Hawkeye golfers calm, yet satisfied

May 18, 2009

Hankins surprised by UI’s rapid climb in men’s golf

IOWA CITY, Iowa — The University of Iowa’s rapid climb from 152nd in the nation two seasons ago to the NCAA men’s golf championships in 2009 has even surprised Hawkeye head coach Mark Hankins.

“I didn’t expect it this quickly,” Hankins said. “I really believed that we could turn it around. I believed we were going to get the right kind of players and develop the players that were here. We needed to get the program rolling a little bit again.”

Iowa finished fifth at the NCAA Southeast Regional on May 14-16 at RedTail Golf Club in Sorrento, Fla., carding a 15-under 837 for fifth place — six shots better that Georgia State. It was the first regional trip for the Hawkeyes since 1995, which was also the last time they advanced to nationals.

“We talked about it being a three-round tournament,” Hankins said. “We wanted to stick to that no matter how we were finishing each day. Until the last hole when Brad Hopfinger made a four-foot putt for par, we didn’t have much reaction.”

The Hawkeyes entered the final day of the regional tournament in seventh place (the top five advance to nationals). After firing rounds of 283 and 278, Iowa came through with a 276, highlighted by Cole Peevler’s18-hole score of 66.

“As the tournament went along, the kids did a lot better job of managing their games,” Hankins said. “Cole’s score was a final capper.”

Hopfinger led the three-day charge with a 54-hole score of 207, which tied for 10th in the medalist race. Peevler tied for 19th with 209, Chris Brant tied for 23rd with 210, Vince India tied for 40th with 214 and Barrett Kelpin tied for 55th with 219. Georgia, Arizona and South Carolina all finished eight strokes ahead of the Hawkeyes in second place. Central Florida shot 818 for the win.

There is no single ingredient for the Hawkeye resurgence. When Hankins arrived, he beefed up the tournament schedule.

“We played all over the country against the best teams in the country,” he said. “That prepared us when we faced Georgia, the No. 1 team in the country, and South Carolina, which is in the top 15. We were used to seeing them and we were comfortable being around them. We knew we could compete with those teams and that’s what helped us be confident and play our own game.”

Hankins also ignited more competitiveness on the team by bringing in a recruiting class of four freshmen and a sophomore transfer.

“I didn’t expect it this quickly. I really believed that we could turn it around. I believed we were going to get the right kind of players and develop the players that were here. We needed to get the program rolling a little bit again.”
UI head men’s golf coach
Mark Hankins

“Those guys have raised the level of practice,” Hankins said. “We needed to change our practice habits and practice like we compete.”

Perhaps the biggest boost came in October, when the Hawkeyes outdistanced a 12-team field at the Landfall Tradition competition in Wilmington, N.C.

“We gained a lot of confidence in the fall when we won our last tournament,” Hankins said.

Iowa placed sixth in the Big Ten Conference, a league that continues to boost its reputation on the links. Nine of the 11 schools qualified for regionals and Iowa will be joined at nationals by Illinois, Ohio State, Northwestern and Michigan.

“The overall depth of the Big Ten is incredible,” Hankins said.

Peevler is the lone Hawkeye senior who will play at nationals. Hopfinger and India are sophomores and Brant and Kelpin are freshmen.

“We have to play the same way if we expect to receive that gratification again at the end,” Hankins said. “At regionals they did a really good job staying focused on what they should have been focused on and that was playing each hole one at a time.”

How did the Hawkeye program celebrate after 14 years of being left out of the regional and national party?

“It was calm, but satisfaction,” Hankins said. “We got into the clubhouse and the parents were there. We stayed around for an extra hour getting pictures and enjoying the hard work they had just put in.”

Only 30 of the 300 Division I men’s golf teams qualify for the national championship May 27-30 at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio. The teams will play three rounds, with the top eight teams then moving on to head-to-head match play.