Iowa men’s golf senior Ronan Kleu always motivated to improve

Growing up between Switzerland and South Africa, Kleu developed a love for golf that led him across the Atlantic to the U.S.


Jerod Ringwald

Iowa’s Ronan Kleu putts a ball during the Iowa Fall Classic at Blue Top Ridge Golf Course in Riverside, Iowa, on Monday, Oct. 17, 2022. The Hawkeyes defeated eight other teams to win the tournament, shooting 20 over par.

Matt McGowan, Sports Reporter

The Iowa men’s golf roster says senior Ronan Kleu was born and raised in Zollikerberg, Switzerland. But without his time living in Durban, South Africa, Kleu may never have been on the Hawkeye roster in the first place.

Kleu was exposed to the game quickly after he started living on a golf course in South Africa. He took his newfound talent back to Switzerland, then to Columbus State University in Georgia, and finally to Iowa City. 

In his journey to playing Division I golf, Kleu has not only adopted a unique leadership style — he also found the motivation to play regardless of course conditions or individual performance. 

Growing up in Switzerland and South Africa, Kleu played cricket, tennis, soccer, and even tried his hand at skiing. When it came to golf, Kleu enjoyed being outside but also having to think. 

“I would say the mental challenge to it, firstly,” Kleu said. “And secondly, being out there in nature, it’s kind of a fun individual aspect of it as well.” 

Kleu is drawn to the strategy of playing each hole quickly and efficiently. When even the most diligent strategy doesn’t seem to work, Kleu doesn’t let the frustration detract from his motivation.

“Everyone says you have to stay patient and you have to trust the statistics that [the ball] will fall with the next shot,” Kleu said. “You really have to dig deep in difficult conditions and ask, ‘Why am I here?’ You have to find the reason you should be enjoying that difficult day, for that is what gives you that spark.”

Kleu, who is trilingual, played golf at the international level, representing Switzerland in the European Championships in the Czech Republic in 2018. His Swiss team won the silver medal at the event, placing second to teammate Gonzalo Leal Montero’s Spain.

Although he left home to play in the U.S., Kleu said it wasn’t even a question to make the jump.

“This is where the best golf players come to play at my age to compete,” Kleu said. “I can measure myself up against the best of my age to prepare myself for the next level.”

Kleu played at Columbus State from 2018-21. He took home multiple accolades, including second-team All-America honors from the PING Golf Coaches Association and the Peach Belt Conference Golf Player of the Year award in 2021.

Kleu said Division II golf helped him learn how to embrace the process of gradual improvement. 

“I learned the work ethic required to get to the next level,” Kleu said. “There are a bunch of talented players, especially in the U.S. You just have a lot of people who play for fun who are extremely talented, much more so than in Europe when it comes to [player] pool size. I had some individual experiences where I learned to love the process of getting better.” 

Kleu has enjoyed some immediate success after transferring to Iowa, finishing in the top 10 in both the 2021 Marquette Invitational and Notre Dame Fighting Irish Classic. Kleu said the process of Division I golf is not only more difficult, but also requires a greater work ethic and positive mindset. 

“In Division II, we play in slightly easier courses and slightly easier setups,” Kleu said. “I really enjoy the grind when it comes to playing U.S. Open and PGA courses now that I’m in Division I. You really got to enjoy the grind and shift away from making a ton of birdies to playing disciplined golf; hitting the middle of the green if you’re out of position, minimizing your losses and taking the opportunities when they’re given to you.” 

Kleu said he has always been consistent with iron and wedge play but still finds room for improvement in his game, particularly in his putting and driving. When those two parts of his game are equally successful, Kleu can predict good results.

“I always say jokingly, ‘If I’m driving well that week, I’m going to have a good week,’” Kleu said. “I know that with my approach play, I’m going to beat most people.”

As one of the three oldest players on the team, Kleu has stepped into a leadership role this season. He and fellow senior Mac McClear have worked with coaches to match player and coach interests throughout the season. Kleu said he tries not to be overbearing in his leadership style and instead encourages individual work for individual improvement. 

“I try to be rather diplomatic in seeing both sides of the story, less so controlling in a sense of old-style,” Kleu said. “I actually like the more individualistic approach to it that says, ‘If you have the motivation and want to get better by yourself, then practices can be more fit to one’s own needs in that sense.’” 

After qualifying to compete individually in the NCAA Regional in Norman, Oklahoma, last spring, Kleu said his goal is to reach the NCAA Championships in 2023. After college, the business analytics major plans on playing professional golf, either on the Korn Ferry Tour in the U.S. or back in Europe. 

“I worked so hard towards the goal, and I think I owe it to myself,” Kleu said. “I figure I might as well give it a try, and I’m still so young, so I have a good backup.”