July 1, 2010
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IOWA CITY, IA —The University of Iowa men’s golf team finished the 2009-2010 season with the highest national ranking in school history. The Hawkeyes, ranked 36th out of 300 NCAA Division I teams in the country, also accomplished Iowa’s best Big Ten finish since 1992 and produced a NCAA Regional berth for the second-consecutive year under Head Coach Mark Hankins.
“This season produced a lot of team and individual records, said Hankins. “These guys are starting to believe and trust in our team depth and it showed in our overall consistency. We had a great finish at Big Ten’s and raised the bar a little higher with regards to our national ranking and status.”
The Black and Gold began the fall season with an impressive second-place finish at their own Golfweek Conference Challenge, contested at Blue Top Ridge in Riverside, IA. Junior Brad Hopfinger led the charge as he fired a three-round total of 207 (-9), claiming a share of first place.
“The ability for us to host and play well in such a high-level event on one of our home golf courses was invaluable,” Hankins said. “We were focused, confident and learned how to compete in front of our home crowd.”
Iowa continued its success in September where it picked up a pair of top-five team finishes. The Hawkeyes placed fifth at the Golden Gopher Invitational, where junior Vince India carded a 54-hole score of 215 (-1) to finish tied for fourth. Hopfinger then tied for fourth at the VCU Shootout with a score of 217 (+1). His performance led the Hawkeyes to a tie for fourth place as a team.
Iowa also produced top-10 individual performances in the final two tournaments of the fall, starting with the Fighting Irish Classic. The Hawkeyes carded a team total of 885 (+45) on their way to a share of sixth place, while India posted a 218 (+8) to tie for 10th. Iowa closed out the season with a third place finish at the Baylor Intercollegiate, after firing an 865 (+13). Hopfinger and India both fired 54-hole totals of 214 (+1) to finish tied for 10th.
“Baylor was a great tournament for us,” said Hankins. “We played the best of any team in the worst weather and showed we can compete with anyone, with all five guys grinding to save every shot.”
Hopfinger led the team after the fall season with an impressive scoring average of 71.9, while India boasted a 72.8 average.
Iowa kicked off its spring schedule with a string of match-play events. February found the Hawkeyes in Coral Springs, FL, for the Big Ten Match-Play Championship. The Black and Gold went 2-1 overall, picking up wins against Ohio State and Minnesota on their way to a third place finish. India, along with sophomores Barrett Kelpin and Brad George, went 2-1 individually.
In one of their most impressive showings of the entire year, the Hawkeyes finished 5th in the 16-team Callaway Collegiate Match-Play. Iowa went 3-1 while knocking off #9 Arizona State, #8 UNLV and #2 Stanford. Kelpin went 4-0 as an individual while Hopfinger garnered “Big Ten Golfer of the Week” as he bettered three of the nation’s top-100 collegiate golfers, including a 6&5 win over Stanford’s Sihwan Kim.
“All of the match-play competition helped to create confidence in our team,” added Hankins. “We play well head-to-head with anyone, whether it’s match-play or the final round of a medal-play tournament. This team has grown to be tough and expects to win in these situations.”
Moving back into stroke-play competition, the Hawkeyes closed out March with a second place finish in the 16-team Spring Break Championship in Boca Raton, FL. Iowa carded a team tournament total of 860 (+8), while Kelpin paved the way with an individual score of 209 (-4). His score not only earned him a share of second place, but it stands as the fourth lowest 54-hole score carded in program history.
Iowa was given another opportunity to shine at home when it hosted the Hawkeye Invitational at Finkbine Golf Course in Iowa City. The Black and Gold dominated the field and finished in first place with a score of 863 (-1). Kelpin continued to shine as the Kalamazoo, MI, native tied for fourth. His three-round score of even par 216 included a final round 64, which marks his career best as well as the second-lowest in program history.
“The Hawkeye Invitational was a great way to re-start our true home tournament,” Hankins said. “We invited all of the teams around the region and performed up to our ranking by beating the field soundly on the final day. The experience of dealing with the home crowd at the Golfweek Conference Challenge helped us to really perform on the final day of the Hawkeye Invitational and put up a great number.”
The Hawkeyes concluded their regular season with a seventh place finish at the Boilermaker Invitational. Iowa posted a team total of 892 (+28) and was led by Hopfinger. His score of 220 (+4) was good for a share of 11th and marked his sixth top-15 individual finish up to that point in the season.
Iowa stayed hot into the post season with a second place finish at the Big Ten Championships, its best finish since winning the title in 1992. The Black and Gold carded a team score of 1160 (+24) which is the third lowest 72-hole team score in Iowa history. Kelpin continued to set personal marks and program records with his third place finish at the Championships. His even par 284 is the second-lowest 72-hole individual score in school history.
“I was really satisfied with the final round effort and focus that our guys showed to pick up 13 shots on Illinois and finish a close second,” said Hankins. “We played well in tough conditions and showed that we had the team depth to play with anyone.”
All of the season’s hard work was rewarded with Iowa’s second NCAA Regional invitation in as many years, something the Hawkeyes had not accomplished in half a decade. The Black and Gold finished tied for sixth and missed the NCAA Championship cut by one stroke, but not without putting up a fight. Their team score of 848 (+8) marks the second-lowest 54-hole team score in program history. Hopfinger finished tied for 11th with a score of 209 (-1), tying Kelpin’s low recorded at the Spring Break Championship.
“One of our main goals every year is to gain a berth into the NCAA Regionals and we were proud to do so again,” said Hankins. “It’s the culmination of the entire season and gives our guys the ability to perform on the biggest stage with all of the other top teams from around the country.”
By season’s end, the Hawkeyes compiled 10 top-five team tournament finishes and a heap of school records, both as a team and individually. Hopfinger and Kelpin’s overall scoring averages of 72.5 and 72.8, respectively, stand as the two best season scoring averages in program history. Close behind is India, whose overall average of 73.1 marks the 4th lowest season scoring average in history.
“This team has had multiple leaders and different guys stepping up during the year to make us consistent throughout,” Hankins said. “Each one of them has tasted what it’s like to get the lead accolades and that should make for a competitive intra squad battle for number one next season.”
With no Hawkeyes lost to graduation, and early success in this summer’s amateur tour from student-athletes like Kelpin and India, competition will be at a surplus this fall. Add Iowa prep standout and incoming freshman Ian Vandersee into the mix and Hankins knows that every student-athlete will be battling for a spot.
“Even though we return everyone from this year’s team we will have a different feel next year,” added Hankins. “It will be a senior season for four guys and adding freshmen to compete for spots can both be distractions. We will approach it like any other season; they all need to come back to school ready to play for their spot. Competition and success this summer will be the key to a good start next fall.”