By RICK BROWN
Replace the basketball court with fairways and greens, and add the letters NCAA. The similarities are unmistakable to Iowa men’s golf coach Mark Hankins.
“There are a lot of teams that can win this thing,” Hankins said of the NCAA men’s golf championships that start today in Stillwater, Okla. “Probably 20, maybe more. It’s just like college basketball. There are no more superpowers who are going to run away and hide.”
Top-ranked Oklahoma State is the prohibitive favorite, playing on its own Karsten Creek course. But the current format lends itself to surprising results. All 30 teams play 54 holes with the low eight advancing to match play.
“Match play is a totally different animal at that point,” Hankins said.
The Hawkeyes are in the finals for the second time in three years. They missed the championships by a stroke in 2010 and finished 17th in the 2009 finals.
“Last time, I think we were seeded 29th out of 30 teams,” Hankins said.
This year’s team is 13th.
“It’s a testament to our year and the consistency we showed throughout the year,” Hankins said.
Four members of Iowa’s five-man team played in the 2009 finals. That includes seniors Vince India, the Big Ten player of the year, and Brad Hopfinger, a first-team all-Big Ten pick. India has a team-best 71.38 stroke average.
Junior Chris Brant, a second-team all-Big Ten pick, has the second-best stroke average on the team at 72.17. Hopfinger is next at 72.69. Rounding out Iowa’s entry are juniors Barrett Kelpin and Jed Dirksen.
“This is where you feel all the hard work pays off,” Hankins said. “It’s a chance to go against the 30 best teams in the nation. It’s not about who the best team is. It’s about who is the best team this week.”
Making the NCAA finals is a recruiting boost, and a chance to prove that Midwest schools can make some noise in golf nationally.
Hankins sees advantages in not playing year around. It gives his team time to work on the mental side of the game and do well in the classroom — they had a 3.25 grade-point average. It also gives them time to work on strength and conditioning.
“We can work on their bodies physically without having to worry about shooting golf scores,” Hankins said. “The other thing is that we’re excited to be playing golf right now. We’re not burned out. We’re excited to go out and compete.”
Category: Iowa men's golf