By Kate Bruns
In 2012, Nick Voke emailed about 50 American collegiate golf coaches to see if anyone might be interested in working with an up-and-coming Kiwi. Voke, who grew up in Auckland, New Zealand with parents who couldn’t tell a hook from a slice, had used the sticks Mum and Dad reluctantly purchased to golf his way into the World Junior Golf Championship and was now facing the potential of turning a childhood hobby into a fruitful career.
Five years later, Voke (’17 kinesiology & health) found himself golfing in New Zealand once again – this time in the Asia-Pacific Amateur Golf Championship, where he rubbed elbows with some of golf’s biggest names while serving as an ambassador for the host country. Voke’s father, who still doesn’t know a draw from a fade, saw his son in his element: as one of the country’s biggest sports stars, surrounded by cameras and crowds, representing New Zealand at press conferences and publicity events.
“He said he was a proud chap,” Voke remembers, “which was quite nice to hear.”
The golden-headed lad Voke’s father remembers schlepping to youth golf meets had transformed into a soon-to-be pro. It happened 7,940 miles away, thanks to a reply to one of those hopeful emails.
Andrew Tank, then in his second year at the helm of the Iowa State men’s golf program, offered Voke a scholarship. Without having ever set foot in Ames, Iowa, Voke accepted – and tucked an extra dose of blind faith in his golf bag.
Today, Ames has become a special place to Voke. It’s not only a place he considers a home away from home, but a place he’d someday like to call a long-term home. It’s a place where he rewrote the Iowa State golf record books, where he earned academic all-Big 12 accolades while studying kinesiology and health, where he overcame a potentially career-ending injury after a freshman-year longboarding accident, and where he found the coaches — Tank and assistant coach Chad Keohane — he says will be his mentors for life.
“What’s allowed me to succeed has just been having coaches who were so honest and open and willing to do things to help you succeed,” Voke says. “If you combine the facility we have here and the coaches, I haven’t seen a better combination in America. It truly is a phenomenal place to develop.”
Voke’s impact on the Iowa State golf program was immediate, as he broke ISU’s rookie scoring mark and notched four top-10 finishes as a freshman. And once he recovered from his accident, things only got better for Voke on the course. He left Ames as an honorable-mention Ping All-American and ISU’s all-time career stroke average leader (71.89). As a senior, he led the Cyclones to a national championship berth by shooting a jaw-dropping, school-record 61 as the NCAA Austin Regional individual medalist.
“That was the second time we made it to nationals in four years, and what a great group of guys to share that with,” remembers Voke, who seems more gratified by the team achievement than by the individual performance that turned heads across the country. “That was probably the pinnacle of my time [at Iowa State].”
As Voke prepares to move from a collegiate amateur to a touring professional, he reflects with great admiration on the unique team aspect of the college game. “College golf is very cool. You take all your own individual ambitions and funnel them toward a collective purpose,” Voke says. “If we’re all collectively doing our thing to better the program, then that’s the ultimate thing. My favorite Greek proverb reminds us that society grows great when wise men plants trees whose shade they’ll never see. If in 10 or 20 years’ time we can understand that we were an influential part of helping the program rise, then that’s our great responsibility.”
Voke sees the Iowa State golf pro-gram as well-positioned to become one of the nation’s best, not just because of the proverbial trees he and his teammates planted but because of the leadership of the program and the quality of university it represents.
“[Iowa State] is a place where, if you put your head down, do the best you can, you can have a happy day. The community packs Jack Trice, it packs Hilton, it support all sports. They genuinely love this place – they support the athletic pursuit to be the best, the academic drive, and the desire to improve not just individual students but also to improve society. The culture is special.”
Voke finished in a tie for 10th Oct. 29 at the Asia-Pacific Amateur, an event he would go on to say was officially his last as an amateur golfer. In November, he finished just out of qualifying at the Web.com Tour Q School second round at TPC Craig Ranch in McKinney, Texas, so he now plans to make his professional debut on the Austalasian Golf Tour in 2018.
“It’s a good place to learn the trade and almost like an apprenticeship to become a tour professional,” Voke says of the Australasian. “There aren’t a lot of big purses, but it’s certainly a good stepping stone.”
Voke says there are many paths he can follow to achieving his ultimate dream of playing on the PGA Tour, leading with his long-consistent reputation for strong ball-striking and iron play.
“The best way to describe my game right now is that it’s pretty solid,” Voke says. “I know that if I putt and drive well, I’ll shoot well. I’ve had a big emphasis on those two components lately.”
And along the way, no matter where he is, Voke knows he can rely on the support of the Iowa State community – even in the middle of rural Japan, where an opponent’s caddy recently remarked on the Cyclone emblem emblazoned on his golf bag.
“Wherever I go to compete, I hear ‘Go, Cyclones’ from the crowd,” Voke says. “It gets me pretty pumped up and excited. If you’re proud to be a Cyclone, they’re always happy to cheer for you.”
This article was originally published in VISIONS magazine. To receive the full issue delivered to your mailbox four times per year, become a member of the ISU Alumni Association.