Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide. To receive daily news from the Iowa Hawkeyes, sign up HERE.
By RICK BROWN
IOWA CITY, Iowa –– Alex Moorman looks at PGA Tour standout Zach Johnson through motivational lenses.
“He’s one of my favorite players,” said Moorman, a sophomore on the University of Iowa men’s golf team. “Obviously, what he has done in golf is phenomenal. He is big motivation for me.”
Moorman, from Centerville, is one of four Hawkeye golfers competing individually in the Zach Johnson Invitational today and Tuesday at Glen Oaks Country Club in West Des Moines. The event is hosted by Drake University, Johnson’s alma mater.
A native Iowan, Johnson is loyal to more than one school. He is an unabashed Iowa fan, but he’s also a proud Bulldog alum. Though he was never the No. 1 man on the Drake teams he was on, the opportunity he got to play college golf set the stage for a PGA Tour career that has seen him win 12 tournaments, including the 2007 Masters and the 2015 Open Championship.
Johnson’s success story also motivates Iowa junior Aaron DeNucci, who is from Waukee.
“When I grew up I talked to a lot of people about him,” DeNucci said. “He was consistently the second or third guy in the lineup at Drake. I couldn’t believe that, knowing that a guy who’s a multiple major winner wasn’t even the top dog on his college team. To me, that just shows incredible work ethic.”
Moorman and DeNucci will be joined at Glen Oaks by two freshmen – Jaewook Lee of Langley, British Columbia, and Jake Rowe of Portadown, Northern Ireland.
Both freshmen will be making their college debuts. DeNucci, who played in three events last year, is making his first appearance of the 2017-18 season. Moorman played earlier this fall in the Gopher Invitational.
Iowa head coach Tyler Stith has a squad heavy on underclassmen. Sam Meuret is the only senior. That means the competition for varsity spots will be intense as the season unfolds.
“We have a lot of potential on this team, quite honestly,” Moorman said. “We have a lot of good players. It should be hard. Everybody should be competing. Because if we don’t have that, how are we supposed to get better?”
This 54-hole event, played at one of Iowa’s top courses, provides an opportunity for guys fighting to get into the playing rotation.
“With a deep squad, it’s tough to break into our lineup,” said Stith. “We want to do whatever we can to make sure that these guys have an opportunity to compete.”
Stith knows that Johnson’s blueprint for success is a good example for his players to follow.
“You might be the seventh or eighth guy on our team, but that doesn’t mean a year or two from now you couldn’t be one of the best players,” Stith said.
DeNucci has undergone significant swing changes over the last year.
“I needed to make them to become more consistent, and to be able to actually shoot three rounds and help the team in a three-day tournament,” DeNucci said.
Stith said the changes were significant.
“We knew when we started down this path that it was going to be maybe a year before he finally owned some of those changes,” Stith said. “I think he’s ahead of schedule. It will be good for him to play on a golf course he’s not very familiar with in a tournament to see how those changes hold up under pressure.”
Moorman views this as a chance to fine-tune his game under competition.
“You have to keep working, day-in and day-out,” Moorman said. “Trust your coaches, trust what they’re teaching you, and keep doing it. Eventually, I think it will pay off.”
Stith is also eager to see how his two freshmen compete.
“They’ve been working hard in practice and they’re excited for this opportunity,” Stith said.
The Hawkeyes have shown flashes of potential through three tournaments this fall. Sophomores Ryoto Furuya, Alex Schaake, and Benton Weinberg, junior Matthew Walker, and Meuret have all turned in subpar rounds this fall.
“What we need now is getting all five guys going at the same time,” Stith said. “When we do that, I think we’re going to win. With only one senior and all these guys coming back next year, we’re excited about the group we have.”
For guys like Moorman, DeNucci, Lee, and Rowe, the Zach Johnson Invitational is their chance to make a statement and get into the playing conversation. The four Hawkeyes will join an 1l-team field at Glen Oaks. They will play 36 holes today and 18 more on Tuesday.
“It will be nice to put my play to test in a tournament rather than just qualifying,” DeNucci said.