ZIONSVILLE, Ind. — The University of Iowa’s men’s golf team earned a tie for fourth place at the NCAA Regional Golf Tournament, earning a trip to the NCAA Championships for the second time in three years. The Hawkeyes shot a final round score of 291 (+7) and ended the tournament with a three-round score of 865 (+13). The NCAA Championships will be held May 31-June 5 in Stillwater, Okla.
“First of all, it’s going to help the confidence of this team,” said Iowa Coach Mark Hankins. “At the end of the day it was really six teams battling for five spots and we were in that group. Our guys hung in there. We shot a decent score again today and that was good enough.”
“We knew coming in that this was going to be a tough regional,” added Hankins. “There were a lot of under ranked teams and the 10th seed was a good UNC-Charlotte squad. We’ve been fighting expectation for the last couple weeks, being ranked 14th in the country and playing against some great fields made us tough.”
Michigan shot a nine-under par round of 275 to earn the regional title (841, -11), edging past Big Ten rival Illinois (843, -9). Alabama was third (847, -5) and Tennessee shared the fourth spot with Iowa. The Hawkeyes and Volunteers finished four strokes ahead of Stanford in earning the final two spots from the regional at the NCAA Championships.
Junior Chris Brant shot an even par round of 71 for the second straight day to lead Iowa’s scoring. Brant finished the tournament with a score of 210 (-3) to earn a tie for seventh place in the individual standings. Junior Barrett Kelpin also shot even par for the second straight day, ending the event with a score of 217 (+4) and tied for 20th. Senior Brad Hopfinger tied for 31st with a three-day total of 221 (+8), one shot ahead of senior Vince India (222, +9), who tied for 34th. Junior Jed Dirksen tied for 45th with a score of 225 (+12). Lion Kim of Michigan and Luke Guthrie of Illinois shared medalist honors at 205 (-8).
Brant was even after two holes before recording an eagle on the third hole, an up-hill par five. Brant reached the putting green in two and made a 35-foot putt. Brant recorded bogeys on five and eight to shoot even on the front nine. He added a birdie on the 12th hole and had his only bogey on the back at 15. He recorded three straight pars to end the round, keeping the Hawkeyes ahead of Stanford in the team race.
“I started off pretty well,” said Brant of his final round. “I made an eagle on three, which kick-started my round. I hit a nice drive down the right side, ripped a three-wood to about 35 feet and made the putt. That got me started, it was a nice bonus. I made a few mistakes after that, I felt like I left a few out there. The course played tough today. The wind kicked up and the greens were more firm. We did what we came here to do this week.”
Playing in the final group for his team, Brant delivered with par on the final three holes. “I didn’t really know where we were at in the team race,” he admitted. “I had seen some scoreboards earlier in the round. I figured we had a couple shot cushion, but that didn’t change my strategy. I was just going to play the hole the way I know how to play it; I would have liked to roll in that last putt, but it worked out, it was good enough.”
“Chris did a great job of staying in the present today,” described Hankins of Brant’s play. “He stuck to his guns, played the hole in front of him and continued to try and make birdies. I trust these guys and they trust each other. That trust grows every time we’re successful and today was a success.” Kelpin started his round with a birdie for the second straight day, but ended the front nine even after another birdie on five and two bogeys. He moved back under par with a birdie on 10 and was two under after another birdie on 12. A bogey followed on 13 and an errant tee shot on 16 caused a double bogey. He added a 15-foot birdie putt on 17 and recorded a solid par on 18 to end his day.
Hopfinger recorded a two-over 73 in the final round. He got off to a fast start with birdies on two and three, but had three bogeys and a double to close the front nine at plus three. Hopfinger had one of the strangest shots of the day on eight, where his tee shot landed on a bridge. He was able to hit a long iron off the wooden structure while recording a bogey. A lost ball led to a double bogey on 10, but he responded with birdies on 11, 15, 16 and 17. A bogey on the final hole left him at two over for the day.
India shot just one over on the front and moved back to even with a birdie on 10. He suffered three bogeys and a double on the back before just missing a birdie on the final hole. Dirksen was three over par on both the front and back while shooting his 77.
“As far as the status of our team, this is what we expect to do,” said Hankins of Iowa’s return to the NCAA Championships. “We expect to go to NCAA Regionals. It’s always going to be a fight. It was until the last hole today and our guys came out on top. The NCAA’s will be 30 of the best teams in the country and we belong.”
Brant says the trip to the national event is a well-deserved reward for the Hawkeyes. “We worked hard last year and played well,” noted Brant. “But we played a little bit better this year, which is a testament to how hard all of us have worked. We put in a lot of time. Last year left a really bitter taste in our mouths and we didn’t want that to happen again. We worked harder, and we made sure that didn’t happen again.”
The NCAA Championships will be held at Oklahoma State’s Karsten Creek Golf Course and includes 54 holes of stroke play, followed by match play for the top eight. Iowa placed 17th in the nation at the 2009 championships in Toledo, Ohio.
Team Standings (top 5 advance to NCAA Championships)
1. Michigan 278-288-275=841 (-11)
2. Illinois 277-285-281=843 (-9)
3. Alabama 278-284-285=847 (-5)
T4. IOWA 285-289-291=865 (+13)
Tennessee 287-287-281=865 (+13)
6. Stanford 284-292293=869 (+17)
7. UNC-Charlotte 295-288-292=875 (+23)
Indiana 293-295-294=882 (+30)
Wake Forest 301-291-290=882 (+30)
Florida State 291-295-296=882 (+30)
11. Memphis 292-297-304=893 (+41)
12. Wichita State 301-303-302=906 (+54)
13. Missouri-Kansas City 312-300-295=907 (+55)
14. Sacred Heart 319-313-318=950 (+98)
Individual Standings – par 71 (Top 3 + Iowa)
1. Luke Guthrie, Illinois 69-71-65=205 (-8)
Lion Kim, Michigan 71-69-65=205 (-8)
3. Bud Cauley, Alabama 68-71-68=207 (-6)
T7. Chris Brant, Iowa 68-71-71=210 (-3)
T20. Barrett Kelpin, Iowa 75-71-71=217 (+4)
T31. Brad Hopfinger, Iowa 70-78-73=221 (+8)
T34. Vince India, Iowa 72-74-76=222 (+9)
T45. Jed Dirksen, Iowa 75-73-77=225 (+12)