MARION — Matthew Walker came one shot away from capturing his second consecutive Class 4A golf state championship Saturday afternoon, losing a playoff to Ankeny Centennial's Griffen Matthias by one stroke at Hunter Ridge's Golf Course.
To force a playoff, Walker birdied hole 17 by sinking a nine-foot putt. Ottumwa's standout golfer carded a 72-even par and finished with a three-over par score of 147 at the two-day state tournament.
"He made a few bogies, he even had a double bogie," Ottumwa golf coach Scott Maas said, " [but] he kept bouncing back and finding a way to make a birdie. No doubt a big part of golf is not letting bad things get to you, bring you down. Matthew is obviously very good at that. He's very level headed."
Although he couldn't quite pull out the come-from-behind victory Saturday after going into the round four strokes behind then-leader Aaron Wirt of Des Moines Roosevelt, Walker turned in a gutsy performance defined by tremendous resiliency and aplomb.
"I just told him the same thing his dad just told him," Maas said, "We're proud of him. He played good, he battled all day long. "
Walker's teammates Hoyt Grooms and Dillon Patritto even made the trek from Ottumwa to support their teammate.
"He's our good friend and teammate," Grooms said when asked why he and Patritto had made the trip to see Walker.
For their star teammate, Saturday's round was brimming with both trials and tribulations. Every time Walker was faced with adversity, he would respond with a big putt or a brilliant approach shot that landed just a few feet from the pin.
"You have to let it go," Walker said about the agonizing parts of his round. "I've learned over my years that you can't let it bother you and you just have to play the next shot to the best of your capability."
After his first 10 holes of golf were finished, Walker was one over par. He'd birdied one of his holes, but he'd also fired two bogeys. Walker hit a tremendous second shot on hole No. 10 that landed near the hole. Walker sunk his putt to make him even for the day. After he parred hole No. 11, the junior Bulldog birdied hole 12 to go one-under par. With the momentum in his favor, Walker approached hole No. 13.
"Water all down the right, water all down the left, just as tight as can be," Maas said about the ardous hole.
The hole turned out to be a treacherous one for Maas, as his first shot found the water. He ended up shooting a double-bogey on the hole. He started hole 14 strong and had a makeable putt for birdie that would have returned him to even par. Unfortunately for Walker, his putt was a little off, and he had to settle for a par.
On the next hole, however, Walker was aided by a stroke a luck. After he hit his tee shot, Walker grimaced, knowing his ball hadn't gone where he wanted it to. But, what Walker didn't know at that time, is that he'd caught a lucky break. It was later learned his ball had struck a women's golf cart and richocheted back onto the fairway. Taking full advantage of his good fortune, Walker fired a tremendous second shot that landed close to the pin. He went on to birdie the hole.
"Go, go, go," Walker yelled at his ball after hitting his drive on hole No. 16, which is a par 3. Unfortunately, the verbal encouragement wasn't enough to get the ball on the green. Walker's second shot, however, was a real beauty.
"Get up there," Maas said while watching the shot as if he was trying to will the ball into or at least close to the hole. The Bulldog coach got his way, as Walker's shot came to a halt a makeable distance from the pin. But his birdie attempt was a little off and he ended up with a par. Walker moved on to his final hole; a par 5 hole 17. After two solid shots, he hit a magnificent third shot that landed on the green, rolled to the left and nestled snugly about nine feet from the hole.
While it was makeable putt, it was by no means an easy one. Walker seemed unruffled by the palpable tension that surrounded him as he prepared for the putt. He took the putt and, after it crawled over the lip of the pin, the Bulldog linkster gave a Tiger Woods-esque fist pump.
"I honestly thought it was to win [the tournament]," Walker said about the putt.
The putt, unbeknownst to Walker, had guaranteed a playoff between him and Matthias for the championship.
The playoff took place on the hole No. 1, which was a par 4. Both golfers started off with good drives in front of a large mass of people that had gathered to watch. When the golfers strolled down the fairways to shoot their next shots, the masses followed closely behind.
Since Walker's didn't hit his drive quite as far as Matthias, he was the first to take the second shot. His shot missed the green and rolled into the ruff, leaving him with a short chip shot. Meanwhile, Matthias' shot landed on the green, albeit a long way from the hole. Walker's third shot was a good one that left him with a decent chance at a par, while Matthias' long putt left him with a much shorter putt for par. Walker's fourth putt didn't find the cup and Matthias was able to make his shot and capture the state championship.
"Griffen obviously played good," Walker said. "Congrats to him."
Wirt finished in third place overall with a 149. Ankeny Centennial captured the team state championship with a score of 620, Cedar Rapids Kennedy corralled second with 629 and West Des Moines Valley claimed third with a 645.