Nov. 11, 2010
IOWA CITY, Iowa - The University of Iowa men's golf team, ranked No. 9 in the country, began its fall season with one thing in mind: winning the Golden Gopher Invitational. For Head Coach Mark Hankins & Company, the Golden Gopher was the first event on the fall schedule and nothing made more sense than to take care of that single tournament and continue forward from there - a method which the Hawkeyes have subscribed to since Hankins arrived in 2007.
With an entire fall schedule filled with some of the best collegiate competition in the nation, Hankins' Hawkeyes knew they needed to remain focused on each shot of every hole, one tournament at a time.
"From the beginning of season, the tournament ahead was always the most important," said Hankins. "It is always important for us to remain in the present, focus only on what we can control as individuals and fight for every shot. The team success usually follows close behind."
What turned out to be one of the most incredible fall seasons in program history started out on a less-than-positive note which proved to fuel Iowa's success later in the season. The Black and Gold traveled to Wayzata, MN, hoping to improve on their previous fourth and fifth place finishes. Despite having a pair of student-athletes in the top-10 individually, the Hawkeyes left the invitational with a 54-hole total of 900 (+36) and a sixth place finish. Senior Vince India and junior Chris Brant highlighted the finish with three round totals of 220 (+4), as the duo tied for seventh place.
"After Minnesota, we had a long talk about the tournament, our preparation and attitudes," Hankins commented. "We just didn't get the job done. We discussed what happened, changed a few things and continued forward. Fortunately our second tournament was a home event where we could get back on our feet and play well."
The Hawkeyes were able to top the only two other Big Ten schools in the Golden Gopher field, but four tournaments remained and a stronger statement needed to be made about Iowa men's golf. What better place to make a statement than at Golfweek's Conference Challenge, hosted by the Hawkeyes at Spirit Hallow Golf Course in Burlington, Iowa?
"I've always let my team know that I'm doing my job as hard as I can go and that I'm expecting them to go as hard as they can go. When we arrive at the tournament and everything comes together, we're a pretty darn good golf team. If we all continue to work hard and hold each other accountable, good things are going to happen."
With the first round of competition at the Conference Challenge, the Hawkeyes came roaring back from their finish in Minnesota and made that statement; a statement that crushed school records. The Black and Gold jumped out to a 15-stroke lead with a first round of 268 (-20), improving on Iowa's previous 18-hole team score record by seven strokes. Fueled by co-medalist performances from Brant and India, Iowa held its 15-stroke lead throughout and picked up tournament title number one on the season.
"All of the attention that the Conference Challenge attracted from Golfweek was phenomenal," said Hankins. "It was great for us to find the success that we did on such a large stage. We're here to win championships so to take such a large lead, play well the final day and never relinquish that margin against such an impressive field, really made a statement."
The Hawkeyes then traveled to South Bend, Ind., for Notre Dame's Fighting Irish Gridiron Golf Classic. In similar fashion, Iowa cruised to a share of first place after the tournament's first day as three Hawkeyes (India, senior Brad Hopfinger and junior Barrett Kelpin) found themselves in the top-10 individually. After a final round of focused play, Iowa pulled away from the field and earned its second tournament championship in as many weeks, this time by a six-stroke margin. Hopfinger's third place finish (209, -1) led the Hawkeyes to a 13-over-par team score of 853.
After compiling a pair of tournament titles in the month of September, Hankins' knew the most challenging tests were yet to come and put a premium on successful individual performances.
"When you're in a position to win as a team, you really need to maintain your mentality and not get ahead of yourself," added Hankins. "I tell the guys to go out and give 100 percent, try their best and don't allow any expectations and preconceived thoughts to affect how they're playing. We've done a really good job with that. I have a smart team and they've learned throughout the past two seasons that if we trust in what we do, good things happen in the end."
The Hawkeyes went into Duke's Rod Myers Invitational ranked No. 13 in the nation. In familiar fashion, Iowa closed the first round with a six-stroke lead over the 12-team field, and continued to pour it on through the final rounds. With top-10 individual performances from India and Hopfinger for the second consecutive week, the Hawkeyes took the team title with a three-round total of 851 (-13).
"This was a quality win for us," said India after winning the title. "Teams are gunning for us and we've proven that we can stay on top. We beat some quality teams this week and that's because everyone on the team is contributing."
With three consecutive tournament titles under its belt, Iowa traveled to Dallas, TX, to close out its fall season at The Royal Oaks Intercollegiate, hosted by Baylor. The experienced Hawkeyes fired a day one total of 17-under-par 551 to top a field consisting of seven top-50 teams. When the final round was cancelled due to inclement weather, the Black and Gold found themselves with a five-stroke lead over the field and an unprecedented fourth-straight tournament championship.
India led the Hawkeyes once again as the Deerfield, Ill., native capped off an amazing fall season with his second individual tournament title. A pair of 66's led to his 10-under-par total of 132 and a two-stroke lead over the rest of the competition.
"Royal Oaks brought challenges that were out of our control, but I felt we did a great job of getting prepared to be at a high level mentally, as well as physically, to play that first day," said Hankins. "We came out ready to go and played to our gameplan right out of the gate. We showed trust in one another, built a lead on day one and earned another championship."
Winning a tournament title, nonetheless four (by a combined 31 strokes), requires skill, focus and discipline, but Hankins believes Iowa's success is due to his team's building-block-approach. Each Iowa golfer knows he needs to post the best 18-hole score he is capable of, beginning on the first tee box. That individual focus leads to a more manageable finished product. Throw in Iowa's ever improving skills and you're able to match the amount of championships the Hawkeyes have won in the past nine years combined.
The Hawkeyes took a well-deserved, yet short, break and are already back to the grind. Offseason cardio, flexibility and strength training, along with technique development, will highlight Iowa's regimen before returning to action Feb 5 at the Big Four Match-Play Championship in Scottsdale, AZ.
"I've always let my team know that I'm doing my job as hard as I can go and that I'm expecting them to go as hard as they can go," said Hankins. "When we arrive at the tournament and everything comes together, we're a pretty darn good golf team. If we all continue to work hard and hold each other accountable, good things are going to happen."