May 13, 2014
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By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Familiarity breeds confidence for the University of Iowa men’s golf program.
The Hawkeyes are making their sixth consecutive trip to an NCAA regional — this time at The Club at Old Hawthorne in Columbia, Missouri — where many of the other 13 teams are old acquaintances. This season they have already battled Arizona State, Arkansas, Iowa State, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, and Virginia.
“That’s one of the benefits of playing a really strong schedule,” UI head coach Mark Hankins said Tuesday at a media event outside the James M. Hoak Family Golf Complex. “Hopefully the guys will feel right at home and we can go out and play our game and we’ll be in contention with nine holes to play.”
With a six-year run to regionals, postseason play is obviously an event that all the Hawkeyes are accustomed to. The streak began in 2009 in Sorrento, Florida, and continued through Notre Dame, Indiana (2010), Zionsville, Indiana (2011), Athens, Georgia (2012), and Tallahassee, Florida (2013).
“You play the whole year to be ranked high enough to go to an NCAA regional and hopefully onto the finals,” Hankins said. “It’s our No. 1 goal each year to head to the NCAA Championships and we’re able to do that this week.”
Under Hankins, the Hawkeyes have moved on to the NCAA finals three times: 2009, 2011, and 2012.
“The fun is starting now. It’s a goal every year and almost an expectation now (to qualify for regionals). We’re ranked right in there every single year and it’s the place to be at the end of the season. Not a lot of teams can say they made the last six NCAA Tournaments.”
Iowa’s regional lineup consists of senior Steven Ihm (71.35 stroke average), juniors Ian Vandersee (72.77) and Brian Bullington (73.08), and freshmen Raymond Knoll (73.32) and Carson Schaake (75.23). The last two times out — at the Boilermaker Invitational on April 19-20 and at the Big Ten Championships on May 2-3 — the Hawkeyes saved their best round for last. They carded 274 on the third round at Purdue and 284 on the fourth round at Big Tens.
“We picked up some confidence the last couple weeks winning a couple golf tournaments and more than anything these guys are still getting comfortable with each other,” Hankins said. “You need all five players in the game from Round 1 at a regional; you can’t afford to shoot a poor round. Having three solid rounds is what we’re looking for.”
The two victories Hankins is referring to came April 13 at the Hawkeye-GRE Invitational in Iowa City, and April 20 at the Boilermaker Invitational in West Lafayette, Indiana.
Ihm, a first-team All-Big Ten Conference selection, searches for his seventh top 10 individual finish of the season. In his last four tournaments, Ihm has tied for fourth, been the medalist twice, and finished fifth.
“The fun is starting now,” Ihm said. “It’s a goal every year and almost an expectation now (to qualify for regionals). We’re ranked right in there every single year and it’s the place to be at the end of the season. Not a lot of teams can say they made the last six NCAA Tournaments.”
Last season the Hawkeyes finished 11th at regionals with rounds of 299, 290, and 294 (+19).
Play begins at The Club at Old Hawthorne (7,141 yards, par 72) at 8 a.m. (CT) on Thursday and Friday, and 7:30 a.m. on Saturday. The top five teams advance to the NCAA Finals on May 23-28 at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kansas.