Golfers Embrace the Grind

Oct. 1, 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 — Playing back-to-back 54-hole tournaments against top-ranked teams with only three days rest might seem like bad timing. Head coach Mark Hankins and the University of Iowa men’s golf team wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Hawkeyes begin play at the Rod Myers Invitational, hosted by Duke University, this morning. Three teams in the field are nationally ranked, and Iowa is coming off possibly the most competitive tournament in all of college golf, the Golfweek Conference Challenge.

The Hawkeyes had just one day back in Iowa City between the tournaments. The Golfweek Conference Challenge wrapped up Tuesday afternoon; the team practiced in Iowa City Wednesday and left for Durham, N.C., Thursday. After a practice round at Duke Friday, the team is ready for yet another competition.

While this schedule sounds grueling to the casual fan, Hankins believes a tough week like this will only improve his squad down the road.

“I think a week like this gets us in better shape, mentally and physically,” Hankins said. “The only way to prepare for competition is to play in competitions. We play a lot of golf and do extra conditioning for situations exactly like this week.”

Golf practice with Hankins doesn’t involve just hitting balls on the driving range and working on your short game on the practice greens. Iowa golfers are also expected to be in shape, physically. Conditioning begins when the golfers arrive back on campus in the fall.

Hankins likes to get his athletes on a schedule, helping them prepare for the grind of college golf. That all begins with early wake-up calls.

“When the guys come in after the summer, they all have different schedules,” Hankins said. “Some of the guys have been playing tournaments and are in good walking shape. Some have taken a few weeks off leading up to the fall. We get everyone on the same page by starting workouts at 6:29 a.m. and get them used to getting up early in the morning.”

Early morning workouts aren’t meant to be punishing for his golfers. Hankins has a method to his madness.

“The goal is to extend their days on both ends,” Hankins said. “We get them up early, and then they shower and go to class, then go back out to the course and practice in the afternoon. We aren’t initially very strict about practice in the afternoon because we want them to get back into routines with classes and things like that.

“That first week of class is a grind for them. They are getting used to their new settings; they have a ton of meetings, student-athlete welcome events and other things while these kids just want to go out and play golf. It’s a tough first week, but we standardize that by getting up early and working out.”

Hankins’ golfers are physically fit, which helps them focus on the mental side of the sport.

“Their legs should be in pretty good shape by now,” Hankins said. “Everyone is dialed in and fatigue isn’t really a factor. Competition is the fun part. These guys want to be on the course trying to win golf tournaments.”

Iowa will be on a course this weekend it is extremely comfortable with. Hankins’ team is the defending champions at the Rod Myers Invitational after winning the tournament last fall. Comfort zones are important in golf, and the Hawkeyes will be at a place that brings back good memories.

“They are comfortable there,” Hankins said. “There is still that thought of winning at the course and positive thoughts like that are always a plus heading into a tournament.”

Two current Hawkeyes were on last year’s team that brought home the team title. Seniors Chris Brant and Barrett Kelpin helped Iowa to its second of what would be four tournament victories in a row last fall. But three new faces will see the Duke University Golf Club for the first time.

Redshirt freshman Ian Vandersee and sophomore Steven Ihm have been in Iowa’s lineup for the first two falls tournaments of 2011, while freshman Brian Bullington will see his first action as a Hawkeye.

While the five-man roster that was chosen for the Golfweek Conference Challenge was battling harsh weather conditions in Burlington, Iowa, the remaining five players were playing in the same conditions at Brown Deer Golf Club in Coralville, Iowa, and Finkbine in Iowa City for a team pre-qualifying event. Bullington fired a 64 during that event, earning him a trip with the team to Duke this weekend.

“The guys that haven’t traveled to the first two tournaments have been working extremely hard at home,” Hankins said. “They have to earn their right to travel and compete for this team. All the guys have been putting in a lot of time, and Brian been playing well since he arrived.”

With three new players on the roster, the 2011-12 Hawkeye men’s golf team is still trying to find its identity. Two veteran players are at the top of the lineup in Brant and Kelpin, and a mix of talented youth fill out the remaining three spots. The pieces are in place for another successful run this weekend, and Hankins thinks trust will go a long way in competing for championships.

“Chris and Barrett are used to having that confidence in their teammates,” Hankins said. “They were on a team that won five tournaments last year. This team is still getting that confidence and still trying to fit into that mold.

“We didn’t play a great final round last week, but still finished sixth out of 15 teams in a great field. We had some guys play solid rounds in pretty poor weather conditions. That helps build trust and an aura of confidence within the team. These past two tournaments have given us new confidence, and we will try to build on that this weekend.”