Men's Golf Looks to Build on 2009 Strong Finish

Feb. 26, 2010

IOWA CITY, Iowa – – With the final days of February rapidly approaching, Iowa’s men’s golf team has gotten an early jump on the spring season by traveling to two match play events during the month. After splitting two matches in the first competition of the spring season, Iowa won two of three matches to take third place at the second-annual Big Ten Match Play Championships.

The Big Ten Network will air a 90-minute feature on the Big Ten Match Play competition on Sunday, March 14 at 11 a.m. CT.

The two match play events offer a different format than most of the events the Hawkeyes will take part in during the spring. Most competitions feature stroke play, where the top four individual scores from each team are used for the team total. In match play events, six golfers play for each team in head-to-head competition with a player from the opposing team for one team point.

While stroke play is used for the Big Ten Championships at the end of the spring and NCAA regional competition, stroke play and match play are used at the NCAA Championships. In opening the season at the Big Four Match Play, Iowa won its first match before losing its second and final match on a tie-breaker.

At the Big Ten Match Play, all three of Iowa’s matches came down to the final holes at the cool and windy Heron Bay Golf Course in Coral Springs, FL. Iowa, the second seed, defeated Ohio State in the quarter-finals on a tie-breaker. Each team won three of the six matches. Iowa’s Brad Hopfinger, playing the No. 1 position, birdied the final hole to win 3 & 1. That forced the match to the tie-breaker, with the Hawkeyes prevailing in the third criteria.

In the semi-finals, Iowa lost to Northwestern, 3½ – 2½, with the match being decided on a Northwestern victory in the final match on the course. The Wildcats went on to a 6-0 win in the title match, while Iowa claimed third place with a 3 ½-2 ½ win over Minnesota. The Minnesota match wasn’t decided until Hopfinger again birdied the final hole to claim the final half point Iowa needed for the win.

Iowa concluded the 2009 season with a 17th place finish at the NCAA Championships, and returns four of the five players who competed in both the NCAA national and the NCAA Regional a year ago. Even better news for the program is the fact that the 2010 roster includes no seniors.

Of the remaining events on the schedule, only the Callaway Collegiate Match Play event (Mar. 21-23) consists of match play. That is, until the finals of the NCAA Championships.

The match play is a little different,” admitted Hopfinger. “But I think it’s good for us. It’s very competitive, so I think it woke us up right away, to be competitive right away to start the season.”

Hopfinger played in the top position for Iowa in both events. He led the team with a 72.1 average over his 15 rounds played in fall events. He shared the individual title at the Golfweek Conference Challenge (hosted by Iowa) and led Iowa in three of the five events.

“So far I’ve been pretty pleased with my start,” said Hopfinger, a junior from Lake Forest, IL. “I was disappointed in my loss to Northwestern, but I did a pretty good job of hanging in there in most of my matches. I’ve played pretty solid in most of the matches and I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.”

Playing the No. 1 position, Hopfinger knows he will have a tough opponent in any match play event. “I know in match play I will be playing the best players from other teams,” added Hopfinger. “I use that as motivation. I have to be playing my best; I won’t be successful if I’m not at the top of my game.”

Hopfinger and his teammates enjoyed the success of earning a trip to the NCAA Championships last season and placing 17th in the nation, and he says that success in part of a two-way street.

“It’s a whole new year, last year doesn’t mean anything,” he pointed out. “So in that sense it’s over and gone. But, we know we can do it now, it has really motivated all of us to get back there. It was a lot of fun doing that last year, it was the most fun any of us have had playing golf. So we are using that as motivation to get back there.”

Hopfinger and his teammates will participate in Iowa’s Black and Gold Alumni event March 6 in Dallas, hopefully taking advantage of some warmer weather in Dallas while meeting and golfing with alumni of the Iowa golf program. From there the Hawkeyes will work towards qualifying for NCAA post-season competition for the second straight season.

“The two weekends of match play were good to for all of us see what we have to work on,” concluded Hopfinger. “I think all of us came out with different ideas of what we need to work on. “I think all of us will try to figure that out, work on our games and be ready to go when we have our next competition.”