March 17, 2016
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- 24 Hawkeyes to Watch
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 — University of Iowa men’s golfer Nate Yankovich is spending his senior season making up for lost time.
After playing his way in and out of the lineup during his first three seasons as a Hawkeye, Yankovich is competing with a reckless abandon (in a good sense) — and excelling — in his final season.
“There is a serious sense of urgency because I haven’t played in all the events the past few years,” said Yankovich, a native of Blacklick, Ohio. “My time is running out. We only have a few more events, and I want to make my mark on this university and golf program.
“I want to do everything in my power to finish this season strong and make moves in the postseason.”
“I started the fall with a few broader goals because I hadn’t had a great college career up until this year. I set them a little lower and I started playing well and when you do that, you need to realign your goals so you don’t get complacent with the goals you’ve set. I want to finish in the top 75 of the Golfweek rankings, win an event this spring, help the team win an event this spring, and compete for a Big Ten title.”
UI senior Nate Yankovich
UI head coach Tyler Stith saw a rededication from Yankovich in the offseason following a junior season where Yankovich posted a 75.29 scoring average, but was left off the NCAA Regionals roster.
“Last year Nate struggled,” said Stith. “He didn’t play as well as he would have liked. With a lot of kids, that can go one of two ways. Nate decided not to make any excuses; he rededicated himself, worked hard in the offseason, and came back this year and has been outstanding.
“You go through those periods where you start to question things, but Nate bounced back from it and his game is now better than it has ever been.”
Yankovich has posted two top-10 and four top-20 finishes in five stroke-play events this season. He has a 72.60 scoring average — more than a stroke better than his career-low of 73.67 as a sophomore.
He started the fall with a top-20 finish at the Gopher Invitational before posting the best finish of his collegiate career at the Golfweek Challenge where he tied for fifth with a 7-under par 209, which included a career-low round of 66 in the second round.
Yankovich credits his surge with a boost in confidence.
“When I was bobbing in and out of the lineup, it was hard to get confident,” he said. “I started off well this fall, and getting out of the gate well, I feel I have secured my spot in the lineup. Now I can just play to play well and not to not play bad.”
Yankovich was introduced to the game by his father shortly after he learned to walk, but he didn’t begin playing competitively until he was 12 years old. He competed on a travel baseball team (primarily as a pitcher) until eighth grade and basketball through his freshman year of high school. Then his father urged him to choose.
“My dad told me if I was going to take my game to the next level, it would be nice to focus on either golf or baseball,” said Yankovich. “It was a tough decision, but I am glad with the decision I made. I chose golf and haven’t looked back.”
After a developmental year as a freshman at St. Charles Prepatory, Yankovich’s game took off as a sophomore. He played well in the state tournament, finishing as the individual runner-up to earn first-team all-state honors and help his team to a state title.
Yankovich was a Buckeye fan growing up in the shadows of Ohio State University. He lived 20 minutes from campus and was an involved fan, attending countless football and basketball games, but he had little desire to be a Buckeye.
“I wanted to get away from home,” said Yankovich. “Ohio State looked at me, but I didn’t show much interest in them. I wanted to get out on my own and see a few more things than just Columbus, Ohio.
“I came to Iowa — it was a homey, college town, the campus is beautiful, the coaching staff was great, and they had a lot of success before I committed. I loved everything about it.”
After competing in one event in the fall of his freshman season, Yankovich played in four tournaments during the spring season, compiling a 75.69 scoring average. The following year, he was among Iowa’s top five only once, and he posted a 73.67 average over nine rounds.
Last season, Yankovich was in the Iowa lineup for eight tournaments, where he posted his first career top-10 finish at the Hawkeye-GRE Invitational. He finished 61st at the Big Ten Championships, but he didn’t qualify for Iowa’s lineup for NCAA Regionals.
“(My first three years) were frustrating,” said Yankovich. “I played well every summer, and I’ve had some decent finishes the last three years. There is a little bit I wish I could get back, but there are no regrets. I have learned a lot, and I learned more about myself (when I was) sitting than if I would have been playing.”
This spring, Yankovich started where he left off in the fall, tying for eighth at the Southwestern Jones Invitational in Los Angeles. His play has catapulted him onto the verge of the top-100 Golfweek rankings, which has Yankovich readjusting his goals.
“I started the fall with a few broader goals because I hadn’t had a great college career up until this year,” said Yankovich. “I set them a little lower and I started playing well and when you do that, you need to realign your goals so you don’t get complacent with the goals you’ve set.
“I want to finish in the top 75 of the Golfweek rankings, win an event this spring, help the team win an event this spring, and compete for a Big Ten title.”
With Yankovich’s confidence surging, Stith says his senior’s goals aren’t far-fetched.
“I expect him to be in contention,” said Stith. “He finished in the top 10 (at the Southwestern Jones Invitational) in one of the strongest fields we’ll see all year. There were All-Americans in that field and he beat a couple of the highest amateurs in the world, not just in collegiate golf.
“Each tournament he does that, his confidence continues to grow. I know he’ll be in contention every week because he continues to do things to prepare himself for those situations.”
Yankovich is making up for lost time and his teammates are following him.
“The guys have a lot of confidence in him and he’s playing with a lot of confidence,” said Stith. “It shows every time he steps on the golf course.”