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Goodland's Ihrig wins Match Play crown

7/20/2014

By LARRY MORITZ

By LARRY MORITZ

Special to The Hays Daily News

SALINA -- Gage Ihrig got his title. Brooks Brown and Grant Herrenbruck got what they came for as well.

Ihrig, a recent Goodland High School graduate and a Wichita State signee, added to an already impressive summer with a first-place finish Friday at the Kansas Junior Golf Association Match Play Championship.

Ihrig defeated Brown 2-up in a tightly contested title match at Salina Country Club, a year after finishing as runner-up in the same tournament.

"It feels good to win here," Ihrig said. "Especially after I lost to one of my buddies (Oberlin's Kade Brown) last year in a tight match.

"To get another shot at first was really nice, especially after the first day when I was one stroke away from not being here."

Ihrig made a 40-foot putt on the first extra hole to extend his opening-round match with Jared Burns, which he eventually won on the 20th hole.

After a 4 and 3 semifinal win Friday morning over Trevor Bauer, Ihrig never trailed in the finale with Brown. He did not have a birdie on the front nine but still led 2-up at the turn when Brown made bogey on Nos. 8 and 9.

"The first few holes it was neck and neck," Ihrig said. "That was stressful, but I felt a little more comfortable once I got the lead.

"But it's hard to get comfortable when Brooks is playing on his home course."

Both players made their first birdie at the par 5 No. 11, and Brown cut his deficit to 1-down after another birdie at No. 12.

That also proved to be the last birdie by either player. They matched scores for the next five holes, with No. 17 a turning point.

Ihrig was on the green with his tee shot on the par 3, but well left and had a long birdie attempt of more than 40 feet. He ran it well past the hole, leaving him a lengthy putt for par.

After Brown missed his birdie attempt, Ihrig made his par putt from nearly 15 feet to guarantee he would go into the final hole with the lead.

"Once I got to the green on 17, I could see I hit it in jail," Ihrig said. "It was the one place on that hole that you can't hit it and from there I expected to hit it past the hole.

"My next putt was uphill a good 15 feet. I stuck to my routine, put a good roll on it and it fell in the cup."

"That putt on 17 was big for him," Brown said. "It made me have to win 18 and I didn't quite get it done."

Both players hit their drive into the right rough on No. 18 and both had tree limbs restricting what would have been their normal approach shots. Both hit it on the front fringe. Ihrig chipped first and was inside three feet for par. Brown's chip came up well short and when he missed his par putt, he conceded the hole.

"I put my drive five yards too far right," Brown said. "I didn't leave my second shot in a bad spot, but I didn't make my birdie chance."

"I knew after our drives that par was going to be tough to beat," Ihrig said. "I didn't have to do anything special but get a good look at par and make him beat me. I didn't want to give it away."

Brown, 17, advanced to the title match only after surviving a wild 3 and 1 semifinal with the 14-year-old Herrenbruck. Both players will be students at Sacred Heart this fall, with Brown a senior and Herrenbruck a freshman.

"That was probably the most amazing match play match ever played," Brown said. "We were throwing birdies in left and right. I would make a birdie and Grant would make a birdie. I would make another and Grant would make another.

"If we were playing a four-ball match, combined we would have been 7-under on the front nine."

As it was, Brown made the turn 2-up, but that lead was down to one hole with three to play. Brown completed the semifinal by winning both 16 and 17.

"It was fun because both Brooks and I were playing great golf," Herrenbruck said. "I brought my best game and he brought his best. It shows how good a player he really is."

Herrenbruck followed the semifinal loss with a 3 and 2 victory over Bauer in the third-place match.

With that win, both Brown and Herrenbruck earned enough points in the tournament to move up in the Kansas Junior Player of the Year standings, and both will be among the eight players to represent the state in the Kansas-Nebraska Cup later this month in Topeka. Ihrig, who leads the Junior POY standings, also will

compete for the Kansas squad.

Brown locked up his spot by defeating Herrenbruck in the semifinals, but was pleased when his future teammate also qualified.

"My whole goal here was to make the Kansas-Nebraska Cup," Brown said. "I was so glad when Grant won his last match so he could make it, too. I think we'll probably play together in some four-ball or alternate-shot matches in Topeka."

"I'm really excited about the whole thing and I know how privileged I am with my golf game," Herrenbruck said. "I love getting into the Kansas-Nebraska Cup at age 14. It helps knowing I'll be playing with some older kids and they are going to help me out."