Cherokee's Matt Pitts, who'll be a junior this fall at Morningside College in Sioux City, stunned a star-studded field to win the 2012 Sioux Valley Amateur Men's Match-Play Goif Tournament at the Cherokee Golf & Country Club here Sunday.
Pitts, age 20, who had never won a single match in his previous Sioux Valley Am experience, defeated Jeff Mason of Holstein 2-1 in the Championship Flight finals Sunday, after turning back 2010 Champion Bill Mathers of Cushing 4-3 in a semifinal match Sunday morning.
In Saturday's action, Pitts, who won medalist honors this year with a 67 qualifying round, defeated Chris Jenness of Cherokee 4-3 in his opener, and then sank a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to beat two-time Champion and Iowa Golfer of the Year J.D. Anderson of West Des Moines to earn his semifinal berth against Mathers.
Mason earned his title shot by beating Nate Freed of Dakota Dunes, S.D. and then Paul Hyndman of Cherokee each 1-up in 19 holes on Saturday; and then took out last year's medalist Nick Dreckman of Le Mars 3-1 in Sunday's semifinals to match up with Pitts.
Pitts is the first local winner in 23 years since former resident Dr. Peter Johansen claimed the Sioux Valley title in 1989. Jeff Campbell, a Cherokee native now living in Niles, Ohio won the title in 2008. Pitts now has one leg of the Frank Greenwood Memorial Trophy, which requires three legs to retire.
"Man, it was not easy," said Pitts after his big victory. "There's a lot of good players out there. But I felt good going in after shooting 67 qualifying and I've been working on my game and am in good shape physically.
"Todd (Sapp, two-time Sioux Valley Champion and Morningside golf coach) told me during workouts in February that I had the game to win the Sioux Valley and that gave me a lot of confidence, coming from him."
Ironically, Sapp was paired in the Pitts-Mason group for the final round, as the tourney format calls for the pairing of Championship and First Flight finalists on Championship Sunday. The two were seen repeatedly talking at times during the round and Pitts said playing with his college coach kept him grounded and more at ease.
"Todd's won so much in this game that he knows what to say to me and when to say it. He helped my confidence and he knows just how much winning this tournament means to a golfer."
The son of Mike and Kelly Pitts of Cherokee hit prodigious drives the entire tournament and can really bomb his irons, bringing a better measure of ball control to his game. He said weight training and working on his flexibility have inreased his distance since high school. His chipping and putting were especially "on" in the tourney, explained Pitts.
Pitts said he was quite nervous on the first tee in his opening match, but once he got to playing and realized he was striking the ball well, his nerves lessened.
"My parents were more nervous than I was," joked the former Cherokee Braves stellar four-sport athlete, who earned 16 varsity letters in high school.
"Playing on a course I know so well is an advantage. Jeff told me afterwards that he played really well and did all he could and couldn't take me down. He's a good guy and a very good player."
Sapp won the First Flight 1-up over Seth Schroeder of Coralville. Sapp beat former Sioux Valley Champion Brian Schultz of Le Mars 1-up in the semifinals. On Saturday, he beat Cody Wiig of Correctionville 6-4 in his opener, and then handled former Cherokean Dave Greenwood of Omaha 6-4 to make the semifinals.
In the Championship Consolation match Sunday, Mathers beat Dreckman 1-up in 10 holes, and Schultz defeated former Aurelian Eric Sonksen of Johnston 4-2 in First Flight Consolation.
"It was really cool seeing all my friends and family out here following me," added Pitts. "I still find it hard to believe that I won the Sioux Valley.
"The congratulations I've been receiving is really overwhelming. I can't count all the texts and e-mails and phone calls. What a great atmosphere it is at the Sioux Valley. Seeing all those carts and people following us... it's just an incredible experience.
"And the best thing is I got to give my Dad and grandpas a great present for Father's Day."