April 18, 2012
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Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Thursday, July 28, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2011-12 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Barrett Kelpin had stretches during his first three years at the University of Iowa where he played like the men’s golf team’s top player. This season he has solidified that position.
Kelpin posted a 72.81 scoring average as a sophomore, which included a third-place finish at the 2010 Big Ten Championships. He earned three top-20 finishes as a junior and led the team with a 5-2 record in two match-play events.
In 2011-12, Kelpin posted a runner-up showing at the Golden Gopher Invitational, finishing one shot behind teammate Chris Brant. He also tied for fifth at the Great River Entertainment-Hawkeye Invitational, tied for 10th at the U.S. Collegiate Championship, and has a 71.67 scoring average over 21 rounds. The average ranks second in the Big Ten and puts him at 43rd in the Golfstat Cup individual rankings.
“He has had runs when he has been our No. 1 man,” said UI head coach Mark Hankins. “At the end of his sophomore year, the middle of his junior year, he had a couple of runs here and there where he has been the guy.
“This year he has been more consistent, and he understands how to fix his game a little better on the course, understands how to prepare himself better, manages his school work better… all those things help. He is continuing to get better, putting all this stuff together and being more consistent. His bad rounds aren’t as bad, his good rounds are a little better, and he gets a lot out of his game right now.”
Kelpin credits the senior ascent because of his ability to think through a tournament.
“I have learned how to navigate a golf course better,” said Kelpin. “I have become a better player at playing a golf course. I have gotten smarter on how to get around and score… how to get the ball in the hole, rather than trying to hit perfect golf shots.
“Coach says you can’t hit perfect golf shots every time you stand over the ball, but if you can get the ball in the hole faster than the other team, you’re going to have success.”
Kelpin began golfing as a two-year old, and he played a variety of sports growing up in Kalamazoo, Mich. He credits hockey with helping build strength and balance, but it was golf that was always on his mind.
“It was tough to give up hockey, but my first love was always golf, and I knew I wanted to pursue that in college and professionally,” he said.
It was Hankins’ reputation that drew Kelpin to Iowa City after being a two-time all-state super team selection at Loy Norrix High School.
“Coach Hankins came here (to Iowa) the summer after my junior year,” said Kelpin. “Everyone knew about him in Michigan, knew about all the great teams that he had at Michigan State and what a great coach he was. I wasn’t heavily recruited, so when I came on a visit and coach expressed interest in me, it seemed like a good fit.”
“Barrett was kind of a late bloomer,” said Hankins. “He had a nice track record, but he hadn’t really broken out or done any of those things. I thought his best golf was ahead of him, and fortunately it was.”
Kelpin’s arrival on campus corresponded with the resurgence of the men’s golf program. The team made its first NCAA regional appearance during his freshman season, and it has played in three regionals and two NCAA Championships in his three years.
“We were in a tough spot when we got here freshman year,” said Kelpin. “We had some great players and some young players, and we had Cole (Peevler) to lead us. We all fed off of what a great player Cole was and all had a great drive to win.
“That was the driving force behind it. No one likes to finish eighth in a field of 12. That was all the inspiration we needed, and everyone wanted to work hard and finish high individually every week.”
After seeing Vince India and Brad Hopfinger graduate following the team’s program-best 10th place finish at the 2011 NCAA Championships, Kelpin and Brant knew they would have to shoulder more of the team’s leadership responsibilities.
“It’s a little different being a senior leader rather than looking up to Cole, Brad, or Vince, but I had to adjust to it and get ready to lead the team as best I could,” said Kelpin. “We know that we need to help the guys out that are younger than us as best as we can. We were freshmen and sophomores once, trying to find our way, so we have tried to help them as best we can.”
Kelpin is trying to have tunnel vision to close out his Hawkeye career on top, but after graduating in May with a finance degree in business, he is looking to continue on with his dream of playing professionally.
“I am going to turn pro pretty quickly after the college season is over — playing mini-tour events, nationwide events, and qualifying school in the fall,” said Kelpin. “Hopefully by the time qualifying school comes around I’ll have a good grasp of professional golf, and I’ll be comfortable playing it. A lot of my experiences at Iowa will benefit me professionally.”
Hankins believes Kelpin has what it takes to succeed at the next level.
“Physically, he’s a strong guy. He’s not going to be hitting it behind many people, even on the PGA Tour, and that’s a huge advantage,” said Hankins. “He loves golf… you need to love golf when you make it your job, and he will really embrace that.
“We feel very fortunate that he’s going to represent us in the near future.”