Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
Then again, a little bit of both can go a long way, too.
Van Buren County sophomore T.J. Jirak doesn’t claim to be the best golfer in the world. In fact, just three years ago he picked up a golf club for the first time and got serious about the sport.
On on a chilly, mostly overcast Tuesday at Burlington Golf Club, Jirak conquered the course, and the competition.
Jirak carded the best 18-hole round of his life on perhaps the toughest 18-hole course he has played.
Jirak, using brand new irons his parents recently purchased for him, carded an 8-over-par 80 to edge Mount Pleasant’s Nick Matheny by one shot for medalist honors at the Nike Invitational.
Jirak’s round helped Van Buren County to a runner-up finish in the team race, nine strokes behind Mount Pleasant.
A little skill and a little luck added up to one big win for Jirak.
“I just got lucky really. I got some new irons the other day and just felt like I was hitting them good today,” said Jirak, who has eight siblings and whose father, Kurt Kirak, used to coach wrestling at Van Buren County. “It was pretty lucky. I’m not the best golfer. I just come out here and play and have fun.”
Jirak, the Warriors’ No. 5 player, got the boost of confidence he needed on his third hole, the par-4, 388-yard 10th hole. There, he stuck his approach shot over the water to 10 feet.
Jirak, like many of the competitors in the eight-team field, had trouble judging the speed on the greens at BGC.
Only 14 players broke 100 on the day. Of those, only eight broke 90.
“My putts were iffy. I felt like I could have done a little better on those. But everything else was on,” Jirak said.
Matheny, who had plenty of success coming up through the youth tournaments, put together a solid, if unspectacular, round for the Panthers. Mount Pleasant was the only team with four players under 100. Joining Matheny under 100 for the Panthers were Reece Kempker (85), Reece Coffman (95) and Nate Dismang (99).
“I was hitting fairways pretty well. I hit some greens. Nothing spectacular,” Matheny said. “The team did all right. They all played all right. Our second and third players did all right. It was just a rough day for everybody.”
Fort Madison senior Tyler Wade and Notre Dame-West Burlington senior Kaleb Allen tied for third, each with an 83.
“I learned where to lay up, where you want to be to attack these flags,” said Wade, who birdied the par-5, 518-yard 12th hole. “I played good from the tee, but on the greens I struggled a little bit. They were slick. They are faster than what I am used to.”
“It’s a nice course. I just didn’t really know how to play it,” Fort Madison senior Jordan Simpson said. “It wasn’t a very good round of golf, by any means. I shot pretty bad. The greens were really fast. I didn’t have a good round.”
Allen, the Nikes’ No. 1 player, struggled on the fast, undulating greens.
“I couldn’t hit the fairway. I couldn’t hit the green. I just didn’t give myself a chance for birdie, or even par. It was a big struggle day today for me,” Allen said. “I just have to get better. I have to hit the greens, get closer and give myself a chance for birdie. At least two-putt the ball to get in the hole.”
Matt Levins is a sports reporter for the USA TODAY Network in Burlington, Iowa, who has covered local sports for 31 years. Reach him at email@example.com.
At Burlington Golf Club
Yardage: 6,301; Par 72
1. Mount Pleasant, 360; 2. Van Buren County, 369; 3. Fort Madison, 372; 4. Davis County, 384; 5. Notre Dame-West Burlington, 398; 6. Wapello, 402; 7. Winfield-Mount Union, 414; 8. Central Lee, 445.
Top 10 individual medalists
1. TJ Jirak, Van Buren County, 80; 2. Nick Matheny, Mount Pleasant, 81; 3. tie, Kaleb Allen, ND-WB and Tyler Wade, Fort Madison, 83; 5. Reece Kempker, Mount Pleasant, 85; 6. Riley Bruckman, Van Buren County, 87; 7. Easton White, Davis County, 88; 8. Emmet Kruse, Fort Madison, 89; 10. tie, Carter Loyd, W-MU and Reece Coffman, Mount Pleasant, 95.
Central Lee — Ashton Robinson, 116; David Wright, 113; Bo Herdrich, 128; Cale Clark, 115; Keatin Fuger, 101; Will Ferris, 141.
Davis County — Easton White, 88; Noah Hamm, 92; Jack Bigsby, 101; Jackson Gru=im, 103; Michael Eearly, 107; Tucker Marshall, 105.
Fort Madison — Tyler Wade, 83; Brady Wade, 101; Brennan Ulik, 103; Aidan Pennock, 100; Jordan Simpson, 132; Emmet Kruse, 89/
Mount Pleasant — Nick Matheny, 81; Reece Kempker, 85; Reece Coffman, 95; Nate Dismang, 99; Ben Meador, 139; Izaac Zihlman, 122.
Notre Dame-West Burlington — Kaleb Allen, 83; Kyle Etka, 101; Carsen Jones, 103; Chase Richards, 111; Kody Allen, 120; Alex Ziegler, 118.
Van Buren County — Riley Bruckman, 87; Dylan Richardson, 102; Anthony Duncan, 103; Lukas McEntee, 100; TJ Jirak, 80; Aidan McEntee, 111.
Wapello — Casey Short, 110; Zach Harbison, 96; Cooper Garrison, 98; Codder Malcolm, 112; Dawson Tipps, 98; Aragorn Little, 114.
Winfield-Mount Union — Carter Loyd, 95; Nick Crow, 109; Andrew Brown, 105; Isaac Schurr, 114; Jake Edwards, 107; Griffin Humphreys, 122.