By Ryan Murphy
After a 2011 spring season that saw the Iowa men’s golf team finish 10th in the country, expectations are at a high for the Hawkeyes.
Iowa enters the season ranked No. 30 in the nation by golfstat.com — the second-best of the Big Ten teams, behind only No. 21 Illinois.
The team begins the spring season on Saturday with the Big Four Match Play Challenge, an exhibition held in Chandler, Ariz. The competition will be held at the Lone Tree Golf Club, and pits the four Division-I programs in the state — Iowa, Iowa State, Northern Iowa, and Drake — in medal-match play. The format matches up six golfers from each team to compete in stroke play competition; the one-seeds compete against other top-seeded golfers, and so on. Teams gain a point for each victorious golfer.
The Hawkeyes are the No. 1 team seed in the event, and will face fourth-seeded Drake in the first round while the Cyclones and Panthers face off against each other. The winners in the first round will then meet to determine the champion.
Senior Brad George said the achievements of the 2011 season have created some enhanced standards for Iowa golf.
“There’s definitely some added expectations around the program,” George said. “We always shoot for doing the best we can, and losing the two seniors [Vince India and Brad Hopfinger] is tough. But we have a lot of confidence in our new guys, and we are ready to compete.”
“Our expectations are as high as they can possibly be,” added freshman Joseph Winslow. “We want to take everything one tournament at a time, but we keep our expectations higher than anyone can expect us to keep them. We keep focusing on what we’re doing.”
The team begins the regular season with tests in match-play competition. Three of the team’s first four events will be played in a match-play format, as opposed to the usual stroke-play system. After this weekend, the Hawkeyes will compete in the Big Ten Match-Play and Calloway Collegiate Match-Play events, both held at The Concession in Sarasota, Fla.
George said match-play allows each golfer to focus on just his match, but it puts more pressure on the individual.
“It gives you an individual mindset, since it’s just one person you have to beat. It’s more or less that you can’t give up during the round because if you give your opponent any kind of advantage, he will usually take advantage of it,” George said. “You have to be mentally tough.”
Freshman Brian Bullington said playing the more forgiving match-play style this weekend is good for opening the season.
“It’s nice for the beginning of the season because we haven’t really played, and competitively, it’s been a little while, so it’s nice to not worry so much about score,” Bullington said. “You just worry about winning, and you do what you need to do to win.”
Iowa head coach Mark Hankins said playing in match-play competitions early in the season will help the Hawkeyes down the stretch.
“Match-play puts pressure on every putt, and it’s more of a head-to-head competition where guys are really grinding to win each hole,” Hankins said in a release. “It’s important to instill that mindset early in the season, because you need it to win a championship at the end of the year.”