After Jon Rahm-inspired swing epiphany, Nels Surtani wins Golfweek Hoosier Amateur in Pfau marathon

From the final group of the Golfweek Hoosier Amateur on Aug. 10, Nels Surtani had the benefit of watching the third round unfold ahead of him. Surtani, who had taken the 36-hole lead with a second-round 68, knew exactly what he needed to do to make a playoff coming down the final hole of the Pfau Course at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, so he made the necessary 6-footer – a downhill left-to-right breaker – for a final-round 73. That put him at 2 over for 54 holes and forced a playoff.

The sun dropped lower and lower as Surtani, who will be a junior at Purdue, battled with incoming Indiana freshman Cal Hoskins, who had posted a final-round 71 to catch Surtani. After three extra holes, there still wasn’t a winner.

“At this point after the third playoff hole, I was really tired and my yardages, my clubs were starting to go shorter,” Surtani said. “I could tell I was getting fatigued and I really had to concentrate to stay in it.”

On the fourth extra hole, the par-4 10th, Hoskins lost his drive in the woods but chipped in for par. Surtani missed a birdie putt to win and the pair went on. Surtani finally closed out Hoskins on the fifth extra hole.

Surtani will take his hardware home to Noblesville, Indiana, before heading back to Purdue later this month, but Hoskins gets to take on the Pfau challenge over and over again.

“I’m really excited to play it a lot because I feel like that’s just kind of what you need – something that’s really difficult,” he said of the Hoosiers’ home course. “It definitely beat me up in the brain for three days straight.”

Surtani, who finished T-47 two years at the Golfweek Hoosier Amateur, is on a two-tournament winning streak, having picked up his first-ever amateur title last month at the Northern Amateur. Where his game is concerned, he had something of an epiphany last summer while scrolling Instagram, and it all started with Jon Rahm.

In answering a question about his uniquely compact swing, Rahm revealed that he was born with a club foot. It was a big headline in the run-up to the 2021 British Open, and it had Surtani’s attention. He could relate, having also been born with a club foot. His left leg is an inch shorter than his right.

“We always knew my left leg was shorter, but we never attributed that to any of the issues I had in my swing,” Surtani said, explaining that for years he had gotten stuck on the inside on his downswing.

Surtani loves to read about the golf swing, so he spent a few days observing Rahm and studying. After some trial and error, he began lifting his left heel before he swings. It was a simple move that brought big change.

“It’s probably the best thing I’ve ever done as far as in my golf game,” he said. “Just started to become more confident and hitting better shots.”

Surtani hasn’t worked with a swing instructor for more than two years, and lifting his left heel is the most significant change he’s made to his swing in that time. Purdue head coach Rob Bradley will give him a tip now and then, but mostly Surtani has been navigating his swing by himself lately. He’s worked hard on his chipping over the past year, and it’s another big reason for the results he’s seeing now – that, and mental game.

“I don’t feel like I’m a better ballstriker or longer than I have been in the past year but I’ve become more confident in my game this past year,” he said. “I feel like I turned a corner this summer, for sure.”

Surtani won the Northern Amateur wire to wire and called it one of the best tournaments he’s played in his career. But at the Pfau Course for the Hoosier Amateur, he didn’t feel like he had his best game.

The Steve Smyers-designed Pfau Course, which opened in June 2020, can be exhausting.

“It’s just every hole is a potential double-bogey and you have to be very conscious of where you hit your shot, where you miss it,” he said.

Surtani last played this course during the fall of 2020, when the college golf season was shut down amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It wasn’t a great week.

“It was a good comeback,” Surtani said of his return.

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