There’s a lot of good lessons golf can teach someone.
Ask Nathan Zimmerman the question of what he views as the best thing about the game, and he’ll think for a second and then answer.
“Probably give and take that the sport takes from you,” he said. “Golf is one of those games where you can go to the golf course and have one of your worst rounds of your life. But if there’s one little thing you did right during that round, that makes you come back the next day.”
There wasn’t too much that went wrong when he competed at the 2019 Tournament of Champions a year ago. Matter of fact, there was plenty that went quite right for the Treynor native.
He put himself in position to challenge for the TOC title on Day 1, finishing a stroke behind the threesome of Jared Koch, Rob Langfelt and Barry Smith. After another good day on Saturday, he and Koch were neck-and-neck on the final day of the event.
Going into the final hole, Koch led by a stroke after Zimmerman bogeyed on 17. Zimmerman knew he’d have to birdie on the final hole and then hope that Koch would bogey at the same time.
As it turned out, that’s what happened, and Zimmerman walked away with the title.
He’s now back to defend his crown and become the first in at least the past several years to win back-to-back titles.
Tournament play for the 62nd annual event, at the Atlantic Golf & Country Club, kicks off at 8:30 a.m. today. First putt is also at 8:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.
At the 2019 tournament, Zimmerman finished with rounds of 66, 69 and 65 to take the title and outdistance Koch and third-place finisher Jake Olsen.
All three are expected to be in the title hunt again this year, as are the four previous winners: Evan Schueler (2015), Alex Bireline (2016), Andrew Martin (2017) and Derek Jacobsen (2018).
“Jared (Koch) and I just had an absolute blast last year,” said Zimmerman, reflecting on last year’s event. “We were neck and neck the whole last two days, and it was a lot of fun competing against him. I’m lookng forward to seeing him this week.
“On that last hole, he was up one (stroke) and I made bogey on a couple of holes back and fell back. But we were basically tied the whole day. I made bogey on (the 16th hole) and failed to make birdie on 17, so I knew he had to make bogey on that last hole and I was fortunate enough to make birdie on that last hole (18) to walk away with the victory.”
Zimmerman credited his caddy, Cole Chapin, in being a key part to his win. Both were classmates at Treynor, where Chapin was a multi-sport athlete. He’s now a teacher and coach at Riverside High School in Oakland.
“Cole had a big part of (last year’s win),” Zimmerman said. “He kept me in check and helped me out with reading a lot of putts and making sure I wasn’t making stupid mistakes. Thanks Cole!”
But family is an important part of his success as well. Many members of the Zimmerman family were on hand to witness his winning charge.
He learned the game from his grandfather, Irv Larsen, who’ll be at Friday’s portion of the event.
“Grandpa taught us all when we were young kids,” said Zimmerman, remembering how he started at age 5. “He taught me the basics of the game ... so I give all the credit to my grandpa on that one.”
In this pandemic year, competitive golf has been somewhat limited. Still, Zimmerman has been able to find time to take up a few rounds on a good day. The game, after all, is fairly easy to practice social distancing and still have a good time with friends and be relatively safe.
“It’s been a tough year for everybody, but we’re all getting through it and learning as we go,” he said. “We’re starting to get back to normal a little bit and I’m glad Atlantic’s able to have the tournament this year.”
When he’s not on the golf course, he’s taking up another relaxing hobby, and it’s part of his job: Fishing. He’s the fishing lead at Bass Pro Shops in Council Bluffs. He’s also finding plenty of time to be with family, friends and his girlfriend.
Now, he’ll have a chance to enjoy that other part of his life – golf – with those close to him as returns to the TOC to defend his title. And have plenty of fun while doing so.
“My expectations are different than they were last year, just because I know what I’m capable of now,” he said. “I’m gong to go out there and play golf and have fun, taking it shot by shot. I’m not going to get a lot of sleep tonight.
“There’s a lot of nerves, but I’m excited to get out there.”