Hawkeyes Ready to Get Season Underway

Feb. 8, 2013

IOWA CITY, Iowa — All eight members of the University of Iowa men’s golf team spent Tuesday afternoon working on putting or chipping at the indoor facility in the UI FieldHouse. While they were dedicated to their drills, it was clear the Hawkeyes were more than ready to get to their spring season opener.

Considering Iowa is traveling to sunny Bradenton, Fla., to compete at a prestigious Jack Nicklaus designed golf course, it was hard to blame them for not having any reservations about leaving behind the indoor facilities.

“We’re all excited to get down there,” said junior Ryan Marks, who played in all 15 of Iowa’s rounds in the fall. “We’re ready to get the season rolling after a long break filled with practice. It’s nice to get back to the fun part of the game, being in competition, and this event will be a great way to get started.”

The Hawkeyes will have a lot more than just nice weather and a beautiful course to be excited about. Iowa begins their spring season with one of the more unique events in college golf, the Big Ten Match Play Championships. The event has been the league’s spring opener since 2009 and has grown into a premier event for members of the Big Ten.

Iowa drew the third seed and a first round bye. The first and second rounds will be played Friday, while the semifinals and finals will be played Saturday. The Hawkeyes will meet either Purdue or Nebraska in the quarterfinals.

The event puts all 12 teams together in a bracket, where each team will send five players to go one-and-one against their opponent in match play. The team that wins the majority of the five matches advances to the next round. Given the unique format, and competition against rival conference opponents, the Hawkeyes are looking forward to teeing off.

“Obviously, we’ll be up against the same teams we will see at the end of the year at conference, so this is big for us,” said sophomore Joseph Winslow, who earned honorable mention All-America honors as a freshman last year. “This is our first opportunity of the spring to play against conference teams, and given the format, it’s an important event. Our goal has always been to be the best team in the Big Ten.”

Iowa played tournament golf throughout the fall, and this event will give the Hawkeyes their first taste of match play golf this season. Junior Steven Ihm, sophomore Brian Bullington and Winslow each competed in the event last season, and most of the team has experience with match play in their careers.

The match play format will present a new challenge for the Hawkeyes, who will be looking to bring a specific strategy to their match. Competitors can either be more aggressive with their shot selection, or play patient and wait to see if their opponent faulters.

“It’s definitely anybody’s game in match play, and that makes it a very exciting event to be a part of,” said junior Steven Ihm. “It’s a format in which you can go after every pin or play conservative and see if your partner beats himself. It’s a unique style of play, and we’re looking forward to it.”

There will be a variety of benefits to competing in the Big Ten Match Play Championships, specifically the coverage provided by BTN. The event will be televised on tape-delay by BTN on a later date to be determined. For Iowa’s veteran head coach, the event brings a number of other positives.

“It’s unique in that it puts pressure on you to fight for every shot, every hole,” said Hankins, who has led Iowa to NCAA postseason play each of the past four seasons. “In that aspect, I think it will be a big help later in our medal tournaments, and it will get us ready for the NCAA Tournament, which is our ultimate goal.”

The Hawkeyes posted three top-five finishes and four top-ten individual finishes last fall. Given Iowa’s recent history of postseason success, Iowa will be looking to improve on that this spring, beginning with the Big Ten Match Play Championships.

“It’s important to treat this like just another tournament and understand that this is one of six or seven all-important tournaments,” said Hankins. “There’s no difference between this, or the Big Tens, or our own invitational, given that you have to play well in every tournament to reach our goal of advancing to the NCAA Tournament.”

Ihm, Winslow, sophomore Ian Vandersee, Bullington, Marks and freshman Nate Yankovich will travel to the event, while five will compete. Tee times for Iowa’s quarterfinal match against Purdue or Nebraska will begin at 11:40 a.m. (CT) Friday on the 10th hole.