Iowa women’s golfer finds motivation from unlikely source for strong finish

After finding out that she may not be the low Hawkeye in last weekend’s UNI Spring Invite, Klara Wildhaber finished with two consecutive birdies to share that honor.

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Contributed.

Chris Werner, Sports Reporter


Freshman Klara Wildhaber has been a consistent weapon for the Iowa women’s golf team this season — securing top-10 finishes in four of Iowa’s six tournaments so far this season — but her scorecards can be messy.

While the UNI Spring Invite last weekend marked Wildhaber’s first double-bogey-free tournament of the year, her final nine holes at Pheasant Ridge Golf Course in Cedar Falls were anything but smooth.

Playing in the final group Sunday after beginning the final round in third place, three shots off the lead, the Swiss lefty was streaking in the wrong direction.

After bogeying four straight holes in the middle of her final nine, sitting at nine-over-par for the tournament, Wildhaber had all but fallen out of contention to win the individual title. As she walked to the 17th tee box, Wildhaber needed something to push her over the finish line.

The motivation Wildhaber needed came from assistant coach Michael Roters.

“I was about to get super down on myself and then Mike showed up, and he was the last person I wanted to see,” Wildhaber said. “He’s like ‘how are the two leaders playing?’ and I was like ‘I don’t know, they’re playing really good compared to me, why?’” and he’s like ‘Oh because Morgan [Goldstien] shot plus one today. And I’m just wondering if she has a chance to win.’ I kind of look at Mike and I’m like ‘I have to shoot birdie, birdie to tie with her?’”

Wildhaber needed to shoot just that on her final two holes of the day to match her teammate’s seven-over-par total and tie for the low Hawkeye of the tournament — an accomplishment Iowa head coach Megan Menzel has decided to recognize this year.

RELATED: Iowa women’s golf wins UNI Spring Invitational

Each tournament week, Menzel creates a pennant that is awarded to the Iowa player or players with the best score. The golfers keep the pennants on their lockers.

“I wish I would have started [giving a pennant to the lowest scorer each week] a little bit sooner,” Menzel said. “We kind of started to think about it during the COVID period. I just thought it would be a cool way to recognize them. I knew that we were going to have some good healthy internal competition in our team. I think, as coaches, you try a lot of different things. You’re never quite sure what’s going to stick or be a little extra motivation. I’m really glad that they like it, and it’s been a good thing.”

Heading into the home stretch of Sunday’s round Wildhaber knew exactly where she stood on the pennant leaderboard and she was going to do all she could not to fall out of a tie at the top.

“I have two of them, Jacque [Galloway] has one, Morgan has two, and Lea [Zeitler] has one,” Wildhaber said. “In my head, I was just like ‘there’s no way I can let Morgan get the pennant and be ahead of me.’ I thought, ‘I’m not going to win this tournament, at least I need to fight for that pennant.’”

After birdieing the par-five eighth hole, her 17th hole of the day, Wildhaber’s quest to maintain a share of the pennant lead came down to a nine-foot putt on the final hole.

“I remember walking up to the green and Morgan was watching me,” Wildhaber said. “I look at Morgan and I say, ‘this puts for you,’ and she kind of smiles. I hit it pretty firm, and it went straight in. Morgan was laughing and she came to give me a hug and she’s like ‘there was no doubt in my mind that you weren’t going to make that put. As soon as I saw you walk on that green, I knew you were going to make it.’”

Both Wildhaber and Goldstein finished in the runner-up position, one shot behind Northern Iowa’s Sydney Eaton, who won the individual competition.

Wildhaber will try to pull ahead of Goldstein in the pennant race this weekend as the Hawkeyes travel to Bloomington, Indiana, for the Indiana Spring Invitational Saturday and Sunday.

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