Bad Luck Turns to Good Fortune

May 9, 2011

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — University of Iowa assistant men’s golf coach Tyler Stith was recently informed that he is a semifinalist for the Jan Strickland Award, an honor given to the top assistant in NCAA golf. Stith’s road to being considered one of the top assistants in college golf all started with a case of bad luck that triggered a move back to Iowa City.

Stith enjoyed a successful amateur and high school golf career in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, before accepting an offer to continue playing collegiately at the UI. Stith was a four-year letterwinner for the Hawkeye golf team from 1999-2002, and loved every minute of his collegiate career at Iowa.

“I have a hard time putting into words what this school has meant to me and my family,” Stith said. “Those four years playing was one of the greatest periods of my life. I’m proud to have a degree from the University of Iowa.”

After college, Stith decided to pursue a professional golf career. He remained in Iowa and played on mini-tours across the Midwest. During the winter months, Stith would relocate to Florida, where he would work on his game before moving back to Iowa in the spring.

During his four years on the professional circuits, bad luck started to kick in. Stith had a nagging shoulder injury, making his professional career very difficult.

“I couldn’t hang it up,” Stith said. “I tried hanging on. The shoulder injury was making it pretty tough to play day-in-and-day-out.”

Stith made the decision to move back to the Iowa City area and begin a career outside of golf, helping a friend manage a restaurant. Another career in golf appeared, but this time it was in the coaching ranks.

The bad luck of a shoulder injury turned out to be a piece of good fortune for Stith’s next move in golf. In 2007, Iowa hired Mark Hankins to take over the struggling men’s golf program. Stith was living in Iowa City when Hankins was hired, and had plenty of connections with Hankins. Both Stith and Hankins are from Mount Pleasant.

Hankins and Stith attended the same high school, and Stith’s older brother is good friends with Hankins. Stith credits his boss with helping him grow in the game of golf.

“I’ve known Coach Hankins my entire life,” Stith said. “Outside of my dad, Coach Hankins had the largest influence on my golf game. I consider him a mentor. He really helped me in all aspects of the game.”

Stith applied for the assistant coaching position and was hired. He had never been a collegiate assistant coach before, but stepped into a Big Ten program for his first job in 2008. Stith has seen the program rise from the bottom of the conference to a perennial NCAA Regional squad.

“It’s been such a rewarding experience,” Stith said. “Watching the guys develop and grow as players, students and young men.”

Along with helping the players during practice on the course, Stith spends countless hours behind the scenes. Some of the duties on his long list include marketing the program through social media, organizing and planning all home tournaments and maintaining alumni relations.

His impressive attention to detail hasn’t gone unnoticed. Stith will find out next week if he is a finalist for the Jan Strickland Award. Even if he doesn’t make the cut, he is honored to have his name in contention.

“Just to make it to this point and be recognized is a tremendous honor,” Stith said. “I wouldn’t even be considered for this award if our players weren’t having the type of season they have put together.”

Stith credits Hankins for getting him to this point in his career. Not just from his younger days as a mentor back in Mount Pleasant, but from his efforts to help Stith become a top-notch assistant coach.

“Coach Hankins is the total package,” Stith said. “He has proven that over his three different stops as a head coach. He is extremely dedicated and has the trust of his players. Nobody works harder at their trade than Mark Hankins. I was a complete blank slate coming in as a coach, and it’s been an outstanding experience to learn from him.”

Stith’s shoulder doesn’t bother him as much these days. But without that injury, Stith might not have had the chance to land his “dream job.”

“I don’t characterize myself as that philosophical,” Stith said when asked he believes that everything happens for a reason. “But, I did end up back in Iowa and it all worked out.”

Even though Stith isn’t a big believer in fate, it sounds like fate is a big fan of Tyler Stith.