AMES, Iowa—The Iowa State men’s golf team has had the pleasure of having two special players make headlines over the last four years in seniors Nick Voke and Ruben Sondjaja.
The tandem are the epitome of what it means to be a Cyclone, helping maintain ISU’s success at a national level.
Their impact on ISU’s team success over the last four seasons is remarkable. Just ask Iowa State head coach Andrew Tank.
“Nick and Ruben are the foundation of the team really,” Tank said. “They’ve emerged as leaders. They came in as freshmen and they were ahead in terms of their maturity and leadership, but over their four years they felt it was their duty to share their knowledge with the younger players. They both add energy to our program. It’s been so much fun to see them mature.”
With Voke and Sondjaja in the lineup, ISU has had unprecedented success: A NCAA Championship appearance (2014), three NCAA Regional berths (2014, 2015, 2017), six tournament titles and annual top-50 national rankings are just a few team highlights they’ve shared together.
The two first competed against each other at a junior tournament in Sydney, Australia. Voke, who is from Auckland, New Zealand, and Sondjaja, who hails from Sydney, were unaware of the special bond they would later form over 7,000 miles away in Ames, Iowa.
“He’s (Sondjaja) an unbelievable person,” Voke said. “The first time we played together was in 2012. We’ve developed a strong connection. It’s almost like the coaches are the grandparents and we’re the parents of this program. Being able to share that alongside such a good guy has been a lot of fun.”
When the two first arrived in Ames in the 2013-14 season, they had two strong upperclassmen to model their style after in All-American Scott Fernandez and Sam Daley.
Fernandez and Daley help build the culture and success of Cyclone men’s golf. Voke and Sondjaja have sustained it.
“As a freshman and sophomore, I was lucky to have Scott and Sam on the team to look up to,” Sondjaja said. “It’s kind of strange because I don’t view myself as one of those guys. I’m a senior now and I remember coming in at the start of my career looking to Scott and Sam and really embracing whatever they had to tell me. I guess I’m in a similar position now, but I don’t view as if I’m better than the guys on our team. I might have a couple extra years of experience here, but I view the underclassmen almost the same way Sam and Scott took care of me. All the guys on our team right now are guys I look up to and it’s been quite special to be able to play golf with them.”
Both Voke and Sondjaja cracked the lineup as rookies in ISU’s magical 2013-14 campaign. Both made the Big 12 All-Tournament team by tying for ninth at the Big 12 Championship, guiding the Cyclones to a fourth-place finish, their best showing at the conference meet since 1997.
The Cyclones secured an NCAA Regional berth and were eyeing the school’s first-ever NCAA Championship appearance.
The odds of making the finals dipped, however, when a freak accident occurred. Voke and Sondjaja were tooling around Ames on skateboards on a beautiful spring evening. Voke’s skateboard hit a crack, tossing him forward in a full tumble.
When Voke tried to get up, he knew something was wrong. The diagnosis validated Voke’s pain, as the freshman would have to sit out of postseason play with a broken collar bone.
Sondjaja may have felt worse than Voke.
“We’ve had a lot of experiences together, good and bad,” Sondjaja. “What happened to Nick in his freshman year is a good example. But all of these experiences we have shared, competing for four years and traveling, we definitely created a bond that is very special. To have a great golfer and leader like Nick on your team makes everything easier. Whenever I’m having a bad day, he lifts me up, and if he’s having a bad day, I hope I can do the same to him.”
Despite Voke’s absence at regionals in 2014, the Cyclones shocked the golfing nation by still qualifying for the NCAA finals.
Making it back to the finals is a goal the pair marked down back in September when the season began.
“In one of our first team meetings we set a goal to not only make it to the NCAA Championships, but to also advance to the Elite Eight (match play),” Voke said. “That would be phenomenal for us as a program. However, with goals so high, we know we needed to buckle down and get to work.”
The farewell tour of Voke and Sondjaja has been record-setting. The senior leaders have helped the Cyclones hoist three team title trophies, the most by a Cyclone squad since 1996-97, and record a pair of runner-up finishes.
“All the guys routinely say that lifting the team trophy is a lot more important than the individual trophy,” Voke said. “It is really nice to bring home some silverware. We expect it now, and if we don’t come away with some silverware then we will be pretty frustrated.”
Sondjaja echoed Voke’s sentiments.
“It’s a great feeling and each time we have won in different ways,” Sondjaja said. “Each tournament victory is very special and we understand that in golf winning doesn’t happen very often, so we embrace that. Every time that we do get the chance to win, we just enjoy it.”
Team awards and accomplishments are a by-product of outstanding individual play.
Voke and Sondjaja, who are both ranked in the nation’s top-160 by Golfweek, also have that covered.
Voke, ranked No. 79 nationally, has won four tournament titles in his career (2014 VCU Shootout, 2015 General Hackler, 2016 NIT, 2017 Hawkeye Invitational), tying for first in school history, and placed in the top-10 17 times, ranking third in school history.
His 201 at the 2016 ASU Thunderbird Invitational set the school mark for low 54-hole score.
Voke is aiming to break Fernandez’ season scoring mark of 71.27. He currently is averaging 71.50 strokes per round.
Voke’s accomplishments on the links can be attributed to his incredible ball-striking. If you walk 18 holes with Voke you will hear a distinctive sound. It’s a routine sound of a ball connecting squarely on the club face with high force, a reverberation a professional makes.
Sondjaja, who is ranked No. 152 in the nation, joined Voke in the champions club a year ago when he won medalist honors at the 2016 Hawkeye Invitational. His 11 career top-10 finishes ties for seventh in school history.
Sondjaja owns a share of the school record for low 18-hole score, carding a 64 at the 2014 ASU Thunderbird Invitational.
Don’t let Sondjaja’s diminutive stature fool you. He stands only 5-8 and is just a shade over 150 pounds, but Sondjaja can blast it off the tee.
He is one of the longest hitters on the team, gaining an advantage with consistent drives of over 300 yards.
Both will graduate with top-three career scoring averages. Voke is currently first at 71.96. Sondjaja is third at 72.81.
There is more to Voke and Sondjaja’s legacy than just wins, honors and awards, however.
Perhaps their impact at Iowa State is important for their commitment to maintaining a winning culture and nurturing younger players for future success.
Voke and Sondjaja will pass the torch off to players like Denzel Ieremia, Sam Vincent and Tripp Kinney, who have already benefited from their mentoring.
“The first day I got here, Nick gave me a couple of drills and he said that if he doesn’t finish them, he’s not going home until they’re done,” said Kinney, a rookie on the Cyclone squad. “Seeing that, I just went, ‘Wow,’ these are really tough drills. It’s a blessing to have such great senior leaders in Ruben and Nick. They know what they’re doing and have been around the block a couple times. I just watch them and try to follow their lead.”
Tank will for vouch for Kinney’s assessment of the pair’s outstanding leadership.
“When Ruben and Nick first got here they were both taken care of by the older guys, so I think they are trying to return the favor,” Tank said. “You look back at some of the guys and how they’ve moved on and what they’ve done for the program, I think that each year there becomes more of that sense of ownership. Both Nick and Ruben wanted to leave ISU golf in a better place than they found it, and they certainly have.”