Jan. 27, 2012
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.
By NICK HEGLAND
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The University of Iowa men’s golf program is ranked 30th in the nation by golfstat.com following a successful fall season. The Hawkeyes earned four team finishes of sixth place or better and boasted individuals inside the top-20 eight times in six events.
Individually, senior Barrett Kelpin led the charge with a season scoring average of 71.93 through five events. Although he only paced the Hawkeyes in one event, Kelpin used the most consistent five-tournament run of his career to finish the fall ranked 61st in the nation. Fellow senior leader Chris Brant finished with a scoring average of 73.67 and earned the first outright tournament title of his collegiate career.
Iowa was also able to give several underclassmen invaluable experience during the fall schedule. Sophomore transfer and former NJCAA National Champion Steven Ihm, redshirt freshman Ian Vandersee and true freshman Brian Bullington all saw their first collegiate action as Iowa golfers. Ihm led the Hawkeyes in two events, earning Big Ten Golfer of the Week honors after a second place finish at the Rod Myers/Duke Invitational. He finished the fall with a scoring average of 73.53, second-best on the team.
The Hawkeyes look to build on that success and continue their improvement throughout a grueling spring schedule. Head coach Mark Hankins knows that success will only follow hard work and a focused approach, both mentally and physically.
Iowa begins the season with the Big Four Match-play Challenge, the annual exhibition that pits the state’s four major programs in a 6-on-6 medal-match competition. Iowa, Iowa State, Drake and Northern Iowa will compete at the Lone Tree Golf Club in Phoenix, Ariz., on Feb. 4.
“The Big Four is a great event for the guys and great for golf in the state of Iowa,” said Hankins. “It gets us ready for our spring season and is a really good opportunity for us to get a few more rounds under our belts before the Big Ten Match-Play.”
Iowa finished sixth at the 2011 Big Ten Match-Play and will enter this year’s event as the second seed. Three of the first four events this spring will be played under the match-play format. Hankins welcomes the opportunity as the match-play format is used for the final eight teams competing at the NCAA Championships each year.”
“Match-play puts pressure on every putt, and it’s more of a head-to-head competition where guys are really grinding to win each hole,” said Hankins. “It’s important to instill that mindset early in the season because you need it to win a championship at the end of the year.”
Iowa will follow the Big Ten Match-Play with a trip to the Callaway Collegiate Match-play March 18-20. Both the Big Ten and Callaway Match-Play events will be played on the Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Fla.
“The Callaway Match-play is a high-level tournament and an opportunity for us to compete against the best teams in the country,” said Hankins. “We’ve beaten a lot of top 10 teams at this event and that gives us the confidence we need moving forward. Again, it gives us the opportunity to be ready. If we do make the final eight at the NCAA Championships, we’ll have confidence to compete with anyone there.”
Iowa competes in its final exhibition event of the season in the Black and Gold Alumni Match on March 24. The Hawkeyes will compete against a handful of alumni on TPC at Las Colinas in Dallas, Texas, using it as a final tune-up before the last half of the season.
Stroke-play competition picks back up at the LSU National Invitational on March 31-April 1. The Tigers will host the event at the LSU Golf Club in Baton Rouge, La. In a field littered with SEC talent, the Hawkeyes finished third last season and Hankins knows consistency is a must if they plan on challenging the field again.
“We have some guys with experience on the course, but it’s still really challenging,” said Hankins. “It will be a real test to finish in the top five that week. As usual, we’ll need five steady scores to compete in that field.”
Iowa returns home to host the Hawkeye Invitational on April 14-15 at Finkbine Golf Course in Iowa City. This year’s event will showcase five Big Ten programs, along with a wealth of NCAA Regional competitors from recent seasons.
“One of my main jobs as a coach is to bring a tournament to Iowa City that we can successfully host and take pride in,” said Hankins. “We’re continuing to grow the event. It’s proven to be a good experience for everyone involved and has produced a competitive environment where the winning team will be able to take pride in its title.”
Iowa’s final outing before the Big Ten Championships will be April 21-22 at the Boilermaker Invitational in West Lafayette, Ind. Competition will be held at the Birck Boilermaker Golf Course, home of the 2011 Big Ten Championships.
For the first time, the Big Ten Championships are being hosted on a neutral site, the Pete Dye Course in French Lick, Ind. Competition will be April 29-May 1 and will be Iowa’s final opportunity to make itself a national contender with NCAA Regional action around the corner.
“Most of us have never seen the golf course so we’re going to have to go over, learn about the course and prepare the best we can to be,” said Hankins. “We’ll play a Pete Dye Course at the Boilermaker Invite as well, so we should be prepared for those signature features – severe bunkering, big undulating greens and a very long course in general.”
Regional competition begins May 17 with the NCAA Championships to follow May 31-June 4. The Hawkeyes have competed in regional action each of the last three seasons and advanced to the NCAA Championships in 2009 and 2011.
“We’ll need to take one tournament at a time,” said Hankins. “In order to be ranked high enough for regional play, you need to play consistently in every event. One poor tournament will drop your national standing much quicker than you’re able to move it back up.”
With sights set on one tournament championship at a time, Hankins and the Hawkeyes will need to remain focused on the task at hand each given week. Team depth and intra-squad competition will take care of itself, raise the caliber of golf throughout the program and decide the five guys that Hankins sends to postseason competition.
“Right now we’re looking at 10 guys on the team with five open spots for the taking,” said Hankins. “The guys know we didn’t play to our full potential in the fall, but we have an entire season to make up for that. We’re looking at trying to find the team that’s going to give us the best chance to win championships.”