Vince India spent last week getting his golf game in order for the NCAA Championships.
For the Iowa senior, that meant a couple days filled with sleep, video games, hanging out with friends and doing everything possible to keep his mind off golf.
“I wasn’t really there all the time with my mental game,” India said of his last performance at the NCAA regional tournament when he carded a 222 over 54 holes, the fourth-best score on the team. “The problem might have been I was either golfed out or frustrated a little bit too much.”
Nonetheless, the regional tournament reinforced something about India’s team — the Hawkeyes are a squad with strengths well beyond their top player. Iowa finished fourth in the 14-team field, qualifying for the NCAA Championships for the second time in three years under fourth-year coach Mark Hankins.
The NCAA meet begins Tuesday at Karsten Creek in Stillwater, Okla. The Hawkeyes are starting to turn this into a regular event on their schedule under Hankins after Iowa made just one appearance during a 48-year stretch before his arrival.
Hankins, a Mount Pleasant native who played collegiately at Iowa State, led the University of Texas at Arlington to eight tournament victories in two seasons before leaving for Michigan State. He guided the Spartans to Big Ten titles in 2005 and 2007 before getting his hands on an Iowa program in need of some upkeep.
Hankins made sweeping changes that altered both how the Hawkeyes played and looked on the course.
“It’s a program thing,” he said. “It’s everything, it’s details, it’s how we dress when we come out to the golf course, it’s how we act when we come out to the golf course, it’s having a disciplined plan about what we’re going to practice that day or how we’re going to qualify that day.”
Iowa is seeded 13th in the 30-team field. The top eight teams after 54 holes qualify for match play. The Hawkeyes have their sights set on being in the eight-team bracket at the end — and they have the players to do it.
India is having the best season in Iowa history. The Big Ten player of the year and winner of the Les Bolstad Trophy, awarded to the golfer with the league’s lowest scoring average, has been ranked as high as third nationally by Golfstat.
“I know he’s going to be prepared,” Hankins said. “He’s extremely motivated right now. He has a future beyond NCAA golf, so there isn’t that much pressure on him because he has a future in golf.”
Hankins said there’s golf after Iowa for Brad Hopfinger, as well. The senior was a first-team all-Big Ten player this season.
Iowa’s best player in the past two tournaments has been junior Chris Brant, who finished second at the Big Ten meet and finished 3-under par at the regional tournament.
“I’m trying to have as much fun as I can and play without reservation and just play freely,” Brant said. “When I’m too stressed about a shot or over-hyping a shot, it doesn’t come out the way I want it. But when I take it for what it is and play it freely and swing freely, the results are much, much better.”