Q&A with Mark Hankins

May 23, 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 — With a fifth-place finish at the NCAA Southeast Regional in Athens, Ga., on May 19, the University of Iowa men’s golf team advanced to the NCAA Championships for a third time in four seasons. Hawk Talk Daily spent a few minutes with head coach Mark Hankins as he primes the Hawkeyes for their upcoming outing to Pacific Palisades, Calif.

Q: Three trips to the NCAA Championships in four seasons. What statement does that make for your program?
A: The consistency is pretty remarkable considering that we lost two of our best players from last year. This year was a little more special because you have three first-year players playing with two seniors who have been there for four years. It’s a nice blend, but I also think the expectation level has changed. We expect to be in regionals now. The next level is to expect to play well at the NCAA finals, and I think this team feels a little more momentum now — the Big Ten (Championships) took our momentum (sixth-place finish) — we just regained some momentum. Hopefully we can go out and play to our potential, which is all we can do. Hopefully that will be enough to make it to the final eight and make it into match play.

Q: You know that every stroke counts. In 2010 you missed the cut at regionals by a stroke. Is it poetic justice that you were one shot better than New Mexico to advance to nationals Saturday?
A: We talked about it after the round. We won by a shot this time, we lost by a shot last time. We were in pretty good shape coming down the stretch. I knew where we were relatively; we kind of guided it in on the 18th hole, but you just play the game you have to play. You’re trying to advance out of regionals — it’s a qualifying event, so just qualify. That’s the only goal. We did that, so one shot, five shots, it doesn’t really matter.

Q: What did you tell the team before teeing off Saturday, trailing New Mexico by six strokes?
A: I reminded them that you have to continue to trust. Another round was more opportunity to pick up strokes. Since this is an amateur golf tournament, I thought those other teams would come back to us, and they did. Not only did we play well, the other teams kind of backed up. At one point, I think we were in fourth, 10 shots clear of some teams. We played a nice round, accompanied by some teams under pressure not playing as well. Our guys learned a nice lesson that it’s about hanging in there, post your own score, and most of the time that is all you will need.

Q: Were there any keys that fueled the Hawkeyes’ final-round comeback?
A: All five guys were in the day. You feel good about having all five right around even par or better. Something tragic could happen to one guy and you throw that score out. They could tell, you can look around and see your teammates making putts — we had some guys fist-pumping out there — we were playing well and at the end of the day Ian (Vandersee) shooting an amazing 66, and he continued to try to make birdies the entire time. If you’re the guy going low, keep making birdies, because it’s a team event. You might shoot 62, but your teammates might be making bogeys, so keep trying to make birdies, and he did a nice job of that and focusing and relaxing, and I was proud of him for that great score.

Q: What is left to be said about the leadership of seniors Chris Brant and Barrett Kelpin?
A: Without a doubt, those two are unflappable and unemotional players. They have bought into the ‘one shot at a time’ trust that we’re a good enough team, and I don’t have to worry about my teammates. They trust their coaches, and I trust them. Everyone is taking care of their own business, especially our two seniors, who have been there for four years. They are a good source of calmness; they are both intelligent players and you can count on them for a solid score every day.

Q: Talk about the dynamic of your regional squad that consisted of two seniors and three first-year players.
A: You have three first-year guys who have never been to an NCAA regional and then you have Barrett and Chris, and this is their fourth. That’s positive; you have three guys taking direction from the seniors on how to act, what to do, what to practice. Then you have the youth factor where they’re not afraid because this is their last chance; they’re just out there playing. It’s not a do-or-die situation. The dynamic works for us.

Q: How does last season’s 10th-place finish at nationals impact your goals for May 29-31 in California?
A: I don’t think it even applies. That was a totally different team with a totally different feel. We only have two guys back from that team, so in going to L.A., in a place where none of the teams have been except for USC and UCLA, I believe it will be the team that has confidence right now, and I think it will be the team that can acclimate best to the weather, to the conditions, and to the golf course.

Q: How long do you celebrate the regional performance before you focus on nationals?
A: Our flight wasn’t back until Sunday night (May 20), so we had Saturday to go out and eat dinner, have some nice conversation, and everyone’s phone is blowing up like crazy. With the social media, you want to remind your guys to understand there are a lot of people watching these things, and we have more to do. The next day they wanted to get out and play some golf, so we played some more golf and had a nice time. When we got back (Sunday) night, people were tired. We meet back up Friday (May 25) to practice again for the national championship.