Men’s golf ready for a competitive spring break

BY JESSIE SMITH | MARCH 12, 2010 7:30 AM

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The Iowa men’s golf team traveled to the NCAA championships last season for the first time in 14 years.

Besides just making it to the national showdown in Toledo, Ohio, the Hawkeyes managed to knock off some of the nation’s best — including Stanford, UCLA, and Texas Tech.

The 36th-ranked Hawkeyes will get to build on their postseason success at the prestigious Callaway Collegiate Match-Play Tournament in Marana, Ariz., scheduled for March 21-23. The event will be played at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain, which just weeks ago hosted the PGA Accenture Match-Play Championships.

The tournament boasts a 16-team field and features eight of the nation’s current top-20 teams, including last year’s winner, Middle Tennessee State, and 2009 NCAA champion Texas A&M.

Iowa and Colorado State are the only new additions to the pool from last year, and Iowa head coach Mark Hankins said his team is excited about the trip to Arizona.

“The guys are looking forward to see if we can knock off a few top teams,” he said. “We’re not badly ranked, but at the same time, some of those guys are ranked ahead of us, so it’ll be good to get a couple upsets.”

Hankins used the Black and Gold Alumni Match last weekend in Dallas to decide which five golfers will compete. Juniors Brad Hopfinger and Vince India and sophomores Barrett Kelpin, Brad George, and Chris Brant will represent the Hawkeyes in Arizona.

Because the trip is 10 days long, the Hawkeyes will also bring an alternate — freshman Ryan Marks.
The three-day tournament is in a bracket form and each team is guaranteed four head-to-head matches. The golfers also follow directly in the professionals’ footsteps.

The team plays the front nine on Saguaro, a par-36 that plays to 3,894 yards from the back tee, and play the back nine on Tortolita, a par-36 that plays to 3,955 yards from the back tees.

Kelpin predicts the team’s fate will be determined by the play within 100 yards.

“I think doing well inside of 100 yards is key, just by hitting good wedge shots and putting,” he said. “If you have a good day putting, it’s going to be tough to shoot a bad score. So if we [putt] well, we should be all right.”

Hankins declared Hopfinger as the squad’s No. 1 man going into spring break. Given the tournament’s match-play format, Hopfinger will square off against some of the best individual golfers in the nation.

The junior said the experience and previous success against top-teams helps him, but staying focused in his biggest goal — especially because he’ll face the No. 1 golfer from Texas A&M.

“I have to be ready to play,” Hopfinger said. “They’re going to be really hard matches.”

Despite the extensive list of quality opponents at the tournament, Brant said, the team doesn’t feel overmatched.

“On paper, we might look like an underdog, but none of us feel like underdogs,” he said. “We all believe that we can play with any of those teams any day. I think that belief leads us to success and gives us a good shot.”

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