I played 18 holes with Iowa All-Big Ten golfer and 2021 conference champ Mac McClear

McClear gave me a stroke a hole in an effort to level the playing field — turned out that wasn’t enough.


Gabby Drees

Mac McClear examines a club before a round with Daily Iowan reporter Chris Werner at Finkbine Golf Course in Iowa City.

Chris Werner, Summer Sports Editor

As we returned to the Nagle Family Clubhouse after finishing our Tuesday round at Finkbine Golf Course — Iowa’s home course — I asked Mac McClear, the 2021 Big Ten individual champion, two-time first-team All-conference selection, and purest ball striker in Iowa City, how he thought he played.

“Pretty good,” he replied.

McClear’s 5-under-par 67 may have been just “pretty good” by his standards but in the eyes of his opponent for the day — a washed-up high school player who can still make par from time to time and is usually happy with a bogey — it was the best ball striking I’d seen up close. Many of McClear’s magnificent divots flew considerably straighter than my golf balls.

From the first tee on, it seemed like McClear’s ball was on a string from tee to green. Just for context, McClear stepped up to the first teeing ground, teed it up, took one or two practice swings with the driver — his only warmup — and rifled a drive about 330 yards down the fairway. He described his first swing as “slow and stiff” but I’m not sure if he knows what those words mean because I can tell you there was nothing slow or stiff about the move.

I then proceeded to whack one well left, nearly onto the driving range, and McClear kindly offered a mulligan. I accepted and my second ball was better — high, straight, and struck solidly. When we located my second ball in the fairway, I was roughly 120 yards behind my competitor.

That is about all I’m going to say about my own game, I don’t want to recount every, or really any of my shots, and you certainly don’t want to read about them.

All I’ll say is we agreed that McClear would give me a stroke per hole — if he made par and I made bogey we tied — and we’d play 18 holes of match play. I also played one tee in front of him. McClear closed me out on the 16th green. He made more birdies than I made pars. That’s something I’m still coming to terms with.

The first of McClear’s four birdies came on the par-5 second hole and it was a tap-in.

The rising senior, wearing pants on an 80-degree mid-morning just like a professional, played the 537-yard hole to perfection and narrowly missed about a 15-foot eagle putt after a 240-yard 4-iron found the green. I can’t remember the last time I had an eagle putt.

McClear remained at 1-under-par until the fifth hole while I was busy adding bogeys to a scorecard that required some serious math.

Once we got to the fifth tee, McClear piped another drive roughly 310 yards — mind you, he said he was still warming up —  and I tried to hit a stinger driver  — couldn’t tell you why, maybe because it’s British Open week — then the Hawkeyes’ best player asked if he could also play the hole left-handed. I said that was fine and he nonchalantly outdrove me with my own driver. His baby draw found the fairway about 20 yards past where my ball sat in the right rough. I’m not going to lie, that hurt.

Long story short, McClear picked up his second birdie of the day right-handed and tied me with a bogey left-handed which included a better flop shot with my 60-degree wedge than I’ve ever hit with it.

As we walked off the fifth green, McClear was already 3 up.

But then McClear gave me an opening. He hit the par-5 sixth green in two but three-putted for par and I lipped in a two-foot par putt to cut his lead to two.

He three-putted again on the seventh hole for a bogey and I did the same to get back to just 1 down.

I was still trailing on the ninth hole until I somehow hit my approach shot five feet away from the pin. Of course, I missed the birdie putt but tapped in for par to draw even in the match.

On the front nine, McClear missed only one fairway and had either a birdie or eagle putt on every hole. I hit more chip shots on the first hole than he did on the first nine.

After stopping for food at the turn — I opted for the club wrap while McClear went for the aptly named birdie wrap — McClear missed his second and final fairway of the day on hole 10. He missed it well right but calmly hit a punch shot through a gap in some low-hanging branches, nipped a crisp, spinny chip onto the green, and knocked in the par putt. I made a bogey from the middle of the fairway like normal.

The 11th hole is another par-5, so as we waited to tee off, all I could think was that I needed to make par to keep the match tied because McClear was going to add another tap-in birdie to his scorecard.

McClear did just that but I made a bogey. He took the lead again and never relinquished it.

On 12, he made par and I made my third double bogey of the day, but we each made par on the par-3 13th hole — the sight of my only hole-in-one. McClear headed to the 14th tee 1 up.

On 14, I made a great bogey putt after losing my tee ball in the left trees and taking a drop that was far from legal. He made par and remained 1 up.

The 15th hole — the final par-5 on the course — was McClear’s final legitimate eagle chance and he capitalized. Another terrific drive left him with only a 7-iron into the green for his second shot and he hit the approach to 10 feet and sank the putt. I made a score a lot higher than his eagle-3.

I made a double on the 16th after another wayward drive and McClear made a birdie to get to 5-under par on the round and win the match 3 and 2. With how well McClear was striking the ball and how bad I was putting, I shouldn’t have lasted that long.

McClear made a par on 17 as I made another bogey and he lipped out a birdie putt on the final hole that would’ve gotten him to 6-under on the round. I tapped in another bogey putt on 18 for a score halfway between 80 and 100.

McClear and I had played the same golf course that day but we were not playing the same sport. On approach shots, he’d say things like, “I want to hit this 140 yards with a three-yard draw into the pin.” On similar shots, I would say things like, “I’d like to hit this so the club doesn’t vibrate in my hands after contact.”

But the 5-under-par score that McClear turned in could’ve been even better. He hit three of the four par-5s in two, 16 of 18 greens in regulation, and 12 of 14 fairways. His putter had been streaky and some of his wedges had ended up too far away from the hole for his liking.

So, after we said our goodbyes, I headed home to reevaluate my golf game and scour YouTube for instructional videos yet again, and McClear headed back to the range to work on his short game.

I’ll tell you If I ever sniffed 67, or even 77 at this point, I would be telling everyone who would listen, not working on my game at the range. I guess that’s why I’m writing about high-level players instead of becoming one.

A four-foot par putt scares me a lot more than a fast-approaching deadline.

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