LINCOLN — Ryan Nietfeldt is in the Nebraska men’s match play final for the first time since 2003.
That was three years after Luke Kluver, his opponent in Friday’s 36-hole match, was born.
The 44-year-old Nietfeldt said Thursday, “You never know how many shots you have left at winning.”
Nietfeldt is in his fourth state final, winning in 2003 in his hometown of Grand Island. He was runner-up in 1995 and 1996. He’s the oldest finalist since John Sajevic (50) in 2006 and would be the oldest champion since Pete Godwin (44) in 2001.
In the first major amateur event of the delayed season, Nietfeldt won the Dinsdale Classic in Grand Island while paired in the final group with Kluver and Alex Schaake of Omaha. Schaake withdrew from the match-play tournament last weekend for health reasons.
“It was fun to get out and win at home and just play," Nietfeldt said. “Actually the coolest thing was just playing with Luke and Alex because you know they are great players. They are the best out here. So just being able to play at that level gave me a lot of confidence.”
While Nietfeldt was taking down Ashland’s Jesse Talcott and Table Rock’s Calvin Freeman in his two matches Thursday at Hillcrest Country Club, the 20-year-old Kluver needed 20 holes against Lincoln's Travis Minzel and 18 against defending champion Caleb Badura of Aurora to get to his first final.
Kluver, who will be a sophomore at Kansas, and Nietfeldt will start at 7 a.m. Friday and their second 18 holes has an 11:30 a.m. tee time.
Nietfeldt ended his semifinal by sticking an 8-iron on the par-3 16th to a foot for a 3-and-2 win — his first match of the week that needed more than 15 holes.
The accountant credits working out the past four or five years for being able to keep up with the college kids.
“I've seen so many sunrises working out and doing stuff that I think that's why I can actually still play the way I do and still have the endurance to play," he said. “I feel like I'm in better shape than 10, 15 years ago. Other guys are doing the same thing. That’s why you see the midamateurs still competing and make their careers longer.”
It took a monster rally by Kluver to get out of the quarterfinal. Minzel, the 2004 champion, had him dormie with three holes left in regulation.
Kluver went birdie-par-birdie to force extra holes and advanced with a par on the 20th hole.
“I’ve played and witnessed too many times his comebacks. You are all so silly if you ever thought he was out of it. Clutch finish," Schaake posted on Twitter.
Against Badura, Kluver never trailed.
He went 2-up with a birdie 3 on the 13th, which Badura matched on the next hole. The Jayhawk needed par putts on the next two holes to maintain the 1-hole lead and stayed out of trouble on the par-5 final hole after seeing Badura’s tee shot land in a fairway bunker.
Kluver has been in two Pinnacle Bank Championships on the Korn Ferry Tour as an amateur, won three Class A high school titles and was one of the state’s most-sought players by colleges. But he’s yet to win a Nebraska Golf Association tournament, junior or adult.
“I’ve had good patience all week. I plugged away this morning and plugged away this afternoon," he said. “It feels great to be in the finals.”
Semifinals: Luke Kluver, Norfolk (No. 1 seed) def. Caleb Badura, Aurora (12), 2-up. Ryan Nietfeldt, Omaha (2) def. Calvin Freeman, Table Rock (3), 3 and 2.
Quarterfinals: Kluver def. Travis Minzel, Lincoln (25), 20 holes. Badura def. Matthew Schaefer, Fordyce (29), 20 holes. Nietfeldt def. Jesse Talcott, Ashland (26), 4 and 3. Freeman def. Glenn Bills, Grand Island (22), 2 and 1.
Final Friday: Kluver vs. Nietfeldt, 7 and 11:30 a.m.