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. To receive daily news from the Iowa Hawkeyes, sign up HERE.
By SHANE STURTZ
IOWA CITY, Iowa — A match-play format with all 14 Big Ten Conference teams playing in a head-to-head competition is what puts the Big Ten Match Play on another pedestal. This year’s event starts Friday at 7 a.m. (CT) at the Hammock Beach Resort in Palm Coast, Florida.
Head coach Tyler Stith calls the Big Ten Match Play one of his favorite events due to the heightened competition.
“In college golf, we predominantly play stroke play events so match play has always been one of my favorite events of the year,” Stith said. “A match play event like this brings out the competitive juices. The athletes enjoy it as well. It has always been one of my favorite events.”
The event starts with three rounds of round-robin play where schools play teams from their respective division. Iowa’s round-robin matchups feature Purdue, Minnesota, and Ohio State. After the initial three rounds, teams will be reseeded based on their results and they will face off against opponents from the other division for the final round.
Stith feels the format is not the most advantageous, but knows the team must deal with what is put in front of them.
“We have a chance to do something that no other Iowa team has done – we’ve never won this event,” Stith said. “What we can control are the three matches that we have. Because of the format, it’s a little unique, so we don’t completely control our destiny. But what we can control is how we perform in our three matches. We’re just going to take it one match and one hole at a time.”
In four out of the last five years, Iowa has finished fourth or better with two third-place finishes in 2013 and 2015. Since 2013, Illinois is the only repeat champion. Northwestern defeated Penn State in last year’s championship.
Sophomore Alex Schaake, who led the team with two top-10 finishes in the fall, beamed about the competitive nature of match play.
“I like match play better (than stroke play),” Schaake said. “There’s something about going 1-on-1 against another person. You’re always in it and if you ever get down two or three at the turn, there’s a chance to comeback. You never know. I like that competitive aspect.”
Matthew Walker, who owns a 7-1 career Big Ten Match Play record, is looking forward to “getting back out there with the guys” and “getting the competitive juices flowing” again.
Adding to the cutthroat environment, the tournament is played at two of Florida’s most magnificent courses. The Ocean Course, where Iowa’s first three matches will be played, has six holes alongside the Atlantic Ocean known as “The Bear Claw”. The Conservatory Course features waterfalls, babbling brooks, and 140 sand and coquina bunkers.
Stith stressed the importance of staying disciplined and patient due to the high winds and firm, rebuilt greens after Hurricane Matthew damaged the Ocean Course two years ago.
Fans can follow the team’s progress this weekend via live scoring on bluegolf.com.