Dec. 21, 2015
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Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Wednesday, July 29, 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 2015-16 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.
By JAMES ALLAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — It’s ironic that Jessica Ip’s first collegiate victory came soon after she brushed aside individual expectations.
Ip was fighting to be in the Hawkeye lineup as one of five counting players at the 2015 Diane Thomason Invitational leading into the fall opener of her sophomore season with the University of Iowa women’s golf team.
She snagged the No. 5 spot in the Iowa lineup, then went out and competed.
“The days leading up to the tournament I wasn’t hitting the ball well,” said Ip. “I had no expectations on how I was going to play.”
Ip opened the tournament with a two-under par 70 before firing a three-under par 69 to take a six-shot lead into the final round. She closed the tournament with a one-over par 73, cruising to a 10-shot victory over Delaware’s Andrea Slane and Harvard’s Michelle Xie.
“The sky is the limit. She has the ball-striking ability to be able to compete with the best week-in and week-out. She should be thinking that she can compete at the top of the Big Ten and be one of the best players in the country.”
UI head coach Megan Menzel
“The win was surreal,” said Ip, who finished with a total of 212 to break Iowa’s 54-hole scoring record. “I didn’t realize it until afterward. I was playing golf and that’s what helped me stay in the moment. I had no idea what other players were shooting. I was dialed in, in my own world.”
It was a statement win for Ip, and a confidence-booster for the Hawkeyes.
“It’s difficult to win a college golf tournament when you’re thinking about how many people you have to beat on any given day,” said UI head coach Megan Menzel. “Any time a player goes out and wins in such a fine fashion, it instills confidence in the entire team.
“It makes it a more competitive environment because everybody sees that and wants a piece of that. She was in the No. 5 spot going into the tournament and won by 10 shots. It’s exciting because on any day, it doesn’t matter what number is by your name, you can go out and win a golf tournament.”
Ip built on her win, posting top-16 finishes in successive weeks. She tied for 15th at the Johnie Imes Invitational with an even-par 216 before tying for 16th place at the New Mexico State Aggie Invitational with a six-over par 222.
“(After the Diane Thomason Invitational) my only goal was to stay calm and not have any expectations on how to play,” said Ip. “That is the big difference between this year and last year.”
Over four fall tournaments, Ip had a team-low 72.6 scoring average and posted six rounds at or below par. It was a remarkable growth for a player that is still green in a golf sense.
Ip didn’t begin playing until her teenage years when she and a brother joined her father at a local golf course and fell in love. Ip started playing competitively two years later with success.
She posted top-10 finishes at the state tournament as a junior and senior at Jean Vanier Catholic High School in Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada. She also tied for sixth at the 2013 Ontario Juvenile Girls Tournament and eighth at the 2014 Investors Group Ontario Junior Girls Championship.
Menzel caught wind of Ip through a recruiting contact and worked with Ip’s coach to connect the pieces.
“She wasn’t on a lot of people’s radars,” said Menzel. “She’s a late bloomer. We were excited she fell into our laps.”
Ip stepped into Iowa’s lineup as a freshman, competing in all 11 tournaments. She posted a 77.7 scoring average over 32 rounds and paced the team in two events — the East/West Match Play Challenge, tying for ninth place, and Lady Buckeye Invitational, tying for 12th place. She had a team-high three top-20 finishes.
Following her first collegiate season, Ip went back to work. She hit the practice range, signed up for tournaments, and dedicated herself to improving.
Ip enjoyed success on the summer tour in Ontario, tying for sixth at the Canadian Junior Girls Championships, ninth at the Ontario Investors Group Junior GirIs Championship, and 15th at the Golf Association of Ontario Investor’s Group Women’s Amateur.
“The success I had over the summer gave me a lot of confidence,” said Ip. “I practiced a lot in the summer and that motivated me to work harder in the fall. Seeing the progress pushed me to become more dedicated.”
“We knew she was ready to do some big things,” said Menzel.
The new dedication translated, helping Ip post first collegiate victory, and it’s playing a big part in her attitude this winter in preparing for the spring season, which resumes in February.
“That feeling of winning is playing a big part in my offseason,” said Ip. “I am working on my short game and trying to keep my mental game sharp. That’s a big part of golf, not just hitting the ball, but knowing how to control your emotions, and strategically knowing where your mind has to be the entire time.”
The mental talk is music to Menzel’s ears. Menzel believes Ip has the game to be an All-America talent if her maturity and mental game continue to evolve.
“The sky is the limit,” said Menzel. “She has the ball-striking ability to be able to compete with the best week-in and week-out. She should be thinking that she can compete at the top of the Big Ten and be one of the best players in the country.”
Ip doesn’t want to think “big picture.” Sure, she wants to help the Hawkeyes earn their first NCAA Regional berth since 1991 and experience that winning feeling again, but she’s more focused on staying in the now.
“We did a lot of things well in the fall, and we want to build on those,” she said. “We need to stay in the present and do what we did well. Then I think we’ll accomplish our goals.”