LINCOLN (June 21, 2019) – The 53rd Nebraska Match Play Championship kicks off tomorrow at Hillcrest Country Club in Lincoln, and the field is stacked with a deck full of great players.
The championship begins with 36 holes of Stroke Play Qualifying on June 22 and 23, after which the field will be cut to 32 players and seeded into a match play bracket. Match play begins Wednesday, June 24, with the Rounds of 32 and 16, followed by the Quarterfinals and Semifinals on Thursday, and the 36-hole Championship Final on Friday.
The defending champion highlights a great field of 156, of which more than half of the players are a plus-handicap. Aurora’s Caleb Badura is back to defend his title and is one of nine past champions scheduled to play, including Bill Spangler of Lincoln (1987), John Sajevic of Fremont (1989 & 1996), David Clouse of Friend (1992), AJ Elgert of Lincoln (2002), Ryan Nietfeldt of Elkhorn (2003), Travis Minzel of Lincoln (2004), Andy Sajevic of Omaha (2013) and Bryce Brown of Lincoln (2014).
Badura will try to be just the fourth player to win back-to-back titles, and the first since Bellevue’s Kevin Stanek in 2011-2012. O’Neill’s John Hurley (2009-2010) and Lincoln’s Larry Sock (1990-1991) are the only other players to win in consecutive years. Badura cruised through the bracket last year at The Players Club, including a 9-and-8 win in the Final.
A couple other players are looking to add to a long list of NGA titles, as John Sajevic is currently tied for the most men’s titles of all-time with 10. Nietfeldt is just behind on the all-time list with nine titles, and a win would tie him with Sajevic and Alex Schaake of Omaha. Brown is a past champion who hasn’t competed much since winning in 2014, but he’s a member at Hillcrest and could have a leg-up on the competition.
Huskers have had some success in this event lately, and a couple players to keep an eye on have donned the red ‘N’. Lincoln’s Jace Guthmiller is a Husker graduate and finished runner-up in 2018 to Schaake. He also finished runner-up at the Nebraska Amateur that year. His former teammate Tanner Owen could follow up on his performance last year, where he earned stroke play qualifying medalist honors and the No. 1 seed. Owen eventually fell in the Quarterfinals to Omaha’s Dan Huston, who finished runner-up to Badura.
Norfolk’s Luke Kluver (No. 5 in the 2020 NGA Player Rankings) and Lincoln’s David Easley (No. 6) are the highest ranked players in the field, outside of the past champions. Kluver will be a sophomore at Kansas University in the fall, where he made a big splash as a freshman last year. The two-time Nebraska Junior Golfer of the Year broke into the Jayhawk starting five, and went 5-0 at the Big XII Match Play. Easley has made the Nebraska Match Play bracket five straight years, but is looking to advance past the quarterfinals for the first time in that stretch.
Lincoln’s Nate Vontz, No. 10, rounds out the Top 10 in the NGA Player Rankings. The Creighton Bluejay is looking for his first NGA title. Another former Husker will be making his return to amateur golf, as Calvin Freeman of Table Rock recently was granted his amateur status back. Freeman is now the head golf coach at Southeast Community College in Beatrice.
Hillcrest Country Club is a par-72 layout that will measure around 6,913 yards for the championship. Play begins at 7:30 a.m. for Monday and Tuesday’s Stroke Play Qualifying, and at 7 a.m. for all match play rounds.