Month: March 2024

Featuring 100 Women – Iowa Golf Hall of Fame member Corkey Nydle passes away

Celebrating the Life of Corkey Nydle

Corkey Nydle was 24 years old when she won her first Iowa Women’s Amateur golf title in 1953 at Elmcrest Country Club in Cedar Rapids.
She beat the legendary Ann Casey Johnstone, her college advisor at Stephens College in Columbia, Mo., in the title match.

“She was a mature girl even when she came to Stephens College,” Johnstone once reflected. “I’ve had hundreds of girls who were wishy-washy and didn’t know what day it was. She did. She set good goals, and she’ll achieve them.”

Nydle, who passed away Saturday (March 16) at 94 years of age, lived up to Johnstone’s sage words. Corkey leaves behind a legacy that will live forever in the history of women’s golf in Iowa. Her career was so impressive that she was a member of the inaugural Iowa Golf Hall of Fame class in 1989.

Nydle’s 1953 Iowa Women’s Amateur title came at Johnstone’s expense. Ann would go on to win an unprecedented sixth title in 1959. Corkey caught her when she won her sixth title in 1972. That 1953 victory was at the top of the list.

“I think that’s probably the greatest (victory) because I beat the person who I had looked up to as far as golf was concerned,” Nydle reflected in 1994.

Corkey won 23 Iowa Women’s Golf Association-sponsored titles during her career. In addition to six Iowa Women’s Amateur crowns, she won 11 Iowa Senior Amateur titles. That included eight straight from 1983 to 1991. She won five Forever 39 titles and also helped Ellis Park (Cedar Rapids) win five state team titles.

Corkey was instrumental in the development of women’s golf in Iowa for the better part of 50 years. She had a special passion for promoting junior golf in the state. Nydle served on the IWGA’s board of directors for more than 30 years and also served a term on the USGA Junior Girls’ committee.
Corkey played in her first Iowa Women’s Amateur in 1946 at Hyperion. She would tee it up in the championship 46 times, including a string of 25 appearances in a row. That streak ended in 1983 back at Elmcrest, where Corkey had defeated her mentor 30 years earlier. Nydle was overcome by the heat on the final nine in 1983 and couldn’t finish.

Nydle’s brilliant career was fueled by an unsinkable spirit and a burning desire to compete. Corkey would take along a notebook and jot down notes about the course as she played it. She’d add to that notebook every time she returned to the course. Her notes included diagrams of every hole.

Corky was also blessed with a wealth of self-deprecating humor.

“People don’t know what to expect from me because I don’t know what to expect,” she once said.

She compared her longevity to an old penny.

“We never go away,” she said.

She was animated on the golf course, but never let a bad shot get the best of her.

“I enjoy the game,” she said. “When you hit a bad shot you can’t do anything about it. Why get mad?”

She was born Corinne Major in Ottumwa. She was named for her mother. She loved to swim as a kid, which played a role in her nickname.

“I guess I swam a lot and people said I floated like a cork,” she explained.

She had an impeccable short game, which she rode to that 1953 state title over Johnstone. They were tied halfway through the 36-hole final, but Corkey won the first two holes of the second round and never trailed again. She got up-and-down for par on five of the first six holes of that second round and eventually won the match, 4 and 3. It was the only loss Johnstone, elected to the Iowa Golf Hall of Fame in 1990, had in her final 20 Iowa Women’s Amateur matches.

Corkey went a decade before collecting her second Iowa Women’s Amateur title, in 1963 at Dodge Park in Council Bluffs. The championship had converted from match to medal play by then. She won by 14 shots.

She also won in 1965 at the Wakonda Club in Des Moines and 1968 at Spencer Golf and Country Club.

Her career nearly came to a premature end in 1969, when doctors told Nydle she was going to lose a hand because of radiation poisoning.

“They said within five years my hand would be completely clawed and it would have to be removed,” she said. “I said, “You’re a bunch of crackpots.’ ”

Corky started to squeeze a rubber ball to improve strength in her arm. She also built up the grips on her clubs to make it easier on her damaged hand. And she kept winning.

She added Iowa Women’s Amateur titles in 1970 at Dubuque Golf and Country Club and 1972 at Crow Valley Golf Club in Bettendorf. She matched Johnstone’s six titles by winning over three decades.

After moving to Florida in 2003, Nydle won 12 consecutive medals in the Florida Senior Games.

“I had no lessons and I’ve got a lot of bad habits,” Nydle said in 1983. “I learned my own game. I’m not a picturebook golfer – I don’t always do what I’m supposed to do. My philosophy of the game is that it’s not how many good shots you hit, but how many bad/good shots (bad shots that turn out good) that you hit.”

Her love for golf never left her.

“See that ground there,” she said during a 1997 interview, pointing to the turf. “When I’m under it, that’s when I’ll quit playing.”


Next Week on Women’s Wednesday…

Three’s Company: Iowa Women’s Amateur champions that captured the title three or more times in their career.

Featuring 100 Women – Teenage Triumph

Teenage Triumph: Juniors Capture State’s Crown Jewel

The Iowa Women’s Amateur is one of the toughest tests a player can face within the state borders. With a field made up of the top juniors, mid-amateurs, and seasoned veterans, it often requires many years and close calls for players to finally get their hands on the Fladoos Trophy. For a select few, the wait didn’t last long. They staked their claim in Iowa Women’s Amateur history before receiving their high school diploma.

The year was 1935 and the Iowa Women’s Amateur Championship was a mere 14 years old. The championship was being held at Davenport Country Club and all of the stars were teeing it up. Amongst the favorites and household names was a budding Edith Estabrooks.

The same age as the championship, Estabrooks’ game was well established and many quickly tabbed her as ‘a prodigy playing a high level of golf that defied her age’ with the physical and ‘mental makeup required of a champion’. By the end of the week, she rightfully earned her championship title taking down Jennet Jones, 5&4, in the match-play format. Aside from the dominant victory was the fact that Estabrooks began the 36-hole match five down through five. After leveling the match through 23 holes, the teen won five of the next nine holes. To cap it off, she drained a fifty-foot eagle putt on the 32nd hole to slam the door on Jones.

In her third attempt, Edith was able to not only write her name on the trophy, but into the record books by becoming the youngest champion in tournament history. She successfully defended her title in 1936 and 1937. After surrendering the trophy in 1938, she promptly claimed it again in 1939. Estabrooks did more than win the Iowa Women’s Amateur in her teenage years as she also captured the Western Girls’ Junior in 1936. She nearly claimed her second title in 1938 before falling to future LPGA and USGA champion Patty Berg in the championship match.

Five years after Estabrooks’ incredible victory, another young teenager tried her hand at capturing the same title. Phyllis Otto had just finished up her sophomore year of high school and was 10 days away from turning 16 when she teed it up at the 1940 Iowa Women’s Amateur. She captured the title at Wakonda Club in Des Moines with a decisive 6&5 margin over Kathleen Carey. Her closest match of the week was a 3&2 victory over future six-time Iowa Women’s Amateur Champion Ann Casey Johnstone.

Otto, having first participated in the event when she was 12, would go on to capture two more Iowa Women’s Amateur titles in 1942 and 1952, both coming at Des Moines Golf & Country Club. Between 1945 and 1946, she added titles at the Women’s Western Amateur and National Collegiate Women’s Championship along with a Curtis Cup invite to her resumé. Her 1945 Women’s Western Amateur title was over the legendary Babe Didrikson Zaharias.

Outside of women’s golf, Phyllis also left her mark in boys’ golf. She and three other boys teamed up to help Atlantic High School capture the state title in 1941. After turning in the lowest score, a protest broke out when it was discovered the team did not have a faculty member on site. Otto’s mother had driven the teens to the event but when the track and field coach failed to show up as the faculty representative, the team was disqualified.

Otto would later marry Jack Germain, the brother of her college roommate and teammate Dorothy, and hang her clubs up until 1948 when she continued her impressive display of golfing prowess. Seven years later, in 1952, she captured her third and final Iowa Women’s Amateur title before turning professional and pursuing a career in golf instruction.

Otto would remain the most recent high schooler to capture the Iowa Women’s Amateur until 1956. Not only would that year’s championship be won by a teenager, but the combined age for the two finalists didn’t even reach 30. In a match that felt more like the Iowa Junior Girls’ Amateur than the Women’s Amateur, 16-year-old Andy Cohn prevailed by a mark of 6&5 over 13-year-old Sharon Fladoos. Clinton Country Club was flooded with patrons as an estimated crowd of 1,000 followed along for each of the 31 holes played that July day. Even more groundbreaking was the fact that all four semifinalists that year were teenagers. Cohn and Fladoos were joined by Judy Kimball, 18, and Linda Cahill, 16. Kimball, the oldest of the four, was just a month removed from turning 18.

With the unprecedented teenage movement in the semifinals, the I.W.G.A. held a vote to see if juniors should be allowed to play in both the Iowa Junior Girls’ and the Iowa Women’s Amateur. Fortunately, the vote never passed. Had it passed, Sharon Fladoos wouldn’t have become the first girl to capture both the Junior and Women’s Amateur title in the same year, a feat she accomplished in 1960.

The 1956 championship was groundbreaking for more reasons than just its young finalists. It also marked the final time the champion was determined through a match-play format. The championship changed to stroke play medalist competition in 1957 and has remained so through today. Even with the format change, Estabooks’ championship record at age 14 still holds to this day. The closest anyone has ever come to besting Estabrooks was a fifteen-year-old Britta Snyder.

The Ames native made headlines in the summer of 2016 when she committed to Baylor University before ever stepping foot in a high school classroom. A highly-sought recruit, Snyder focused many of her competitive efforts on national-level events and an American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) schedule.

Not often teeing it up in Iowa, the youngster came into the 93rd Iowa Women’s Amateur with one goal: to win. She didn’t just win, she blitzed the field by a staggering 13 shots posting an even-par 216. Not bad, kid.

Snyder won every event she played in Iowa from 2017 through 2019. Beginning with her freshman year in the spring of 2017, Britta earned medalist honors at each of her high school tournaments. The one event she didn’t win? The individual high school state championship. It wasn’t because someone beat her. It was because she qualified for a USGA Championship, which was scheduled over the same dates.

Returning in 2018, the Gilbert sophomore won each time she teed it up, including her first individual state title. Her junior year, 2019, was more of the same as she continued to remain undefeated en route to her second straight individual state crown. She closed out her title defense with an eagle on the last hole to post a course-record 65. She didn’t know it then, but it would be her final time wearing the Gilbert uniform.

A senior in 2020, Snyder had to sit back as the COVID-19 epidemic wiped away any chance at her threepeat. “If I have a chance to leave high school golf that’s how I wanted to. I mean 65, winning a state title by 15 with an eagle putt. There’s no better way to end it than that,” Snyder would later say.

Synder didn’t know it then, but she wouldn’t be the last high schooler to claim a victory at the Iowa Women’s Amateur. Two years later in 2019, Paige Hoffman of West Des Moines teed it up at her first Iowa Women’s Amateur. The 17-year-old was fresh off claiming the 4A High School Individual State title and was well-known in the IGA circuit. But before she could win her maiden title, her passion for the IGA began with an invitation.

The Iowa Golf Association helped Hoffman kick-start her junior golf career in an important way in 2017 with an invitation to the Junior Girls’ Four-State Tournament. This event was a springboard for Paige’s love of golf and pushed her to pursue golf on a more competitive level. Throughout her junior career, Paige played in four Four-States, won three Iowa Junior Girls’ Player of the Year titles, won two IGA Women’s Four-Ball tournaments with teammate Kylie Carey, and won the previously mentioned Class 4A Iowa High School State Championship.

The pinnacle of Hoffman’s junior career was winning the Iowa Women’s Amateur at Otter Creek Golf Course in 2019. It is a title even she admits she didn’t think she would claim so early in her career. Paige ended her successful junior career by earning a Herman Sani Scholarship in 2021 for her high character and achievement in the classroom.

Hoffman’s passion for golf did not end at the junior level as she now plays collegiate golf at Northwest Missouri State University. She played her way to the NCAA Division II National Championship as a sophomore in 2023, which led to her inaugural IGA Women’s Player of the Year title.

Paige does not just have a passion for playing golf, but also a passion for golf administration. Paige served as the Handicapping and Course Rating Intern in 2023 and is excited to intern with the IGA again in 2024. “The Iowa golf community is a special group and I feel fortunate to be a small part of it as a player and an intern,” Hoffman said.

Though five champions are highlighted, they aren’t the only high schoolers to lift the Fladoos trophy. Jennie Arseneault did so in 2004 at Elmwood Country Club kicking off her streak of three in a row. Future releases will share Arseneault’s incredible run at the state’s top event. Sharon Fladoos captured her first of three Iowa Women’s Amateur titles in 1960 at age 17, just four years after her runner-up finish to Cohn. For a more in-depth look at Sharon’s career, click here.

Excerpts from Golden Harvest and We Are Iowa (WOI-TV) were used in this feature.

Next Week on Women’s Wednesday…

Celebrating the life of Corkey Nydle, one of Iowa’s most decorated amateurs.

Featuring 100 Women – 100 Competitive Holes

100 Competitive Holes: Fundraising for the Future

In celebration of the 100th Iowa Women’s Amateur, the IGA is excited to share the 100 Competitive Holes Fundraiser. Six highly competitive, engaging women have committed to playing 100 competitive holes of golf between now and the first round of the Iowa Women’s Amateur. Money raised will go towards enhancing the overall player experience at the championship and any net proceeds will be donated to the IGA Foundation to support women’s programming. The mission statement for this centennial event is ‘Centennial Celebration: Champion our Women’. Within the mission statement, we wanted to focus on centennial, celebration, and champion as the three categories of women who exemplify this fundraiser.

Centennial: Women’s Golf Today

The two individuals who embody the present state of women’s golf are Kelly Fosse of Grinnell and Fiona Watson of Des Moines. Both are mid-amateurs and participate in nearly all IGA Women’s events.

Fiona Watson is a native of Scotland and first came to Iowa in 1994 when she enrolled at Iowa State University. After an accomplished four-year career on the golf course, one that saw her share in the school record for the low 18-hole score, Watson transitioned into the role of assistant coach for Julie Manning. While she was the first player from overseas to be recruited to ISU, it quickly became a trend and many more soon followed.

Throughout her playing career, Watson has collected many IGA titles, most recently at the 2023 Iowa Forever 39 Match Play Championship. She has also qualified for the U.S. Women’s Amateur and U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur. Though she is not quite eligible, Watson is sure to try her hand at qualifying for the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur when the time comes.

“Golf in Iowa had been a magical part of my life. It’s provided me with so many opportunities and experiences that I have been able to capitalize on. So, I was both honored and excited to be asked to participate in the 100 Competitive Hole Fundraiser and the chance to help create an experience to remember for the 100th Iowa Women’s Amateur.”

Very rarely does a player come along to IGA events and truly dive in head first as Kelly Fosse did in 2023. The Grinnell resident played in four IGA women’s events in her first year of joining the circuit and quickly made friends with many of her competitors. Outside of the IGA, Fosse also participates in the Amateur Tour and Heart of a Lion Amateur Golf Tour, established by former PGA Tour standout John Daly.

After growing up playing golf, Kelly elected to put her clubs down in high school to focus on other sports. The hiatus didn’t last for long, as she would once again pick up the game during her college years at the University of Iowa. Outside of IGA and Heart of the Lion Tour events, Fosse participates in the Amateur Players Tour and weekly leagues at local courses. Off the course, she works as a Farm Mutual Reinsurance Territory Manager at Grinnell Mutual and also volunteers as a firefighter for the Grinnell Fire Department. She’s been with the department for nearly four years and routinely responds to structure and grass fires as well as vehicle accidents, hazmat incidents, and rescue operations. Simply put, no two days are ever the same. Through her involvement with the Grinnell Fire Department, Fosse began participating in the Tunnel to Towers Foundations 5K in New York City. The annual fundraiser is in honor of Stephen Siller who lost his life in the line of duty the morning of September 11th, 2001. Proceeds from the fundraiser are put towards helping America’s heroes who have made the supreme sacrifice of life or limb.

“I am honored to have been chosen to participate in the 100 Competitive Holes Fundraiser for the 100th year of the Iowa Women’s Amateur. I am so incredibly thankful for the Iowa Golf Association and other Iowa amateur tours that have provided women opportunities to play competitive golf. The game of golf has impacted my life incredibly by fostering personal and professional growth, creating a competitive spirit, teaching me diligence in following my dreams, and allowing me to make valuable friendships along the way. My hope is for this fundraiser to not only encourage young female athletes to put themselves out there and reach their full potential in the game of golf, but also for other women to be inspired by the talent they are surrounded by and have the confidence to participate, regardless of age or ability level.”

Celebration: The History of Women’s Golf

The two individuals who embody the establishment of women’s golf are Laura Leszczynski of Saint Marys and Noreen Christians of Urbandale. Both are seasoned veterans in respect to women’s golf in Iowa having played in IGA events for dozens of years combined.

Laura Leszczynski has quickly established herself as a top competitor on the senior circuit in Iowa. A three-time IGA Senior Women’s Player of the Year recipient, Leszczynski’s name is always in contention when looking at the leaderboard. Last year alone she scored two victories and a pair of runner-up finishes in IGA championships. Along with her Player of the Year titles, Leszczynski also has a firm hold of the Iowa Senior Women’s Amateur having lifted the trophy each of the last three years. Outside of Iowa, she has also qualified for the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur, most recently in 2022.

“I’m honored to be part of the 100 Competitive Hole Fundraiser, an event that not only celebrates the rich history of the Iowa Women’s Amateur but also champions the spirit of community and philanthropy. Participating in this fundraiser is a unique opportunity to connect with fellow golf enthusiasts, challenge my limits, and contribute to a cause that extends beyond the greens. It’s about being part of something larger than the game itself—a commitment to fostering talent, supporting women’s sports, and making a meaningful impact in our community. I’m excited to embark on this journey, share my progress, and see how our collective efforts can make a difference. Together, we’re not just playing for a title; we’re driving change, stroke by stroke.”

Noreen Christian, of Urbandale, has been participating in IGA events since 2021. Events ranging from one-day IGA Mid-Am Series events to the Wife-Husband to the Forever-39 Match Play, Christian is no rookie to the ever-changing formats. Outside the IGA, she is heavily involved with the LPGA Amateur Des Moines Chapter. With events during the warm months throughout Iowa, Noreen also travels across the U.S. to participate in LPGA Amateur championships, never missing an opportunity to tee it up and grow the game.

“Most that know me well would say I live in 2 seasons, golf, and no golf. It is an honor to be representing the many women in Iowa who also share this same passion for golf. The IGA and the LPGA Amateurs have led me to new friends, beautiful and different golf courses, and equipped me to attempt any course/opponent, no matter the challenge.”

Champion: Supporting the Future of Women’s Golf

It’s easy to look at Paige Hoffman and Anna Jensen and call them the future of women’s golf in Iowa. However, if one were to look closer, they would find that Hoffman and Jensen are here in the present and have made a name for themselves capturing the most prestigious events Iowa has to offer.

Paige Hoffman, of West Des Moines, has been participating in IGA championships dating back to her junior golf days. Along the way, she has built up quite the resume. Her participation includes the IGA Parent-Child Championship, Iowa Junior Girls’ Amateur, IGA Women’s Four-Ball (2x champion), IGA Women’s Match Play, and Iowa Women’s Amateur (2019 champion). She has excelled at every level scaling from the junior ranks to the collegiate level and now the amateur level. Additional information on Paige’s career will shared in a future release article.

“Through tournament and internship experience Iowa Women’s Golf has taught me how to be a stronger competitor, a better communicator, and a more well-rounded person. The Iowa women’s golf community is a group of fun and spirited women that I am proud to represent. I am excited to be a part of this fundraiser to help celebrate the past, present, and future of Iowa women’s golf through the 100th Iowa Women’s Amateur.”

Anna Jensen of Dubuque followed a similar path to Hoffman, excelling early and often. Jensen, a senior at the University of Northern Iowa, has been competing in IGA championships since her junior days. 2022 marked the biggest victory of her IGA career, capturing the Iowa Women’s Match Play Championship over fellow fundraising participant, Paige Hoffman. As a panther, Jensen’s career has been highlighted by frequent top-ten finishes including two top-fives this past fall.

“I am truly honored to represent Iowa women’s golf in this fundraiser for the 100th Women’s Amateur. I am a huge advocate for women’s sports, especially women’s golf, because I know first-hand the blessings playing competitive golf has given me. I grew up playing IGA events and specifically in the Women’s Am. Through it, I have learned so many valuable lessons and I have found so many lifelong friendships with my competitors. I think it is important to continue to grow the field and allow many more girls and women to be able to share in this amazing experience.”


Next week on Women’s Wednesday…

The Iowa Women’s Amateur is one of the toughest tests a player can face within the state borders. With a field made up of the top juniors, mid-amateurs, and seasoned veterans, it often requires many years and close calls for players to finally get their hands on the Fladoos trophy. For a select few, the wait didn’t last long, staking their claim in Iowa Women’s Amateur history all before receiving their high school diploma.

Includes championship history, weekly feature articles, player information, photo archives, past champions, and much more!

Featuring 100 Women – The Fladoos Trophy

The Fladoos Trophy – Iowa’s Trailblazing Sisters

It’s all in the family. Golfers often say that their family got them into the game whether it be parents, grandparents, or sometimes siblings. Numerous family members and sisters have added their names to the Iowa Women’s Amateur trophy in its 100-year history. But who was the first? The answer is simple; Sharon and Jacque Fladoos so it’s only fitting the trophy is now named the Fladoos Trophy.

Debuting in 1970, the Fladoos trophy was presented to Ann Griffel, president of the I.W.G.A. with the following message: “Our family has given thought to express in some manner its sincere appreciation for Iowa’s excellent annual golf Championships open to both juniors and adults.

The five members of our family have thoroughly enjoyed these championships in past years as participants and spectators. We feel it was through these championships our three children and the many other Iowa youngsters were given their first opportunity to test their golf games and upon which to build their golf reputations.

We would, therefore, like to present to the Iowa Women’s Golf Association in 1970- here at the Dubuque Golf and Country Club, site of the 44th Anniversary Championship- a perpetual silver trophy to be presented annually to the Iowa State Women’s Amateur Champion.”

Sharon (pictured right), the older of the two, began competing in IWGA and USGA championships from an early age. At just 13, she became the youngest golfer to advance to the U.S. Girls’ Junior semifinals. That same year, 1956, she would also be named runner-up at both the Iowa Girls’ Junior and Iowa Women’s Amateur. It was just the beginning as the Dubuque native quickly began her impressive seven-year run of amateur golf not only in Iowa but on the national stage.

Her 1958 and 1959 resume included back-to-back runner-up finishes at the Iowa Women’s Amateur as well as the Western Junior Girl’s Championship. Her runner-up finish in the 1958 Western Junior Girl’s Championship was to none other than future World Golf Hall of Famer Carol Mann. The streak of second-place finishes was finally broken in 1960 as she captured her first Iowa Women’s Amateur title and got her hands on the elusive Western Junior Girl’s title.

Even with her near misses, she still found a way to capture tournament titles. From 1958 to 1961, she captured both the Iowa Junior Girls and Iowa High School State Tournament titles each year. Finding comfort in defending her Iowa titles, Sharon kept the Iowa Women’s Amateur trophy under lock and key from 1960 to 1962 earning three straight victories.

While Sharon was busy building her decorated career, her younger sister Jacque (pictured right with Ann Griffel) followed along knowing she would have big shoes to fill. Always up for the challenge, Jacque quickly took the junior golf reins and extended the Fladoos family streak of High School State golf titles as she earned medalist honors in 1962 and 1963.

It wouldn’t be the last time she won the state title either, as she returned to championship form in 1965 to collect her third individual title. In her sophomore year of high school, Jacque matched another one of Sharon’s accomplishments; capturing both an individual High School State title and the Iowa Junior Girls’ Amateur within the same calendar year. Jacque’s record at the Iowa Women’s Amateur also mirrors that of Sharon as the younger Fladoos captured three total victories between 1966 and 1969.

Though separated by five years, Sharon and Jacque’s careers were nearly identical. Such as with the trophy naming, it was fitting both were inducted into the Dubuque Senior High School Hall of Fame (1992 and 1996) as well as the inaugural class for the Iowa Coaches Association Hall of Fame (2008).

While there have been two other sets of sisters to successfully capture Iowa Women’s Amateur titles, none have been more prolific than the Fladoos sisters. Though Jacque has passed away, her and Sharon’s legacy remains alive and well every time the Iowa Women’s Amateur rolls around. The Fladoos Trophy; was named in honor of the trailblazing sisters who guided women’s golf in Iowa to unchartered territory and new heights.

Next week on Women’s Wednesday…

Six women from six different cities with one thing in common: a love for the game. See how a passion for the game has inspired these players to grow the game for present and future players.

Includes championship history, weekly feature articles, player information, photo archives, past champions, and much more!

‘Up and Down’ the Iowa Golf Scene – Bouncing Back

Matthew Walker, with his mother, Camilla, off of South Beach in Miami. Camilla Walker has been with Matthew through every step of his health journey, including the donation of one her her a life-sustaining kidneys during a transplant in the spring of 2022.

The Calling Card for Ottumwa’s Matthew Walker in Quest to Reach Golf’s Highest Level

Golf immortal Bobby Jones famously coined the phrase “Golf is the closest game to the game we call life. You get bad breaks from good shots; you get good breaks from bad shots – but you have to play the ball where it lies.”

Professional golfer Matthew Walker has already experienced more of life’s bad breaks than most do in a lifetime, yet he continues to play the ball where it lies as he pushes forward to fulfill a lifelong dream – to reach the PGA Tour.

Matthew Walker captured the 2019 Iowa Open in a playoff, shortly after graduating from the University of Iowa and turning professional.

The 26-year-old Ottumwa native and University of Iowa graduate heads to Latin America this spring to compete on the PGA Tour Americas, a merger between two former PGA developmental tours based in Latin America and Canada. The schedule features 16 events and $225,000 purses where the Top 10 finishers on the money list earn exemptions on the 2025 Korn Ferry Tour.

Now in his fifth season as a professional, Walker has made steady progress on his climb toward the game’s pinnacle, grinding through mini-tours, state-opens, pro-amateur events and Korn Ferry Tour qualifying. Last fall, he fired and 14-under par 270 to capture the Korn Ferry first stage qualifying event contested at the University of New Mexico’s championship course. He finished a few shots shy of advancing past the second stage and to the Korn Ferry finals, but his first stage victory earned him playing status on this season’s PGA Tour Americas.

“Everybody out here who plays the game for a living can bomb the driver and can hit great iron shots,” Walker said recently during a telephone interview with Up and Down the Iowa Golf Scene. “What makes the difference is the ability to get the ball in the hole, take advantage of the Par 5’s, minimize mistakes and being strong mentally.”

As he continues to sharpen his game, the 2019 Iowa Open champion is focusing on course management and the mental aspect as the margins among players become smaller and smaller at higher levels.

“You have to manage your bad rounds to come out around par and not shoot yourself out of contention,” he remarked. “You cannot give away shots and stay competitive. And you have to be comfortable at staying aggressive when getting it way under par because you have to be way under for high finishes.”

Matthew Walker is all smiles after capturing the Wigwam Championship on the Golden State Tour in January of 2020, just prior to the pandemic putting a hold on his PGA Tour aspirations.

Life tossed its initial curveball at Walker when he was a toddler. At 18 months, he was diagnosed with a Wilms Tumor on his left kidney, a childhood cancer that strikes one in 10,000 youngsters. Eight surgeries, nine months of chemotherapy and six radiation treatments followed, including the removal of his kidney. He gradually gained strength and function. At age five, his father, Bill, introduced Matthew to golf and he was soon hooked. With his father as the teacher and mentor, Walker improved rapidly playing the Cedar Creek Golf Course in Ottumwa. By the age of ten, Walker started competing in Iowa PGA Section and Iowa Golf Association junior events and eventually earned Player of the Year honors.

As a prep, Walker starred at the tradition-rich Ottumwa High School, where the Bulldogs have captured 11 state golf tournament titles and seven runner-up finishes. He was a four-time first-team all-state selection and captured a pair of Class 4A state individual championships, the first as a sophomore in the 2012-13 season and the second as a senior in the 2014-2015 campaign. He shot identical 36-hole totals of 141 to claim the titles, and both events were played at the Tournament Club of Iowa. Walker nearly made it three championships as he lost a playoff to Ankeny Centennial’s Griffin Matthias during his junior season. In addition to the state title, Walker captured medalist honors at all 12 meets as a senior.

Due to his decorated high school and junior golf career, Walker had several options to play college golf, including the University of Arizona and the University of Illinois, but he followed his heart to the University of Iowa. As a Hawkeye, Walker starred for Coach Tyler Stith’s program for four years, including being named to the Ping All-Midwest Regional team, a tie for sixth at the Big Ten championships, co-medalist at the Hawkeye Invitational and posting a career stroke average of 73.09 over 122 rounds.

It was during Walker’s junior season at Iowa when life hurled another major setback. His father, Bill, collapsed while working out on the treadmill at home and passed away in January of 2018 at the age of 61. Bill Walker had been Matthew’s mentor, coach, best friend and had walked the fairways at virtually all of his golf tournaments to lend his support.

“Dad’s passing taught me about perspective and priorities and that golf is really just a game,” Walker said. “I miss him dearly and carry his legacy with me.”

Midway through his senior season at Iowa, Walker began experiencing some back pain. As it gradually worsened, he suspected it might be related to his childhood kidney issues as it forced him to miss a handful of events. His lone kidney typically functioned at 70 percent, and then it was rated at 40 percent. Keeping a watchful eye on his health, Walker graduated from Iowa with a degree in business administration, turned professional and began his pursuit of playing the PGA Tour.

He roared out of the blocks quickly, capturing the 2019 Iowa Open at Blue Top Ridge by firing a 13-under-par 203 and defeating Gavin Hall of Palm Beach Gardens, FL in a playoff. A few months later, Walker broke through on the Golden State Tour by winning the Wigwam Championship in a 3-way playoff, birdieing four of the final five holes and pocketing the $11,000 winner’s check.

Bill and Camillia Walker have been Mathew’s biggest supporters. Bill Walker passed away unexpectedly in 2018.

Just as his pro career was taking flight, life’s bad breaks resurfaced. First, the pandemic year of 2020 limited playing opportunities while regular checkups indicated Walker’s lone kidney was continuing to lose effectiveness. Then in September of that year, Walker collapsed during a practice session while on the range back home at the Ottumwa Country Club. An MRI revealed the source of his lingering back pain; he had a walnut-sized benign tumor on his T11 vertebrae. The tumor was removed during a successful procedure at the University of Iowa Hospitals, followed by a several month recovery process.

And recover he did during the 2021 year, highlighted by capturing the Nebraska Open in record fashion, firing a 54-hole total of 195, including a sizzling ten-under par 61 in the opening round. Walker joined fellow Iowan Ken Schall as the only players to capture both the Iowa and Nebraska Opens. Even more remarkable was the fact that Walker claimed the title with his lone kidney functioning at 19 percent capacity, barely above the cut line for needing dialysis.

In January of 2022, back in Arizona and again gaining momentum in his professional golf career, Walker once again faced a roadblock. His Whoop band indicated a resting heart rate at 90 beats per minute as the clock had run out on his lone kidney. He immediately began life-saving dialysis in Arizona, then shortly thereafter flew back to Iowa and began a three day per week dialysis regimen at Ottumwa Regional Hospital. His mother, Camilla Walker, a retired mathematics teacher at Indian Hills Community College, had long planned to become Matthew’s kidney donor, should he need it.

The time was now, and the five-hour transplant surgery took place at The Mayo Clinic in March of 2022. The procedure was successful, and by summer Matthew had resumed his playing career. In his first outing back from kidney transplant, the Albia, IA Pro-Am, Walker shot 11-under and resumed chasing his dream.

Through all the hardship and side effects, which include taking eight anti-rejection medications twice daily, Walker remains upbeat. He is ready to pursue playing opportunities on the PGA Tour Americas and beyond.

“I see many guys out here who are finished for the day after one or two bad shots,” he said. “I’ve learned that you have to be resilient, fight through adversity, and keep going. Professional golf can drag you to places you do not want to be, should you let it. I’m not going to let a bad round, or a bad break, whether on or off the course, keep me from pursuing my dreams.”

“Up and Down” the Iowa Golf Scene

A regular feature column written by IGA Foundation board member Mark Gambaiana, Up and Down the Iowa Golf Scene is designed to take the reader beyond the headlines and scoreboards to share stories of those who help make Iowa golf so rich and rewarding. Profiles will spotlight those who advance the game through volunteerism, service, extraordinary achievement, competition, human interest and the many other dimensions of golf in Iowa.

Click the links below to read previous Up and Down features
– IGA Rules Official Sean Flanders
– R&A, USGA Champion Gene Elliott
– Nervig Reflects on Decades of Service to The Iowa Masters
– Arseneault Finds Fulfillment in Life’s Next Chapter After Competitive Golf
– Ivan Miller remembers the days of the Minnows
– Kinney adjusts to life on tour
– Standard Golf’s roots run deep
– Pettersen sets sights high
– McCoy, Norton Put Iowa Stamp on Florida Senior Golf
Moreland Reflects on his Extraordinary Club Pro, Playing Career
From Sibley to the LPGA Tour – Barb Thomas Whitehead Fulfills Her Dream
At 88 Years Young, Cleo Brown Remains a Fixture at the Principal Charity Classic, IGA Events
Love of the Game, Service to Others Propel Charlie Taylor to IGA’s 2023 George Turner Award

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