The third time is the charm for Ben Irlbeck. As mentioned in our SDGA Match Play Preview as a “player to watch out for”, Ben had been the two time runner-up in the Match Play event in the years 2005 (also, at Meadowbrook) and 2010. He was to take second place no longer! The Meadowbrookian (not from the course, but he’s played so well there…) claimed the first SDGA event of his career with the victory in the championship 36 hole finale, winning 2&1 over Sioux Falls’ Mitch Brunick. Both players in the championship match had tremendous runs to make it into the finales of the State Match Play, finishing with Ben Irlbeck as the 2012 Champion.

The stroke play qualifying of the event got Irlbeck off to the right foot. He finished tied in the position for Medalist with Vermillion’s Cody Vostad, both shooting a score of 70. Irlbeck was given the #2 seed in the event in favor of Vostad. 45 players were granted first round byes in the event, with players #46 through #83 playing first round Friday morning matches. The eventual runner-up and #61 seed Mitch Brunick was among those players. An extra holes victory (one of only 2 extra hole matches in the Friday morning matches) over Montana Sierra set Brunick off to the races. He followed the close call with strong victories over Drew Trautman (5&4), Tate McVay (1 UP), Tyler Barrett (6&5), Adam Shiffermiller (3&1) and Mike Brummer (5&3) and steamrolled his way to the finals – to play Irlbeck. Number one seed Cody Vostad advanced to the quarterfinals on Sunday morning, finally bowing out to Mike Brummer 1 Up.

Irlbeck’s trip to the finals was not as easy, as he won 3 matches by a margin of 2&1 or less, and went an additional 4 holes with Travis Johnson on Saturday afternoon. Without his own 5 iron (left home after lending it to his wife), Ben prevailed through the rounds. Grueling match after grueling match, the champion Irlbeck was sent to the championship match after beating Brandon Sigmund 1-Up on Sunday afternoon. He was to play former Buena Vista golfer and current Buena Vista golf coach, Mitch Brunick. Ironically, the two players are co-workers during the summer months at the First Tee program in Sioux Falls, SD as Junior Coaches. They were quite familiar with one another before the marathon day even began.

The 36 hole finale began the way it ended- as a tussle. A back and forth match all day saw no player take a commanding lead all day. Brunick at one point extended his lead to 3 UP in the beginning of the second 18, but after and Irlbeck surge, the match was back to All Square with only 9 holes to play. An ultimate tug of war all day, Irlbeck finally took the lead he would never relinquish on hole 11 with a missed par putt by Brunick. After a 3 footer for birdie dropped on 16 for Irlbeck to get to 2 up with 2 to play, Irlbeck’s destiny was all but sealed. A valiant chip by Brunick on 17 almost dropped, but a two putt from Irlbeck gave him the championship victory.

“It was really fun. After my qualifying round, I didn’t know really what to expect, but I got dialed in with my yardages and my wedges and started playing well,” said the runner-up Mitch Brunick. “It was surprising, to make it to the finals of a tournament. I’m really proud of myself, it was a great week.”

“It was a good week, ” said the 2012 SDGA Match Play champion Ben Irlbeck. “I embraced the nerves of a final match and continued to grind no matter where the match was all day. I felt that my experienced helped me play a match of 36 holes and continued to hit shot after shot.”

The experience seemed to pay off Ben, great playing and the Match Play monkey is off your back!

Troy Klongerbo