March 29, 2011
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Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Friday, Aug. 13, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2010-11 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Chris Brant used to fight to make the University of Iowa men’s golf travel roster; now he fights to win tournaments.
Brant, a junior from Edwardsville, Ill., has watched his collegiate stroke average decrease from 76.1 as a freshman in the fall of 2008, to 71.7 with a low round of 64 in the fall of 2010. That improvement, combined with a seasoned cast of teammates, has made for lofty expectations for Brant and the Hawkeyes.
“Our collective goal would be to win a Big Ten championship this year,” Brant said. “We definitely have the firepower to do it and that would be goal No. 1. Based on our starting lineup and our previous experience there, we could also make a splash at the national championship.”
No. 12-ranked Iowa recently returned from the Callaway Collegiate Match Play competition in Ball Ground, Ga., with a 3-1 record, including victories against No. 3 Alabama and No. 15 Georgia. Brant played No. 3 for the Hawkeyes and posted a 2-1 win over Hudson Swafford of Georgia.
The tournament provided another opportunity for the Hawkeyes to blend together and the individuals to hone their leadership skills. Iowa is seeking its third consecutive NCAA appearance after advancing to nationals in 2009 and the NCAA Central Regional in 2010.
“When I came here as a freshman, we kind of had one leader and that was Cole (Peevler),” Brant said. “After he graduated, Vince (India) and Brad Hopfinger took over as the leaders of the team. Now that we’ve all played together, I feel there is a collective leadership between Vince, Brad, Barrett (Kelpin), Brad (George) and myself. We’ve played basically every tournament together for three years now, so I feel we collectively lead the team.”
India and Hopfinger and seniors, Brant, George and Kelpin are juniors. Another junior, Jed Dirksen, played No. 5 for the Hawkeyes in Georgia.
“All these guys are continuing to learn,” said UI head coach Mark Hankins. “We’re actually a pretty old team right now; we have a lot of seniors and juniors. Chris is a junior that has a lot of experience. As we’ve gone around and learned lessons, he becomes more consistent, but at the same time he feels like he can win the golf tournament.”
Brant was a four-time team MVP and an all-state selection at Edwardsville High School. He was fourth at the 2005 True Temper/David Gossell Junior Championship and fifth at the 2008 Bass Pro Shops/Payne Stewart Junior Championship.
Hankins and Brant’s swing coach from St. Louis were acquaintances from a previous job, leading to Brant being recruited by the Hawkeyes. Iowa was coming off a 10th-place finish in the Big Ten.
“Iowa didn’t have the success that we’re experiencing now, so I kind of went on a whim and trusted coach Hankins’ experiences in the past,” Brant said. “I based my decision off the results he had at Michigan State and I knew he would do all he could to grow the team and develop it into the program it is now. It worked out well.”
The Hawkeyes won four consecutive tournaments in the fall of 2010.
Brant is a double major in finance and accounting. A long-term goal is investment banking or a career involving the stock market. A stint on a professional golf tour is the first priority.
“I need to assess my game in the next year and a half and see where I’m at,” Brant said. “If that doesn’t work out, I need to go to a backup plan. Iowa carries a pretty good name when you graduate. That definitely factored in my decision to come here, too.”
Brant began playing golf with his father, Steve. After watching weekend tournaments on television, Steve would take Chris to a course, where Chris remembers the outings as “crude, but fun.” Brant also participated in soccer, basketball and hockey, but once he entered high school, the emphasis was solely on golf.
“I was the best at golf and I enjoyed it the most,” Brant said.
His career at the UI has been marked by colossal improvement. During nine rounds in the fall of 2008, Brant averaged 76.1 with a low round of 73. In the spring of 2009, he played 16 rounds and averaged 74.2 with a low of 70. Brant’s scores remained consistent in the fall of 2009 when he averaged 74.2 with a low of 72 in 15 rounds. Then he really began to flourish. Last spring Brant averaged 72.8 over 16 rounds with a low score if 68; this past fall he played 12 rounds, averaged 71.7 and carded 64 at the GolfWeek Conference Challenge. Brant shared medalist honors at the Challenge with a 10-under 206.
“That was an eye-opener,” Hankins said. “To come out and play a good collegiate tournament at Spirit Hollow and shoot a number that’s right up there with the best all-time at the University of Iowa in collegiate golf speaks volumes to how he continually stayed disciplined throughout that round. That opened up his entire fall and hopefully that will continue over the rest of his career.”
The 18-hole score of 64 tied India and Kelpin for second all-time in UI history; the score of 206 is tied for the best 54-hole score in school history.
“I felt this sense of freedom,” Brant said. “I was just a kid playing the game and I wasn’t thinking about anything. I was very free, very open and it was a blessing to have that round because now in every round I play I try to get in that mindset and in that focus.”
Brant’s course management, accuracy and short game have improved most since enrolling at Iowa. Added depth on the 11-player roster doesn’t allow any of the Hawkeyes to relax in their training.
“We know that there is a guy that is very good who is working hard and could take your spot,” Brant said. “It makes us work harder and be more competitive because I’m trying to beat Vince and I’m trying to beat Brad and I’m trying to beat Barrett as much as I can, and they’re trying to beat me, too. That helps us all be better players and better competitors.”
The Hawkeyes return to action April 2-3 at the LSU National Invitational on the University Club course in Baton Rouge, La.