Oct. 21, 2009
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By Richie Zawistowski
IOWA CITY, Iowa — “Don’t think. Just do.”
The old sports adage taught by many coaches across the nation is meant to educate players to trust in their physical abilities and their execution, and not over-think. When referring to a sport like golf, the opposite of the saying may be true.
Golf requires a mental aspect to the game unlike most other sports. Before every stroke, the golfer must adjust for wind variables, study the slope of the green, and make the necessary mental modifications.
It’s not that other professional golfers do not possess similar physical attributes as Tiger Woods, but part of what makes Woods great is the mental edge he holds over his competitors, and the tough mental task of playing against him.
Brad Hopflinger is learning to master the mental aspect of the game of golf. Hopflinger transferred to the University of Iowa from Kansas following the 2007-08 season.
“I wanted to get on a more competitive team and I figured that Iowa would be the best place,” said Hopflinger. “The year before, they weren’t as good as we are now, but I just had a feeling that it was going to turn around. I also liked coach (Mark) Hankins a lot. I thought he could help my game a little bit.”
Hopflinger, a junior, has been playing golf since he was 10, which started at country clubs with his father.
“I didn’t play serious golf until I was 14 or 15,” Hopfinger said. “I started because I would go to the course with my dad. We always belonged to a country club, so I always had a place to play.”
The Hawkeyes complete the fall portion of their schedule Oct. 26-27 at the Baylor Intercollegiate tournament in Dallas, Texas. After 12 rounds this season, Hopfinger leads Iowa with a 72.1 stroke average (with a low round of 67).
Hopflinger, who was described by Hankins as “a very good student, open and honest, and extremely responsible,” has improved in every aspect since arriving at UI in 2008. However, Hankins went on to say that Hopflinger’s mental game is what is the most improved.
“I’d say he’s improved in every area,” said Hankins, “But I’d say his mental approach to golf, what he thinks about and his ability to stay in the present and not worry about results as much is what he’s most improved on.”
“I’d say his mental game may be a strength. His golf course management, understanding his strengths and weaknesses, all that. Also being patient, he does a really good job of just sticking with it. You’re not going hit every shot great, he’ll hit some bad shots here and there but he recovers well.”
UI head coach Mark Hankins on Brad Hopfinger
Hankins may even call Hopflinger’s mental approach the strength of his game.
“I’d say his mental game may be a strength,” said Hankins. “His golf course management, understanding his strengths and weaknesses, all that. Also being patient, he does a really good job of just sticking with it. You’re not going hit every shot great, he’ll hit some bad shots here and there but he recovers well.”
While having a great mental game is always an asset, there is always the physical portion of the game, to which Hopflinger excels as well.
“Also I’d say his short game is one of his strengths,” said Hankins. “He makes a lot of birdies and you have to have good wedge play and good putting to make a lot of birdies.”
Good athletes are always looking for ways to improve their game and Hopflinger is no exception. While the short game may be a strength, he is looking to improve on his game from further away from the hole.
“I think I need to get my ball-striking skills a little better. It’s not bad, but I think to really keep making birdies I need to improve on that,” said Hopflinger.
Whatever he is doing seems to be working. Hopflinger set a course record in the second round at a tournament in Riverside, Iowa, in early September. The second round at Riverside was unique, mostly because Hopflinger broke teammate Vince India’s course record.
“The weather was good so I was able to take advantage and make good shots, good puts, I was able to play pretty smart,” said Hopflinger. “Early in the round I got myself in trouble with three early birdies, but I did a good job of getting out of trouble and holding it together the whole day.”
Some golfers may not be able to hold it together mentally and could not deal with the pressure of having to face an uphill battle. Hopflinger says it’s just part of the game.
“The pressure will always be there, I think it happens so much I’m just starting to accept it more,” said Hopflinger. “You’re going to hit bad shots, and if you’re going to shoot a good round, you have to accept that bad shots are going to come and figure out a way to get out of it. With the pressure, you just try to stick to your routine and try to not let it bother you.”
While it may be much easier said than done, Hopflinger has a recipe for success when dealing with pressure and other mental obstacles. This mentality has helped him keep winning and become one of the team’s best golfers. This is nothing new to Hopflinger.
“I like competing, I’ve always played sports,” said Hopfliner. “I really like competing and winning, so winning is what keeps me going.”
Considering the mentality and past actions of Hopflinger, he’s going to keep going…and going.