Featuring 100 Women: Roots of Greatness

Ruby & Joy Chou, 2022

Sibling Rivalries and Family Legacies Elevate Iowa’s Golf Championships

In the heartland of Iowa, amidst the gentle rolling greens and under the expansive skies, a tradition of excellence in golf has been cultivated, passed down from mothers to daughters, and among siblings bonded by both blood and a shared love for the game. Within the annals of Iowa’s golfing history, tales abound of familial bonds intertwining with the pursuit of victory on the fairways and greens of the state’s esteemed tournaments. From the Iowa Women’s Amateur Championship to other prestigious golfing events, the echoes of success resonate not only with individual triumphs but also with the collective achievements of mothers, daughters, and siblings who have left an unforgettable mark on the Iowa golfing landscape.

Cedar Falls is home to many of the state’s best golfers, and quite possibly the best collective family of golfers in the Bermels. The Bermels have called Cedar Falls home for more than 30 years and have raised five children immersed in golf. Twins Hailey and Hannah had plenty of competition at home with an older brother, Jacob, and sister, Abby, and younger brother, Ben. All five of the Bermel children played collegiate golf at the University of Northern Iowa and were coached by their father and PGA Professional, John. This upbringing shaped each into the fierce competitors they are today.

Hannah and her twin sister Hailey led Cedar Falls High School to two Class 5A State Titles during their high school careers. Additionally, Hannah placed second at State individually in 2016. While playing collegiately at UNI, she had several top-ten finishes along with two tournament wins. She also won four consecutive Missouri Valley Conference Scholar-Athlete honors and four First Team MVC All-Conference honors. Given the depth of talent in the MVC, these accolades were not easy to come by.

When looking at the leaderboard for an IGA Women’s Championship, one is almost always going to see Hannah near the top. Over the last six Iowa Women’s Amateurs, Bermel has placed in the top ten four times. Hannah has come out on top at two IGA Championships over her career – the 2019 Women’s Four-Ball at Pheasant Ridge (with sister Hailey) and the 2023 Women’s Match Play at Talons Golf. As she goes further into her golf career, don’t be surprised see her name in contention each week.

Lisa (Horton) Snyder had her fair share of run-ins at the Iowa Women’s Amateur, but none more notable than the 1995 championship. Leading by two through 36 holes, Horton quickly found herself joined at the top after just the first hole. After a back-and-forth battle to the end, Horton remained in a tie for the lead as the trio turned to the back nine at Sunnyside Country Club. A couple of late stumbles ended her chances at lifting the Fladoos trophy, but her family legacy at the top women’s event Iowa has to offer, wasn’t over yet.

In 2017, Snyder watched in awe as her then 15-year-old daughter Britta did what she came so close to doing. In a field full of the state’s top female amateurs, the high school freshman made Hyperion Field Club bow down to her length off the tee and pinpoint accuracy from the fairway as she ran away with the title. The Horton legacy finally etched its way onto the Fladoos trophy after all. Even if it does say Snyder.

In the early 1990’s, more than 30 years after the Fladoos sisters left their mark on the IowaWomen’s Amateur, a new set of sisters set out to leave their mark. Lia and Becky Biehl of Keokuk took charge of the event from 1990 through 1993 as they combined to win three titles. Kicking off the incredible stretch for the Biehl’s was Lia as she captured the 1990 Iowa Women’s Amateur at Clinton Country Club with a blistering 12-under-par 54-hole total. Her second round 69 was highlighted by eight birdies which included six straight, and two chip-ins. At the time, she commented, “It was outrageous. You don’t expect to chip in twice during the same round”.

Her confidence in putting together three good rounds that week in Clinton stay

ed with her, and she rode the momentum into the 1991 Iowa Women’s Amateur at Beaver Hills Country Club. With all eyes on the defending champion, masking her nerves was the toughest task she faced all week.Leading by three with a trio of holes remaining in the final round, Biehl bogey

ed the 16th bringing her closest competitor, Edith Dekock, within striking distance. After Biehl tapped in for a bogey four on the par three 17th, the only thing standing between Dekock and a one-stroke deficit was a two-foot par putt. The slick side hill putt missed on the low side and Biehl, admittedly, let out a brief sigh of relief. “How could I not be relieved?” Biehl stated after the round. Pouring in a five-foot par putt on the 18th was the last thing Biehl needed to do to secure her

second straight Iowa Women’s Amateur. Having settled her nerves at the right time, Biehl did just that, and once again left the rest of the field looking up wondering what could have been.

Becky Biehl watched on as her sister Lia won back-to-back Iowa Women’s Amateur championships. Before the 1993 Iowa Women’s Amateur, only one set of sisters, Sharon and Jacque, had ever been victorious. But following three days at Oneota Country Club in July of that year, the list grew to two. Precision off the tee and an impressive short game paid off for Biehl a

s she left little doubt that she was the best female player in the state that week. Opening the championship with a round of 73, she led by one. Posting her second-straight 73, she led by three. By the time she put the finishing touches on her final round 77, her lead had ballooned to eight.

A testy opening nine 40 left Biehl wondering if she was letting everyone back into the championship. Early bogeys and wayward putts left her feeling uneasy as she made the turn, but after draining a five-footer for par on the 13th, her confidence slowly came back. Playing her final six holes in one-under didn’t hurt either.  Lapping the field by eight strokes, it was the largest margin of victory in the championship since Barb Thomas won it in 1982 by 14.

The Chou sisters came to the United States in search of taking their games to the next level. Honing their skills at Iowa State, both quickly made their presence known at the Iowa Women’s Amateur. Joy, the older of the two, was destined for greatness at the Iowa Women’s Amateur. In her first appearance at the state’s most prestigious event, she finished in a tie for second. The following year, in 2020, she captured the Fladoos trophy dramatically with a birdie on the 54th hole to secure a one-stroke victory over little sister Ruby. Three months of quarantine had Chou itching to get back to competitive golf leading up to the championship. Trying to get back on track and have fun paid off for the elder Chou as she closed with one-under 70 for her lowest round of the week. Taking control of the championship at the mid-way point of the final round, it looked like she would cruise to the 18th to capture the title. A double-bogey on the 10th brought Ruby back into the mix but not for long. Stringing together seven straight pars, Chou steadied the ship en route to her first of two Iowa Women’s Amateur titles.

Returning in 2021, Chou left little doubt that she was the best player in the state. Returning to the historic Dubuque Golf and Country Club, she cruised to a nine-stroke victory in the star-studded field. Posting 75-73 to open the event, she entered the final round with a two-stroke lead. Finding her groove on the back-nine, she watched as her lead swelled to nine and she quickly left the field struggling to close the gap. In capturing her second straight victory, she joined the short list of successful title defenses in Iowa Women’s Amateur history. Chou turned pro the following year, and in 2023, made history as she qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble Beach. Though she would go on to miss the cut, she joined the exclusive club of Iowans to tee it up at an LPGA Major Championship.

Living up to your family name can be a big ask. Especially when your older sister captures the Fladoos Family Trophy in consecutive years. To Ruby Chou, however, it was just another tournament on her schedule that she wanted to capture. Ruby started her impressive postseason run in 2022 with a top-20 finish at the Big 12 Conference Championship. Her run continued as she made Iowa State Women’s Golf history by posting the lowest 54-hole score in an NCAA Regional by a Cyclone. Ruby shot 211 for the three days, highlighted by a Cyclone all-time Regional low round of 68 on day one. Her stellar play earned her low-individual honors at the NCAA Stanford Regionals which included a spot at the 2022 NCAA Division I National Championship.

Chou rode the early spring momentum into the summer, winning the 98th Iowa Women’s Amateur at Cedar Rapids Country Club by two strokes over Iowa State teammate, Warda Amira. Cedar Rapids Country Club proved to be a difficult test for the field, but her positive outlook helped her handle it with ease. Her Iowa Women’s Amateur win kept the Fladoos Trophy with the Chou family. It marked the first time in tournament history that sisters captured the event title for three consecutive years. They also joined the Fladoos’ and Biehl’s as the only sisters to capture the elusive championship. Joy’s experience helped Ruby earn the title as the elder delivered pep talks over the phone each night of the tournament. Although Joy told Ruby she would not be able to make it to the tournament at all, a surprise visit on the final green made Ruby’s victory even more special. All of Ruby’s accomplishments in 2022 culminated with her securing the title of IGA Women’s Player of the Year.

Ottumwa has a storied background of raising some of Iowa’s top golfers. It was home to six-time Iowa Women’s Amateur Champion Corkey Nydle. It was also home to the Paulson twins Kristin and Sarah. The duo, who were largely self-taught, admit that Ottumwa Country Club served as a babysitter growing up. It paid off for the pair as they each went on to play golf at the collegiate level. With both opting to stay in state for college, they went their separate ways as Kristin enrolled at Iowa State and Sarah at Central.

Kristin more than left her mark on the Iowa Women’s Amateur. A two-time champion, sheset records that may never be broken during her 2011 victory at Sunnyside Country Club. But before she could claim her second, she had to secure her first. In 2010, Finkbine Golf Course in Iowa City played host as the top females in the state teed it up. Even in the town of the Hawkeyes, Paulson felt right at home in her cardinal and gold. Opening the championship with a four-over-par 76, Paulson bounced back with a one-

under-par 71 in the second round to keep herself within striking distance. Trailing 36-hole leader Rachel Hanigan by two, Paulson opened the final round with back-to-back birdies to assume control of the lead. Another birdie on the front helped offset her lone bogey helping Paulson turn in two under, holding a four-shot lead over her playing partners. Coasting through the back nine in what felt like a formality, sealed the deal for Paulson. Her triumph at Finkbine completed the rare Iowa triple crown: a high school state title, the Iowa Junior Girls’ title, and the Iowa Women’s Amateur title.

Sunnyside Country Club in Waterloo has often played favorites to the defending champion. 2011 was no different when Kristin Paulson began her title defense on the par-71 layout. Opening with two-under, 69, Paulson trailed first-round leader Lisa Meshke by one. Round two, however, was a different story. Paulson turned the country club into her personal playground, splitting fairways, firing at pins, and playing with not a care in the world. By the time it was all said and done, she set the 18-hole Iowa Women’s Amateur record with a nine-under-par 63. Her one-shot deficit was flipped on its head, and molded into a ten-shot lead with one round remaining. Closing with her worst round of the tournament, one-under-par 70, Paulson never relinquished double-digit lead. Her 54-hole total of 14-under-par, 202 broke the previous record of 207 set in 2004 by Jennie Arseneault. It still holds to this day.

Des Moines Golf & Country Club opened its gates in 1994 to the Iowa Women’s Amateur. With one of the state’s best venues on display, it was shaping up to the quite the championship. Ames’ Paige Hoefle had just completed her final year at the University of Alabama and the previous summer watched as her brother Bill captured the Iowa Amateur in a rained-shortened championship at Beaver Hills. Unlike Bill, it would take three rounds for Paige to be named the Iowa Women’s Amateur champion. Opening with the only under-par round of the day, Hoefle led by six. Her lead held steady after a second-round 75 and it looked like it was all but over. Early in the final round, her lead had dwindled to four.

A momentous bogey on the par-four seventh was all it would take for her to calm her nerves. “Before I started today, I told myself I could afford to make a couple bogeys” Hoefle later said. She was right. A birdie at the eighth grew the lead to five and she never looked back. Completing the wire-to-wire victory with a closing 76, she and Bill made history as the first brother-sister duo to capture both the Iowa Amateur and Iowa Women’s Amateur.

Next Week on Women’s Wednesday…

High school golf is where most players get their start. Explore some of the state’s most dominant high school players just in time for the 2024 IGHSAU Championships tee off.

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