Feb. 5, 2010
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IOWA CITY, Iowa – – Iowa’s men’s golf team finished the 2009 season at the NCAA Championships, earning a 17th place finish. After a successful fall season, Coach Mark Hankins and the Hawkeyes are anxious to start the 2010 spring campaign. Iowa begins its schedule Saturday, Feb. 6, taking part in the Big Four Match Play Challenge in Chandler, AZ.
The Big Four Match Play Challenge will feature the four Division I programs from the state of Iowa, as Drake, Iowa State and Northern Iowa will join the Hawkeyes in Arizona for the first competition of the season. The competition will be held at the Lone Tree Golf Club (par 71, 6,984 yards).
Iowa and Drake will meet in the morning session, while Iowa State and Northern Iowa will meet as well. The two morning winners will meet for the championship that afternoon and the teams that do not win in the morning will play for third place.
The Hawkeyes last competed in late October, placing third at the Baylor Intercollegiate. Iowa finished among the top five teams in four of its fall events, including a second place finish at the GolfWeek Conference Challenge that the Hawkeyes hosted at Blue Top Ridge in Riverside.
Iowa returns five lettermen from a year ago and lost just two players from the squad that earned a trip to the NCAA Championships with its fifth place finish at the NCAA Regional. Hankins feels that end of the year experience will continue to pay dividends for his young team that includes no seniors and just two juniors. Iowa’s six competitors in the opening event include four sophomores and two juniors.
“Last year, we did not do well in match play,” said Hankins. “These two match play events to start will help us prepare for the remainder of the schedule. Match play tends to be different than regular tournament golf; it’s more competitive, so to speak, on every hole, its one on one.
“I have to believe that we will approach it better this year,” added the Hawkeye coach. “The Big Four and the Big Ten Match Play Challenge are important events. This week is against in-state rivals. This week can help us prepare for the Big Ten event the following weekend.”
After opening the season in Arizona, Iowa will travel to Coral Springs, FL for the Big Ten Conference Match Play championships Feb. 12-13. Hankins feels his team will be better prepared after struggling in the first conference match play event a year ago.
“Heading into last spring we were ranked in the top 40 for the first time and had received some publicity,” recalled Hankins. “Like a lot of teams in different sports, we read about our team and let it bring added pressure. After that event we got back to work and peaked towards the end of the season for the Big Ten Tournament and the NCAA regional and national championships.”
Hankins has put together a strong schedule for his squad, knowing the competition will pay dividends down the road. The Hawkeyes host their annual Hawkeye Invitational April 17-18. The Boilermaker Invitational will serve as the final tune up before the Big Ten Championships (April 30-May 2) take place in Minneapolis, MN.
“After placing 17th nationally, we had to ask ourselves, how we improve on that,” noted Hankins. “The answer is, you have to do more, and you have to do it better. You have to prepare more and have more discipline. The only way to get better is to improve your level or preparation and improve your results.”
Hankins felt his team had a productive fall season, beginning with the second place finish in the opening event while facing some of the top teams from different conferences around the country.
“I liked the way we went about our business in that first event,” said Hankins, after his team placed behind Florida State to start the fall schedule. “We played with the focus and the confidence you need to have success. I felt that was a direct result of how we had finished the spring at the NCAA Championships.”
Hankins will look for that same focus from his squad throughout the spring season. “Our schedule is set along the lines of what it takes to advance in NCAA post-season golf,” said Hankins. “We will compete against 20 of the top 25 teams before the Big Ten Championships at the end of April. We’re starting earlier than ever; it doesn’t feel like we’ve had a long off season.
“We want each player to play within his ability and build from this first event, hopefully through a positive experience” concluded Hankins. “We’ll concentrate on 125 yards and in and our best opportunities to score. If we manage our nerves, we’ll be fine.”
Hankins, a Mt. Pleasant native who is in his third season as the head of the Hawkeye program, knows his team has what it takes to continue its success of a year ago. Hankins and his Hawkeyes hope the journey that begins this week in Arizona will end in June in Chattanooga, TN, home of the 2010 NCAA Championships.