LINCOLN — There were 156 golfers who competed at the 53rd Nebraska Match Play Championship starting on Monday, and there was only one left standing Friday: Luke Kluver of Norfolk.
Kluver, the No. 1 seed who is a member of the University of Kansas golf team, went toe-to-toe against No. 2 seed and 2003 champion Ryan Nietfeldt of Elkhorn on Friday.
After 32 holes complete, it was Kluver standing on top holding the Nebraska Golf Association Match Play Championship trophy, as he had to dig deep to take down Nietfeldt.
“I don’t have an NGA title and I wanted to get one,” said Kluver, who won three Class A individual state titles at Norfolk High.
Kluver had to fight his way just to make it to the championship round on Friday as he went to a playoff Thursday to beat Travis Minzel in the quarterfinals after being down by three with three holes to go. He then turned right around to beat the defending champion from Aurora, Caleb Badura, 2-up.
“I hit the ball great— I gave myself a lot of opportunities,” Kluver said. “I had to keep plugging away.”
Kluver knocked out three past champions to get to the final while Nietfeldt didn’t see the 17th or 18th hole until Friday.
Kluver and Nietfeldt were neck-and-neck going through the first 18 holes of the day.
Kluver was able to par every hole on the front nine, but Nietfeldt was 1-up after winning the eighth hole and was later able to extend the lead on No. 12.
“I kept the pressure on — I kept making par and kept forcing him to keep up with me,” Nietfeldt said. “He just didn’t make a lot of putts in the morning, but he made up for it in the afternoon.”
After 18 holes, Nietfeldt held a three-hole lead going into break.
Kluver came out of the gates in the second 18 on fire with a birdie.
“That putt on the first hole was a big one — to let him know that I was here to play and that I was going to come after him,” Kluver said.
Kluver went on to birdie the first four out of five holes and eventually took the lead on No. 5.
“I didn’t hit the ball as well this afternoon, and I didn’t keep the pressure on him,” Nietfeldt said. “I had times where I could’ve made a putt here or there, but it’s just the way it goes sometimes.”
Later in the second round, it was all tied up after 26 holes and Nietfeldt missed a crucial putt on No. 9 to go down one. He bogeyed No. 10 while Kluver got a par, and then it was all Kluver.
“I hit it a lot better this afternoon. I tried to put as much pressure on Ryan as I could. I had a great start. To be able to square up that matchup after four holes was huge,” Kluver said.
Kluver went 3-up on No. 12, 4-up on No. 13 and closed out the championship on No. 14 with a par putt.
“This is definitely the biggest amateur golf event I’ve won. It means a lot being in the state of Nebraska and to just to be able to put my name on that trophy with a lot of other guys is a big-time success,” Kluver said. “It was a total excitement. I stayed patient, and I tried to keep plugging away.”
Kluver was able to win his first Nebraska Match Play Championship in front of his family and friends.
“I love playing in front of them, and I love playing in front of fans; I play better that way,” Kluver said.
Coming off the victory in Lincoln, Kluver is going to take a short break before he competes in the Pinnacle Bank Championship next Thursday.
“I’m going to keep plugging away and get myself as many opportunities as possible,” Kluver said.