Category: News

2023 Annual Awards announced

On Friday, October 27, the IGA Board of Directors named recipients of the 2023 Annual Awards in six categories. We are pleased to announce this year’s honorees.

9-Hole Superintendent – Rande Giesking, Gruis Recreation Area
Rande Giesking, of Gruis Recreation Area in Buffalo Center, is this year’s IGA 9-Hole Superintendent of the Year.

Turn back the clock to 1978 and a young Rande Giesking began mowing the grass at Gruis Recreation Area – fast forward some 40+ years later and Giesking can still be found paying close attention to the needs of the course outside of Buffalo Center.

“Rande takes pride in his work and does it to the best of his ability,” Kim Ostermann said. “He has found great staff who exemplify his work ethic and keep the course looking great.”

Not only does Giesking keep the course in great playing condition, but he is also known to give away driving range tokens to junior golfers as they prepare for tournaments, encourage high school competitors, and continually listen to club members’ suggestions and attempts to put them into action for what is best for the course.

Giesking also partnered with a neighboring school district to provide them with the opportunity to bring 35 students to the course to learn about maintenance practices and to maybe spark an interest in turfgrass management for those attending.

“Rande has done an amazing job, not only this year, but for his 45 years here and you can tell his passion for this land is from the heart, it’s not just a job,” Club Manager Joyce Woodwick said. “Gruis Recreation Area has a special place in so many people’s hearts.”

It’s safe to say Giesking is one of the reasons why.

18-Hole Superintendent – Chris Coen, Glen Oaks Country Club
Chris Coen, of Glen Oaks Country Club, has been named the IGA’s 2023 18-Hole Superintendent of the Year.

Coen, who has served Glen Oaks CC since its establishment in 1994, has been instrumental in the facility remaining one of the state’s best.

“He has been instrumental in our Junior Camps as well”, PGA Director of Golf Don Tracy said. “He shows kids how cups are changed, how to take care of the course by fixing ball marks and replacing or filling divots.”

As many around the state continue to find it difficult to find staff, let alone keep them, Coen’s Assistant Superintendent, Equipment Manager and 2nd Assistant has been with him for over 10 years.

“He is a positive role model for all of his staff,” Tracy said. “His dedication to the golf course shows and is also dedicated to growing the game of golf through his support of the Iowa Golf Association, Iowa Golf Course Superintendent’s Association, and others, as well as the need for membership and the community. All of the groups we have hosted events for in 2023 have been so impressed with the course and facilities that they have already booked for 2024. That says a lot about Chris Coen and his team.”

9-Hole Course of the Year – Sibley Golf & Country Club
Sibley Golf & Country Club has been named the IGA’s 2023 9-Hole Course of the Year.

Sibley G&CC is a hidden gem to many in a small town of 2,400 people.

The course not only has a strong schedule of competitive golf events throughout the season, including five tournaments that are hosted annually with local sponsorship adding to the prize fund, but the club also promotes and encourages junior, female, and senior golfers to take advantage of a variety of events and opportunities offered.

“I love the encouragement for kids to come out and learn the sport,” Lacey Julius said.

They also support the community by hosting several events annually that support local non-profit organizations.

“It’s a very impressive facility in such a small town,” Crystal Strouth said.

18-Hole Course of the Year – Rice Lake Golf & Country Club
Rice Lake Golf & Country Club has been named the IGA’s 2023 18-Hole Course of the Year.

Rice Lake Golf & Country Club offers so much, including a trio of experiencing its beauty, the challenges it offers, and the people who hold the course close to their hearts.

Situated between Rice Lake State Park, in Lake Mills, the course has great views of the lake and is adjacent to Iowa corn and bean fields. The golfing challenges come differently each day according to members, as the bent grass greens and irrigated fairways offer a great playing surface.

Future improvements, forward-thinking, and opportunities for income without infringing on the member’s ability to play regularly are the core missions of the facility.

Investment in the youth around the community can be seen at Rice Lake G&CC as well.

“Travis Laudner (PGA Professional) and the rest of the staff do a great job developing youth golfers,” member Craig Braget said. “Our summer program had over 40 signed up to continue to learn about the game of golf. This success coupled with our $69 youth membership to make it affordable has put a lot of fire in the belly of many (juniors).

PGA Pro of the Year – Scott Nugent, Ames Golf & CC
Scott Nugent, of Ames Golf & CC, is the IGA’s 2023 PGA Professional of the Year.

Scott Nugent’s enthusiasm for the game and, in particular, his support and encouragement of junior golfers, is evident as he goes about his duties on a day-to-day basis at Ames G&CC.

“Scott works tirelessly and supports not only the junior program, but the ladies and men’s league as well,” Gary Youngberg said. “He is open to suggestions and his door is always open to the membership. He is willing to listen to ideas from the various committees involved as well as individuals within the membership. AGCC and its membership are true benefactors to Scott’s employment with us.”

Many members commented that his attention to detail, desire to grow the same commitment to providing an exceptional experience, and willingness to tackle the ‘hard stuff’ set Nugent apart from many.

“He puts focus on the membership in many ways,” Kurt Matthewson said. “He has taken ownership of the clubhouse facilities and staff. He is professional, accessible friendly, and involved.”

Club Manager of the Year – Rheanne Kinney, Wakonda Club
Rheanne Kinney, of Wakonda Club, has been named the IGA’s 2023 Club Manager of the Year.

Kinney, in her fifth year as General Manager at Wakonda Club, has made immediate and outstanding impacts by managing the leadership team, overseeing finances, coordinating the Board of Directors, and much more. Kinney also serves as a liaison with the Principal Charity Classic.

“(Her) duties and dedication have no end and her passion for others and desire to see Wakonda grow are unmatched,” Aaron Krueger, PGA, Director of Golf, Wakonda Club said.

Communication during the course restoration at Wakonda Club and continued engagement have been priorities for Kinney, including weekly updates to the membership on the project and detailing different aspects of the full restoration.

“She pours so much into Wakonda Club,” Krueger said. “She supports Wakonda staff to get involved in their professional organizations and pursue continued education in their field.”

Wakonda Club member Melinda Ruperto also had high praise for Kinney.

“Her skill set has provided immensely valuable during this demanding year,” Ruperto said. “Rheanna is rare in her understanding of accounting and attention to financial detail in addition to the numerous responsibilities of a manager.”

NOTE – The IGA Annual Awards Banquet is scheduled for  Friday, December 8, at Terrace Hills Golf Course in Altoona. We will communicate a schedule of events to the public, including the price to attend very soon. 

McCoy, Palmer & Brooks earn 2023 Player of the Year honors

Nate McCoy has been named this year’s Iowa Golf Association Men’s Player of the Year for the third time in his career. McCoy, of Ankeny, finished as Player of the Year last season as well.

McCoy capped off his season in September at the U.S. Mid-Amateur, held at Sleepy Hollow Country Club and Fenway Golf Club, both in New York. McCoy began match play as the three-seed after terrific qualifying, and played his way into the Round of 16 where he eventually fell to 3 and 1 to Stewart Hagestad, of Newport Beach, CA. Hagestad went on to win the championship later that week.

On the Iowa circuit, McCoy consistently finished among the top of the leaderboard with nine top-ten finishes. In fact, McCoy never finished below the top-ten.

He qualified for the semifinal round of the 35th IGA Match Play Championship, held again at Talons Golf, Ankeny, where he lost to current Iowa State golfer Zach May 3&2.

Later, McCoy finished tied for seventh at the 121st Iowa Amateur Championship, this year held at Glen Oaks Country Club, West Des Moines. He carded a 1-under total of 212.

McCoy grabbed three top-five finishes: 2nd at the Lake Creek Amateur at BVU Lake Creek, Storm Lake, 4th at the Carroll Amateur at Carroll Country Club, Carroll, and 4th at the Iowa Masters at Veenker Memorial Golf Course, Ames.

He kicked off the year placing 9th at the IGA Mid-Amateur Championship at Geneva Golf and Country Club, Muscatine, and later in the season finished T10 at the Fort Dodge Amateur at Fort Dodge Country Club, Fort Dodge.

While McCoy’s season may feel underwhelming compared to his spectacular 2022 season, he nonetheless demonstrated his ability to perform throughout the year, placing above numerous wonderfully accomplished and talented competitors in the Player of the Year standings.

Joe Palmer claims his fourth career Iowa Golf Association Senior Men’s Player of the Year after a terrific summer. Palmer, of Norwalk, was recently the Senior Men’s Player of the Year in 2020 and 2021.

Palmer surged to the top of the Player of the Year standings in late August thanks to his run at the 68th U.S. Senior Amateur Championship at Martis Camp, CA. Seeded forty-five after qualifying, Palmer advanced through three rounds of match play into Quarterfinals. Palmer lost on the eighteenth hole, needing a birdie to force extra holes but carding a par. He joined Ankeny’s Curtis Holck as the farthest advancing competitors from Iowa in the championship.

Palmer began his season at Burlington Golf Club, Burlington, at the 27th IGA Four-Ball Championship, where he finished fourth with partner Terry Cook. He then finished quarterfinalist at the 21st IGA Senior Match Play Championship, held at Lake Panorama National Golf Course, Panora.

He found success at the 38th Iowa Mid-Amateur Championship, at Geneva Golf and Country Club, Muscatine, where he defeated Curtis Holck in a playoff to take home the title. Palmer fired a (+8) 221 through the three rounds.

Palmer then competed in the 35th IGA Match Play Championship at Talons Golf, Ankeny, where he played his way into the Round of 16. He headed to Ames for the 86th Iowa Masters, held at Veenker Memorial Golf course. There, he finished second in the Senior Division, firing a (-3) 213.

He finished his IGA play at the 74th Herman Sani Tournament, held at Hyperion Field Club, Johnston. Palmer finished T5 with a (+4) 220.

Palmer always seemed to be in contention, certainly never far behind, in every tournament this summer. He placed in the top-five in every stroke play event.

Bob Brooks has been named the Iowa Golf Association Super Senior Men’s Player of the Year, and for good reason. There was no stopping Bob Brooks this summer.

Brooks, of West Des Moines, won an unbelievable seven out of eleven individual stroke events this summer. However, he kicked off his season with the 27th IGA Four-Ball Championship at Burlington Golf Club, Burlington. Brooks, partnered with Fort Madison’s Jim Butler, won by twelve strokes over two rounds. They carded a (-12) 132.

He then advanced to the Semifinal round of the 21st IGA Senior Match Play at Lake Panorama National Golf Course, Panora. Brooks fell to one-seed Tom Norton in an eighteen-hole match.

In stroke play, large victory margins were Brooks’ specialty. He then traveled to Geneva Golf and Country Club, Muscatine for the 38th Iowa Mid-Amateur Championship. He won by nine strokes with a (+1) 214.

He then totaled a (+4) 148 at the Lake Creek Amateur held at BVU Lake Creek, Storm Lake. Brooks won by six strokes. Next, he played the Southeast Iowa Amateur at The Preserve at Lake Rathburn, Moravia. Brooks fired a (-10) 134 and won by seven strokes.

Brooks placed third at the Carroll Amateur, held at Carroll Country Club, Carroll. But he jumped right back on track at the Fort Dodge Amateur, held at Fort Dodge Country Club, Fort Dodge, where he won with a (-1) 70.

He continued his tear with a victory at the 86th Iowa Masters at Veenker Memorial Golf Course, Ames. Brooks’ (-2) 214 earned him a seven-stroke win. He then hopped across the state to the Waterloo Open where he again won with a (-3) 213. This time, by eighteen strokes.

Brooks finished T2 at the 74th Herman Sani Tournament at Hyperion Field Club, Johnston. He then placed third at the 45th Iowa Senior Amateur Championship at Dubuque Golf and Country Club, Dubuque.

It’s no surprise that Brooks won his final stroke event of the year. He pulled off another win at the Briarwood Amateur with a (-18) 126 total that netted him a thirteen-stroke lead. He then finished his season placing fifth at The Classic, held at Elmwood Country Club, Marshalltown. He scored sixty-two points over the two-round Modified Stableford tournament.

Brooks dominated the 2023 season and is well-deserving of his first Player of the Year honor.

Hoffman, Leszczynski prove tough to beat in 2023

Paige Hoffman, of West Des Moines, has been named Iowa Golf Association Women’s Player of the Year. This is Hoffman’s first Women’s Player of the Year award, adding to her 2021 Junior Girls’ Player of the Year honor.

Hoffman had an early start to the Player of the Year race with top-tier play as a collegiate golfer at Northwest Missouri State University. She was the MIAA Conference Champion and finished tied for third in the NCAA DII Regional Championship in the Central Region. Her performance earned her an individual entry into the NCAA DII Women’s Golf National Championship, held at Fox Run Golf Club, MO.

Returning to Iowa for the summer, Hoffman began at the 13th IGA Women’s Four-Ball Championship at Pinnacle Country Club, IL, where she finished T6 with partner Kylie Carey, a teammate at Northwest Missouri State University.

She then competed at the 12th IGA Women’s Match Play Championship at Talons Golf, Ankeny. The four-seed after qualifying, Hoffman played her way into the final match, eventually finishing runner-up.

Hoffman placed T12 at the 99th Iowa Women’s Amateur Championship, held at Finkbine Golf Course, Iowa City. She then wrapped up her season at the 62nd IGA Women’s Club Team Championship at Elmcrest Country Club, Cedar Rapids. She handily won the individual gross title with a (-5) 65.

Hoffman returns to Northwest Missouri State for her junior season.

Laura Leszczynski seems to be a perennial on top of the Player of the Year standings. For the third consecutive year, Leszczynski is the Iowa Golf Association Senior Women’s Player of the Year.

Leszczynski, from Saint Mary’s, began her season at the Iowa Women’s Mid-Am Series Event #1 at Gates Park Golf Course, Waterloo. She finished second in the Stableford tournament. Leszczynski then finished runner-up at the 60th Women’s Forever 39 Match Play Championship, where she lost to Fiona Watson in the final match.

Together with partner Michelle Klein, Leszczynski dominated the 13th IGA Four-Ball Championship, winning by twelve strokes. The duo fired a (-4) 142 at Pinnacle Country Club, IL.

She finished in the Round of 32 at the 12th IGA Women’s Match Play Championship at Talons Golf, Ankeny. Leszczynski traveled to Finkbine Golf Course, Iowa City for the 99th Iowa Women’s Amateur Championship. There, she finished sixth in the Open Division.

She then competed in the Women’s Mid-Am Series Event #2 at Carroll Country Club, Carroll. She finished fifth with partner Leighann Larocca.

Leszczynski championed the 58th IGA Senior Women’s Amateur Championship, held at Prairie Links Golf Course, Waverly. She held on to beat Rosalie Kubesheski in a deciding playoff. Leszczynski’s win was her third consecutive Senior Women’s Amateur title.

Leszczynski placed T15 at the 62nd IGA Women’s Club Team Championship. She finished her summer at the Women’s Mid-Am Series Event #3 with partner Michelle Klein. Their side placed T5.

Leszczynski makes history with her third consecutive Player of the Year honor. She is the first Senior Women’s Player of the Year to wield such an accomplishment.

Bolte, Nelson top juniors in Iowa for 2023

Braeden Nelson (above right) is this year’s Iowa Golf Association Junior Boys’ Player of the Year. Nelson, of West Des Moines, nearly doubled the points of the next closest in the standings, previous Junior Boys’ Player of the Year Maxwell Tjoa.

Nelson finished runner-up at the 2023 IHSAA 4A State Tournament as a freshman at West Des Moines Valley High School. He finished the two days at +2, one stroke behind the leader, at Elmcrest Country Club, Cedar Rapids.

He placed fourth at the Iowa PGA Spring Junior Open and won the Iowa Boys Junior PGA Championship by a stunning six strokes. He carded a (-9) 135 over the three days at Gates Park Golf Course, Waterloo.

In Iowa Golf Association play, Nelson played his way into the Round of 16 at the IGA Match Play Championship at Talons Golf, Ankeny. He also finished T2 at the U.S. Amateur Qualifier at Coldwater Golf Links, Ames. After the playoff, Nelson earned the designation of second alternate.

Nelson played several American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) events throughout the summer, finishing in the top ten in three events over competition from around the nation.

He finished T10 at the Golf Performance Center Killington Junior Golf Championship. He carded a (+7) 220 total over the three rounds at Green Mountain National Golf Course, VT.

Nelson later competed at the AJGA Junior at Palouse Ridge in Pullman, WA. There, he finished T5 with a (-11) 205 tournament total.

Building on his momentum, Nelson tied for the low score at the Austin Minnesota Junior Championship Presented by Hormel Foods, a (-3) 213 total at Austin Country Club, MN. Nelson lost the playoff after three holes to Asher Vargas, of Spring, TX.

Nelson’s impressive summer is an exciting show for junior golf in Iowa. It heightens anticipation for his sophomore season and the upcoming IGA season.

A stellar year for Chloe Bolte (above left) propelled her to her Iowa Golf Association Junior Girls’ Player of the Year honor. Bolte, of Sumner, a rising high school junior at Sumner-Fredericksburg, was a constant among junior tournament leaderboards.

Bolte earned a staggering ten top-five finishes over the summer, beginning with her high school state tournament. Bolte won her second of back-to-back IGHSAU 2A State Tournaments by a whopping ten strokes over the two-round championship.

She placed fifth at the Principal Charity Classic Junior Open, T3 at the John Deere Classic Junior Open, and then fifth at the 13th IGA Women’s Four-Ball Championship with partner Mckenna Stackis.

Bolte returned to junior events placing 5th at the Iowa Girls Junior PGA Championship and then 3rd at the IGA Iowa Girls Junior Amateur. She continued by tying for the low score at the Galesburg Junior Open, placing runner-up after the tiebreaker.

She competed at the 99th Iowa Women’s Amateur Championship at Finkbine Golf Course, Iowa City, and placed 15th among many of Iowa’s best amateurs.

Bolte totaled (-5) 139 at the Iowa PGA Junior Tour Midsummer Classic, winning the two-day tournament at Briarwood Golf Club and Otter Creek Golf Course. She then placed second at the Iowa Junior Open, and then capped off her summer by winning the Iowa PGA Junior Tour Fall Classic.

Bolte also represented Iowa at the 55th Girls’ Four-State tournament against Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska, winning Iowa’s lone singles point.

Bolte has her junior season of high school golf to look forward to as she seeks a third-straight state tournament title.

Did you know – Ryder Cup has connection to Iowa, Wakonda Club

Zach Johnson (pictured above) will be carrying the flag for the United States, as well as his home state of Iowa, as captain of the United States team at the Ryder Cup this weekend in Rome, Italy.

A native of Cedar Rapids and member of the Iowa Golf Hall of Fame, a five-time Ryder Cup player and two-time major champion, Johnson hopes to experience winning the Ryder Cup as a player and captain.

There’s an Iowa connection to that Ryder Cup trophy. It’s a story that starts in 1922, when the Wakonda Club in Des Moines hosted an exhibition to show off its new golf course. Two of Great Britain’s best players, George Duncan and Abe Mitchell, played a match against Wakonda pro Jack Welsh and James Hubbell of Des Moines, the 1916 NCAA champion from Harvard.

Tickets were $1 “to help defray the expense of bringing the star golfers here,” the Des Moines Register reported.

Duncan, the 1920 Open Champion, and Mitchell beat Welsh and Hubbell, 3 and 1. Duncan was medalist with a 75.

“Both Duncan and Mitchell stated that (Wakonda) is a real test of golf throughout,” the Register reported.

American Walter Hagen played Wakonda in an exhibition shortly after Duncan and Mitchell’s appearance, and also shot 75. Hagen’s round was considered the course record because Duncan hadn’t putted out on every hole.

A dozen years before Mitchell came to Des Moines, he was hired by Samuel Ryder to be his personal golf instructor. Ryder, a seed merchant and workaholic, was advised by his doctor to take up the game after he had fallen ill. With Mitchell offering a helping hand, Ryder became obsessed with the game and soon had a single-digit handicap.

According to “Draw in the Dunes,” Neil Sabebiel’s book on the 1969 Ryder Cup, Ryder had witnessed a friendly match between teams of American and British stars in 1926. The Americans, including Hagen and Tommy Armour, were there to play in the Open championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes.

The British team, which included Duncan and Mitchell, easily won that 1926 match. Ryder wondered why a competition like this could not take place in the future. Over tea, Ryder, Duncan, Mitchell, Hagen and others put together a plan to make it happen.

They decided to call it the Ryder Cup since Samuel Ryder donated the money to pay for the trophy.On top of the gold chalice is a likeness of Mitchell, Ryder’s way of saying thanks for his personal instruction.

“Putting me on top of the cup is more distinction than I could ever earn,” Mitchell said.

The inaugural Ryder Cup was contested on June 3-4, 1927, at Worchester Country Club in Worchester, Mass.

Both Mitchell and Duncan played on three Ryder Cup teams. Duncan was a player-captain in 1929, when his team won.

Many years later, Johnson played the Wakonda Club many times as a member of Drake’s golf team. And now he’d like to bring that Ryder Cup trophy, Mitchell’s likeness included, back with him to the United States.

‘Up and Down’ the Iowa Golf Scene – Hard work pays off

Barb Thomas Whitehead (left) poses with daughters Emma, Sarah and husband Trent at their Phoenix home.

From Sibley to the LPGA Tour – Barb Thomas Whitehead Fulfills Her Dream

Growing up on one of Iowa’s venerable 9-hole golf courses, Barb Thomas Whitehead dreamed of one day playing the LPGA Tour. Years later, the Sibley native proved that thanks to hard work, determination, a great short game, faith and natural ability, the dreams of a small-town Iowa girl can come true.

Barb’s prodigious short game was honed as a youngster at the Sibley Golf Course.

Now 62 years of age, Whitehead recently reflected on a golf career that included distinguished achievement at the prep, collegiate and professional levels during an interview with Up and Down the Iowa Golf Scene.

“We lived two blocks away from the Sibley Golf Course,” Whitehead recalled about her early days of golf, when her parents introduced her to the game at age eight. “I’d strap clubs on my shoulder, ride my bike to the club and play until noon. In those days, the course had a rule that youngsters were required to play with an adult after 12 o’clock. I’d work on chipping and putting until an adult would show up for me to join up with.”

The Sibley course featured three par 3’s, two par 5’s, one sand trap and no driving range. An open field adjacent to the course served as the driving range where Whitehead would sharpen her ball striking skills while shagging her own practice balls.

“I played other sports, including the old six-on-six basketball format for Iowa girls, but golf was my true love,” said Whitehead. “I’d play from sunup to sundown. And after watching and being inspired by the Colgate-Dinah Shore tournament in junior high, I set my sights to play the LPGA Tour.”

Big dreams for a youngster coming from a small town and from a state that is not well known for producing touring professionals. Only a handful of native Iowans have competed on the LPGA Tour. They include Judy Kimball Simon of Sioux City, who captured three tournament victories highlighted by the 1962 LPGA Championship; Beth Bader, a Davenport native who played to the tour for ten years and amassed over a million dollars in winnings; and Waterloo’s Andy Cohn, who played the tour in the early to mid-1960’s before becoming a teaching professional. In addition, Dot Germain, who moved from Atlantic to Owensboro, KY at the age of 14, played the tour for 15 years.

Fast forward to the fall of 1983, following standout prep and collegiate careers, Whitehead’s dream of playing on the LPGA Tour suddenly came down to the final hole in the qualifying school at Sweetwater Country Club in Sugarland, TX, then home of the LPGA prior to its move to Daytona Beach. Once safely inside the cut line in the middle of her final round, the high stakes pressure mounted down the stretch.

The University of Tulsa captured the 1982 NCAA Championship, led by Barb Thomas Whitehead’s third place finish in the medalist standings.

“I started making bogies, and then a double bogey and all of a sudden the wheels are off,” recalled Whitehead. “I got to the last hole knowing I needed to make something happen. Go figure, I holed a bunker shot for a closing birdie, and qualified for the Tour on the number. Not bad for a kid who grew up on a course with one sand trap.”

Whitehead’s dramatic entry on the LPGA Tour was a springboard for an 18-year career that was highlighting with her victory at the 1995 Cup Noodles Hawaiian Ladies Open. That year, she also recorded her top finish in a major, a tie for sixth at the LPGA Championship and finished 31st on the money list. In 1996, Whitehead lost in a playoff at the State Farm Rail Classic and recorded six other top 10 finishes for her best-ever 24th ranking on the money list.

She noted the many contrasts in life on the Tour decades ago compared to today.

“The girls are playing for so much more money now, so much more exposure and pressure,” Whitehead said. “With progress comes a few negatives. It likely takes $100,000 in expenses to break even, and most players now come to the tour with ‘teams’ behind them, such as trainers, psychologists, and managers. I started my LPGA career with about $15,000 in local sponsorships.”

What a time to be alive Whitehead recalled.

“We had a special brand of camaraderie back then resembled a traveling band of gypsies” she said. “In many events, we stayed in private housing or doubled up with other players in hotels to save on expenses. During rain delays, we would gather together in the clubhouse for hours. On off days we would go to the movies or play tennis together. We played in many cities with the population ranging from 25,000 to 50,000 where we were the biggest ticket in town. There were great crowds and signs all over welcoming the LPGA and its players.”

Barb is all smiles as she hoists the trophy for capturing the 1996 Cup Noodles Hawaiian Ladies Open.

Whitehead knew there was something special in the making during her formative years when her game advanced quickly and she started to shoot par in her early teens on the Sibley course. She went on to capture the 1978 and 1979 Iowa Girls Junior and Iowa High School Girls High School golf championships and qualified for the 1979 U.S. Women’s Open, won by Luverne, MN, native Jerilyn Britz. She added the Iowa Women’s Amateur titles in 1979, 1981 and 1982. Despite a notable prep career, Whitehead flew mostly below the collegiate recruiting radar with just a handful of offers. She joined the Iowa State University Women’s Golf Team, coached by Hawarden native Joan Gearhart, and made an instant impact.

“I had a great experience at Iowa State,” said Whitehead, who was named All-American in 1980. “My decision to leave was based on wanting to give myself the best opportunity to play professionally and work on my game year-round.”

Enter The University of Tulsa, a perennial power in AIAW and NCAA women’s golf circles. She joined legendary coach Dale McNamara’s squad, a team populated with many future LPGA players. The Golden Hurricane captured the 1982 NCAA championship with Thomas finishing third in the medalist standings, as well as the AIAW title. Her teammates were the likes of future LPGA professionals Kathy Baker, Dee Dee Lasker, LuLong Hartley and Jody Rosenthal.

“Our team was so deep that we had to requalify for the next tournament if you finished outside of the top three and all five of our squad members played the tour,” she said.

While in college, Whitehead’s life would also take a dramatic turn spiritually. It was teammate Baker, who would later go on to capture the 1985 U.S. Women’s Open, who helped open a door that would change Whitehead’s life.

“Kathy came back from a Bible study and posed a question to me that I’d never heard before,” she said. “She asked if I died today, where would I spend eternity. I became a follower of Christ, and it changed the trajectory of my life.”

Her personal faith became the guidepost for many life choices, including service to others. For many years, Whitehead spearheaded pro-amateur fundraising golf events for two special charities, the Osceola Regional Health Center in Sibley (where her father was a physician) and Camp Foster at Lake Okoboji, an organization close to her heart. About a dozen LPGA professionals would join her for those events which raised tens of thousands of dollars.

Today, Whitehead resides in Phoenix, AZ area with her husband Trent and daughters Sarah and Emma. She credits the Iowa Women’s Golf Association for providing opportunities to play tournament golf and spark her competitive spirit.

She also offers younger players the following advice.

“Work hard on your short game, especially shots around the green to save strokes – a missed putt counts the same as a three-hundred-yard drive. Enjoy and respect the game and have fun.”

“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

McCoy ready to lead U.S. Team at 49th Walker Cup

(Copyright USGA/John Mummert)

This year’s Walker Cup will be a centennial celebration at St. Andrews. One hundred years ago, the second edition of the biennial competition between the United States and a team from Great Britain and Ireland was contested over the Old Course. And the two events a century apart nearly had a former Iowa Amateur champion involved.

Mike McCoy of Des Moines, who played on the 2015 Walker Cup team and is the 2023 captain, won the Iowa Amateur six times.

After being an alternate in 1922, Rudy Knepper of Sioux City was named to the 1923 Walker Cup team on Feb. 15, 2023. According to a story in the Des Moines Register the following day, “Rudy has petitioned the board of directors of Princeton University, where he is a student, for a leave of absence which it is believed will be granted.”

But Knepper, who won the Iowa Amateur for a third straight year in 1922 and also won the Trans-Mississippi championship that summer, was denied that waiver by Princeton and had to withdraw from the competition. The same thing happened to Bobby Jones, whose waiver request was turned down by Georgia Tech.

McCoy is the second Iowan to represent his country in the competition as a player and captain. Dr. Edgar Updegraff of Boone played on Walker Cup teams in 1963, 1965 and 1969. He served as captain in 1975.

Clark Burroughs, who attended high school in Waterloo, played on the 1985 Walker Cup team.

The Walker Cup of one of the four elite team events in golf. The others are the Ryder Cup, the Curtis Cup and the Solheim Cup.

Zach Johnson of Cedar Rapids will become the first Iowan to captain a Ryder Cup team when the United States squares off against Europe in Rome Sept. 29-Oct. 1. Johnson is also the only Iowan to represent his country as a player in the Ryder Cup, making the team in 2006, 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016.

The Curtis Cup, like the Walker Cup, brings together the nation’s elite amateur players. Lucile Robinson Mann of Des Moines played on the 1934 team. Ann Casey Johnstone of Mason City was selected three times, in 1958, 1960 and 1962. Phyllis Otto Germain of Atlantic was named to the team in 1946. But that competition was not held because of World War II.

No Iowan has ever played in the Solheim Cup, but the state does have a connection to the event. The 2017 Solheim Cup was played at the Des Moines Golf and Country Club.

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McCoy, Johnson humbled to represent United States in upcoming competitions

Mike McCoy (left) and Zach Johnson

Mike McCoy was 10 years old when he got his first job, as a caddy at the Wakonda Club in Des Moines. Zach Johnson was 13 when he got his start in the bag room at the Cedar Rapids Country Club.

Both have gone on to achieve great things in the game of golf. Johnson is the best professional this state has ever produced. McCoy is the most accomplished amateur golfer in Iowa history.

And now they’ll carry the flag for their home state at golf’s summit this fall. Johnson will captain the United States Ryder Cup team against Europe Sept. 29-Oct. 1 at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club in Rome, Italy. McCoy will captain the United States against a team from Great Britain and Ireland in the Walker Cup at the Old Course at St. Andrews Sept. 2-3.

“It’s crazy, if you really get down to it,” said Johnson, a two-time major champion, five-time Ryder Cup player and 12-time winner on the PGA Tour. “Twenty years ago, what’s the likelihood of this happening? Now given what Mike’s done, and how relevant he still is in the amateur game and how respected he is, there’s no surprise there. And on my side, when your peers say you’re supposed to do it, you do it. But from a 30,000-foot view it looks ridiculous.”

McCoy calls it a remarkable story.

“To have two guys that started from pretty humble backgrounds ending up captaining the two most important competitions of the year, it’s pretty amazing,” McCoy said. “I think Zach feels the way I do, that it’s really the greatest honor, bestowed on you by your peers and the governing bodies in the game, to select us to lead our country’s efforts. It’s just a huge honor.”

McCoy, 60, joins Boone native Ed Updegraff as the only Iowans to play in and captain a Walker Cup team. McCoy played in the 2015 Walker Cup, just one highlight in a distinguished career. He’s won 35 Iowa Golf Association-sponsored tournaments, including six Iowa Amateurs. He’s been the state’s Amateur of the Year 11 times and the Senior Amateur of the Year three times.

His success beyond Iowa includes the 2013 USGA Mid-Amateur, which earned him a spot in the 2014 Masters. He won the Senior British Amateur in 2022 and has twice been low amateur at the U.S. Senior Open.
Johnson, 47, is the only Iowa native to play in a Ryder Cup (2006, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016). He said his depth of experience in that pressure cooker will make him a better captain.

“Every experience in that arena is going to be beneficial,” said Johnson, who also served as a vice captain three times.

Even though the U.S. got thumped in 2006 at the K Club in Ireland, the rookie experience was pivotal in Johnson’s career. Especially the first match.

Zach and Chad Campbell were 2 down to Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley in their foursomes match heading to the par-5 16th hole. Campbell’s drive left Johnson 260 yards to a green that required a carry over water and was just 12 yards wide in the front.

As Johnson pondered the shot, captain Tom Lehman approached and said, “You’ve got the shot. Hit it.”
He laced a 3-wood to 20 feet, and it resulted in a birdie to cut the deficit in half.

“It was nerve wracking,” Johnson says now. “You want the ball. You want the last shot. But it was very difficult. If you’re playing conservative golf, it’s not one you do.”

Johnson made a 14-foot for birdie putt on the 17th hole that extended the match, then made a 4-footer for birdie on the last hole to win the hole and earn a halve.

“He played like a champion,” Lehman said.

Photo courtesy of The R&A / Getty Images

Lehman predicted that Johnson’s success in the clutch would pay dividends in major championships down the road. Zach won the Masters the following spring, added the Open Championship in 2015 (pictured right) and has nine Top 10 finishes in majors overall including a tie for third in the 2010 PGA and a tie for eighth in the 2016 U.S. Open.

“I’ve said it to the young guys who have made these teams, the Presidents Cup included, that when you’re called upon to execute, under these highly-weighted circumstances, and you come through, it’s going to make you a better player,” Johnson said. “I still talk about that shot (on the 16th) as one of the best shots I’ve ever hit in golf.”

His time as a player and vice captain have given Johnson a taste of what he faces when he makes his six at-large picks and then puts together his pairings. He’ll also lean on others for feedback.

“It’s a team when we compete, and a team when we’re trying to make a team,” Johnson said. “There’s volatility this year.”

Picking his team includes the uneasy alliance between the PGA Tour and LIV, as well as a weighted point system in elevated events that can rapidly alter the team standings. The selection process for the 2023 Ryder Cup was already determined when the PGA Tour added elevated events.

“I think it’s my responsibility, at this point, to utilize the template that’s been given to me, one that’s efficient and effective,” Zach said. “I want to win, but I want them in a position so they can be who they are. That’s my role.”

The bottom line is that Johnson will rely on all his experiences, including his marketing degree from Drake University, to guide him in the process.

“When I think about the Ryder Cup I smile, because it’s still the best thing I’ve ever been associated with competitively,” he said. “I flipping love team sports.”

The fact that he’s representing his country is another reason this is a special moment in McCoy’s career.

“I didn’t have a chance to serve in the military,” he said. “But this is a chance to represent my country, on an international stage. I just know, from the opportunity I had when I played (in the Walker Cup), the feeling you get inside when that flag goes up and they play the National Anthem. The lump in the throat you get when you’re wearing the red, white and blue, and your golf bag has USA on it, and you’re proud. But you know it carries a lot of responsibility.”

Mike McCoy during the flag raising ceremony at the 2015 Walker Cup at Royal Lytham & St. Annes G.C. in Lytham St Annes, Lancashire on Friday, Sept. 11, 2015. (Copyright USGA/John Mummert)

Mike does have some experience at St. Andrews. Most recently, he played in the 2018 Senior Open Championship there. He also played in two St. Andrews Links Trophy tournaments over the Old Course, spent last year on site for the Open Championship and has played the course numerous times as a member of the R and A. He’s also picked Johnson’s brain about the course where Zach won the 2015 Open Championship.

“I’ve studied it a lot,” Mike said.

McCoy’s days as the Walker Cup draws near are far from routine. On one recent day, he had to address whether or not his players wanted launch monitors for practice sessions and dealt with a proposal to change the team uniforms for the final day of competition.

“It seems like each day there are more and more things bubbling to the surface that you’ve got to deal with,” McCoy said. “Some of them are important, some of them are not.”

But determining who will make up his 10-man team is consuming most of Captain McCoy’s attention.

“We’re blessed with a lot of great players in America, and it’s a deep bench,” McCoy said. “The most difficult thing is going to have to leave a few of these good players behind. They’re all just outstanding people and they’ve got great support systems. That’s been the most rewarding part of all this.”

As he’s observed possible team members in competition, McCoy has been impressed with their character and deportment across the board.

“When you get them together in a team room the youth comes out,” McCoy said. “But when they put their shoes on and they grab their golf bag, they take on a whole different persona. They’re mature beyond their years once they get to the golf course.”

The level of talent he has to choose from is just as impressive.

“Three or four of these guys are going to be big stars on the tour, there’s just no doubt about it,” McCoy predicted. “The state and quality of amateur golf in America has never been better.”

Getting players who fit together is McCoy’s ultimate challenge.

“Quite frankly that’s what I’m most nervous about, getting it right,” McCoy added. “When I’m out there observing, that’s what I’m trying to figure out. Who are they going to complement? I’m going to have guys that like to play fast, guys that like to play slow, guys that are better drivers than others, guys who are better wedge players. Trying to put those pieces together is probably the biggest part of my job.”

Handling a myriad of personalities will also be important. Some players might want McCoy with them during a match to settle them down. Others might want to be left alone.

“I told all of them that if somebody goes 2 down I’m going to be there, whether they like it or not,” McCoy said. “I’m just trying to get it in their heads that we want to win every point. We’ve got to go out there with that tenacity.

That’s what I’m trying to instill.”

McCoy was on a losing team in 2015, and he doesn’t want a repeat performance as a captain.

“They don’t want that feeling that I had,” he said.

McCoy’s final team picks will be made after the U.S. Amateur concludes August 20 at Cherry Hills Country Club. The champion will earn one of those picks if he hasn’t already been named to the team.

McCoy has proudly carried the name captain since the USGA selected him on March 9, 2022.

“I’m ready to carry that responsibility,” he said.

Brown wins 2023 Waterloo Open in playoff, Meyer snags Amateur Division

The 2023 Waterloo Open was contested over Thursday, July 20 through Sunday, July 23 in Waterloo. The Pro-Am was played July 20 at Irv Warren, the first two rounds of the Professional Division were played over July 21 and July 22 at Gates Park and South Hills, respectively, and final rounds were played on July 23 again at Irv Warren for those who made the cut.

In the Professional Division, which was contested over three rounds, Evan Brown of Chadds Ford, PA won after a two-hole playoff in which he beat Harry Hillier of Overland Park, KS. The two contestants shot (-21) 195. Michael Visacki from Sarasota, FL and Kelly Harper from Greenville, SC tied for third at (-20) 196.

Des Moines’ Trip Kinney led the Iowans in the Professional Division, placing T15 with a (-16) 200.

In the Open Amateur division, which was contested over three rounds, Cedar Falls’ Owen Sawyer claimed a four-stroke victory at (-14) 202. Cedar Falls’ Luke Meyer finished second with (-10) 206. Glenn Walls, from Harrisburg, SD, finished third with (-8) 208.

In the Senior Amateur division, Derek Hileman of Grain Valley, MO, Jeff Wachter of Asbury, and Joe Bates of Albia tied for first at (-1) 143.

In the Super Senior Amateur flight, West Des Moines’ Bob Brooks won handily by 18 strokes over the field, finishing with (-3) 213.

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Imsland, Kerrigan win IGA Women’s Mid-Am Series Event at Carroll CC

From left – Laura Leszczynski, Leighann Larocca, Christi Imsland and Karli Kerrigan.

The second event of the IGA Women’s Mid-Am Series was contested on Saturday, July 22 at Carroll Country Club, Carroll. The shamble tournament, with gross best ball and net four ball prizes, was won by the side of Karli Kerrigan and Christi Imsland. The team fired a gross and net (-8) 63, winning the gross tournament by three strokes and tying for the lead in the net tournament.

The teams of Rose Kubesheski and Michelle Klein and Laura Leszczynski and Leighann Larocca also shared the lead in the net tournament. Kubesheski and Klein placed second in the gross tournament at (-5) 66, winning the tiebreaker over Fiona Watson and Tish Boothe who also carded (-5) 66.

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