling in her eyes as she and her father shared yet another moment on the golf course.

“We’ve been doing this since she was 5 years old, so I think we’re used to each other and understand each other,” Randy said. “I couldn’t be prouder as a dad. You really want it for them, and you don’t want to see heartbreak.

“That was great until she walked off the green and she was crying when she came up to me. She doesn’t show her emotion so it was really building up in her that she had a lot of stress going.”

One last birdie putt secured the final piece in Van Dyk’s notable prep career.

“It was probably the first decent putt I made today,” she said. “Yesterday I made a couple, but I knew it was time for a putt and I wasn’t afraid so I went for it.”

“I like going for things, I mean, might as well go big or go home right?” Van Dyk shrugged after the small gamble off the tee paid off. “I knew I had two strokes, just hit a good shot, a solid shot. … I hit a good shot there and was lucky enough to have the right club.”

Lucky was the word Van Dyk heard some use to describe her 3A championship of a year ago, when she held a four-stroke lead with six holes left prior to rain and lighting washing out the round altogether. Her 1-under-par 72 from the first day stood as the low round by six strokes – and the second-lowest 18-hole medalist round in state history – but still the STC senior felt the need to prove something to those who doubted her.

“This feels a lot more rewarding to me,” Van Dyk said of the 36-hole victory. “Everyone has their own opinion but I knew I had six holes left, I was still up, I just had to play my game last year.

“But it’s over with, it’s in the past. This year is way better to me.”

A more satisfying win to be sure, especially with Snelling and Krehbiel bearing down on Van Dyk the entire round. Van Dyk never led by more than four strokes while having her advantage cut to one just once.

With birdies on 10 and 15 erasing a double bogey on 12, Van Dyk appeared well on her way to adding to her cushion when her 110-yard approach on the par-4 17th landed short and left of the pond-protected green. Her ball rolled backward into the hazard near the neighborhood wildlife. Van Dyk, however, endured another double bogey and moved hastily onto the next hole.

Snelling birdied the 18th, bringing Van Dyk back to within one stroke of the Clear Lake freshman at the turn.

“I was really close,” Snelling said. “I was hoping to get there but she pulled it out. I had a couple chances to get birdie and there was a bad shot into the water, so I definitely could have cut some strokes.

“It’s really hard but (I got) second (place), and I have three more years so that’s the way I look at it.”

Snelling and Van Dyk both carded even-par 73 on Tuesday, with Snelling ending at 78-73-151 for second place. Krehbiel, who will golf at Western Illinois, was third at 77-78-155.

Brooke Klostermann of Dyersville Beckman, the fourth member of the lead group, shot 83-77-160 for fourth.

“I liked it this year better because it was solid competition,” Van Dyk said. “I knew it was a lot more challenging for me and I like that, and not just having it given to me. I liked it because having my dad there by my side made it good for me.”

Not to mention older sister Taylor Van Dyk. The Northern Iowa junior-to-be is a member of the Panther women’s golf team, and was the more tearful of the two Trojan golf standouts after Paige’s second straight state championship.

“It’s really exciting just because I’ve been by her side playing golf all the time and it makes me emotional just talking about it,” Taylor said. “She accomplished her goals.”

Notebook

Jessie Sindlinger, a freshman on the Iowa women’s golf team, joined the gallery following Van Dyk for a few holes during Tuesday’s final round. Sindlinger, a four-time state champion from Charles City, was one of three players to finish in front of Paige Van Dyk in girls’ golf competition at the 2012 Class 3A state tournament. That’s the last time Van Dyk didn’t win, aside from the 2013 Co-Ed Golf Meet in which she and South Tama classmate Kolton Smith tied for fifth. … Atlantic won the 3A team title with a 20-stroke margin over Kuemper Catholic. Clear Lake, led by Snelling, was third, and Nevada was fourth. … Another future UNI Panther, Cedar Rapids Xavier senior Maddie Bertsch, was the 4A individual champion with a 74-75-149. The Saints won the 4A team title by 55 strokes ahead of Charles City. Newton was third. … Western Dubuque sophomore Lauren Prier scored a hole-in-one on the 130-yard ninth hole on Tuesday morning.