Competing Against the Best

March 18, 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.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — University of Iowa men’s golf coach Mark Hankins is a firm believer in the cliché “to be the best, you have to beat the best.” That’s why the Hawkeyes are entered in one of the most elite collegiate golf events this week.

Hankins and the Hawkeyes will tee it up this morning at the Callaway Collegiate Match Play Championship at The Concession Golf Club in Brandenton, Fla. Ten of the 16 teams competing in this year’s event are ranked inside the top 50 in the latest rankings, including three top 25 teams. Iowa, seeded eighth and ranked 32nd, will take on No. 9 seed and 42nd-ranked East Carolina in the first round.

While rankings and lists of competing teams look intimidating, Hankins and his Hawkeyes belong right in the mix.

“We are very familiar with the field this week,” Hankins said. “We’ve hosted some of these teams, and we’ve traveled to some of these teams’ home courses for tournaments. We try to play a difficult schedule every year and our strength of schedule rating is around No. 16 in the country right now.”

Hankins has turned Iowa into a perennial national golf program by beating highly ranked teams, and the Callaway Collegiate Match Play has been the site for many of those victories.

Two years ago, Iowa knocked off No. 2 Stanford, No. 10 Arizona State and No. 11 UNLV in the event. Last season, the Hawkeyes took down No. 3 Alabama and No. 13 Georgia.

Should Iowa make it past East Carolina today, it will most likely face No. 11 Arkansas in the quarterfinal round.

“We’ve beaten five or six top 10 teams in this tournament and that’s who gets invited,” Hankins said. “I think that says something about our program as well. We have been good enough to get invited over the past few years to this event. That’s a feather in our cap.”

While the high level of competition is a major bonus to the Callaway event, Hankins loves the one-on-one style that match play golf presents.

“Not only do we get competition against these great teams, we get it in a format that’s head-to-head,” Hankins said. “It puts pressure on every putt and on each guy individually. It’s very personal golf. You either win or you lose. That’s pretty rare in golf. Usually you can say you played okay, but I didn’t do this or that, and still finished in the top 10. With this, you either win or lose for your team.”

Such a high profile collegiate event demands a top level venue and The Concession is just that.

“The Concession is a great golf course,” Hankins said. “The greens are very fast, and there is a lot of severity. You really need to know your away around this course. You can’t fake it out there.”

Iowa does have a big advantage heading into competition today, as the Big Ten Match Play Championship was held at The Concession on Feb. 10-11. Hankins is happy to have another chance to see his golfers compete in a match play event at such a tough course.

“We will have a distinct advantage,” Hankins said. “We just played a match play tournament here a few weeks ago. I also know you have to go out there and play well.”

Highly ranked teams usually means highly ranked individuals, and this week’s field is littered with potential professional talent. Hankins wants his golfers to carry the mindset of improving their playing resumes by knocking off other individuals throughout the tournament.

“Your opponent is trying to beat you individually,” Hankins said. “That can affect your national ranking. The guys on the team need to be focused on their own personal ranking, and that translates into a team score. I know each one of our guys has worked hard this week. They will be zoned in once the competition rolls around.”