May 19, 2011
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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.
ZIONSVILLE, Ind. — The University of Iowa men’s golf team opens NCAA Regional competition this morning at Wolf Run Golf Course, seeking its second trip to the NCAA Championships in the last three years. Iowa, the third seed in the 14-team field, will play the first round in groups of three with players from top-seeded Alabama and second-seed Illinois.
Regional action continues with 18 holes of play on both Saturday and Sunday. The top five teams after 54 holes of play advance to the NCAA Championships in Stillwater, Okla., May 31-June 5. Iowa placed 17th in the nation after reaching the NCAA Championships in 2009. The Hawkeyes participated in the Notre Dame Regional a year ago and missed advancing by a single stroke.
Head coach Mark Hankins returns a veteran group to compete at Wolf Run, as four of the five Hawkeye competitors have taken part in regional play the last two seasons. The Hawkeye line-up consists of seniors Vince India and Brad Hopfinger, along with juniors Chris Brant, Barrett Kelpin and Jed Dirksen. All but Dirksen, a transfer who is in his first year in the program, have been regulars in the Iowa line-up the last two years.
“One of our goals each year is to reach the NCAA Regionals,” said Hankins. “It’s the culmination of a good year; as opposed to focusing on a Big Ten finish, which is just one tournament. After being selected for regionals, at that point, we prepare the best we can to finish in the top five in basically an elimination tournament.”
The Hawkeyes have had two weeks between the Big Ten Championships and the start of regional play, which has allowed additional preparation time for NCAA competition.
“This year has been a change,” said Hankins. “The Big Ten Tournament was a week earlier, so we had two weeks to prepare for regionals.”
When Hankins talks of his team having a good year, he is understating the obvious. The Hawkeyes have won five tournament titles, while playing a strong schedule in both match and stroke play events. That competition has helped Iowa prepare for NCAA postseason play.
“I think we are going to feel comfortable,” said Hankins. “It’s a field we are familiar with. It’s a golf course, though we did not play here until Wednesday, we are comfortable with; it’s a Midwestern style course. The grass doesn’t change, the scenery doesn’t change; hopefully that will help us shoot some consistent scores, man one through five.”
A balanced line-up has been a plus for the Hawkeyes over the past two seasons. India, playing in the No. 1 spot, was named Big Ten Player of the Year for his play throughout the season. Hopfinger, who has played the No. 2 position throughout the year, joined India in earning first team all-Big Ten honors.
Brant, playing in the third spot, was the runner-up at the Big Ten Championships, earning all-tournament recognition and second team all-Big Ten honors for the season. Kelpin has also had his moments, placing third at the 2010 Big Ten Championships during a very productive sophomore season.
Dirksen played well early in the spring during Iowa’s match play events. He was not in the line-up in Iowa’s last three events, but returns after qualifying for the fifth spot in recent days.
“We have a veteran team that has been through this before, they have expectations to finish in the top five,” said Hankins. “In an NCAA Regional, it is the deepest teams that often end up advancing through and reaching the finals.
“We’re not taking the same team we had at Big Ten’s. In trying to prepare these kids for competition, we take our very best team each week. When you do that, it gives the team confidence in each other; they can relax and concentrate on their own individual goals.”
Under Hankins the last four seasons, those goals have included postseason play for the Hawkeyes as a team.
“I think these guys have trusted each other for a couple of years,” said Hankins. “The run we made to the championships in 2009 played a very big part in these guys understanding that we have the ability to play with anybody in the country. No one gets special treatment on this team. Each one of these guys is expected to come out and perform each day in practice and play at their highest level in every tournament.”
Over the past two years, Iowa has played in different events with Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, UNC-Charlotte, Florida State, UMKC and Wichita State. Iowa defeated Alabama in match play this spring and defeated Stanford in match play a year ago.
“Really, we treat this like a normal tournament,” said Hankins. “Heading into an event with this quality of field, our goal would be a top four or five finish. On any given week, you can play well, but you can’t control how other teams are going to play. We can only control our preparation, our attitude on the golf course. We feel that if we take care of our business, we will obtain our team goal at the end of the tournament.
“Overall we have been pretty consistent this spring. We have played consistent, but not spectacular golf. Some of that is situational, some of that is the courses we have played, some is preparation. If each one of these guys continues to prepare individually, to place in the top 10, our team score will take care of itself.”