Nick Nelson gave himself a huge belated birthday present and helped end Marquette’s fall golf season with a bang at the Wendy’s Kiawah Classic in Kiawah Island, S.C.
The sophomore golfer won the event with a three-round 6-under-par score of 210, two strokes better than South Carolina’s 2013 PING Honorable Mention All-American Matthew NeSmith.
Nelson’s first-place finish on the individual leaderboard led Marquette to a runner-up overall finish in the field of 18 teams. It was the first NCAA Tournament win by a Golden Eagle since 2009 and the team’s best finish of the fall.
“My play off the tee was as good as it’s ever been,” Nelson said. “When you take the pressure off early you can give yourself a lot of good chances at birdies.”
The Decorah, Iowa native set the pace for his outstanding showing with a 2-under-par 70 in the first round. His second round rocketed him ahead of the pack, as his score of 67 was the lowest round of the entire tournament.
It all came down to the final round where Nelson was able to hold on and secure the victory with a 1-over-par 73.
“I was definitely nervous throughout the round, so it was nice having the coaches there to talk out strategy,” Nelson said. “The way golf is set up, it’s very rare to win when you’re playing against 90 other people. It’s great to know that you can win at a high level like this. I think we learned as a team that this is something we can do every week.”
Coach Steve Bailey heaped praise on Nelson’s performance, claiming “There’s no one who loves the game more.”
“I couldn’t be happier for Nick,” Bailey said. “He truly comes to practice every day and works to get better. From a coaches perspective there’s nothing more rewarding than seeing a player with his work ethic have the results he did. It’s also great motivation to the other guys on the team to see a guy who puts that time and effort in succeed.”
Junior Brandon Cloete finished second for the Golden Eagles in a tie for 26th place with a score of 224 after starting in the teams’ fifth spot. Four strokes behind him was sophomore Patrick Sanchez, who placed in a tie for 41st.
Freshman Henry Klongland’s final round 73 provided another highlight. Bailey said Klongland struggled in the first two rounds and at the start of the third, but rallied to birdie on his final four holes. But the week clearly belonged to Nelson, the only Marquette golfer to finish under-par in any round.
Bailey was impressed with his team’s overall performance, particularly in the final round. Windy conditions even gave Marquette a slight advantage, according to Bailey, as the Golden Eagles are used to playing on courses where “par is a good score.”
“We beat a lot of good teams this week – four or five teams were in the top-60 in the country,” Bailey said. “It was a great way to cap off the fall season and give us some excitement and more motivation to keep it going in the winter.”