Homegrown hero transforms Iowa golf
Mark Hankins' tenure as Iowa's men's golf coach started slowly. One tournament win his first year. None his second. One his third.
Now, with four-straight tournament wins this fall, it's safe to say the Hawkeye squad has gone from Big Ten bottom feeder to national contender.
Hankins, who graduated from Iowa State in 1993, started coaching at the University of Texas-Arlington in 1998. He led the Mavericks to eight tournament titles during his two-year stint, the most in Division-I golf during that time.
Then the Mount Pleasant native moved to Michigan State.
"I thought if I did at a good job [at Michigan State], then I could possibly come back to Iowa," he said. "I always grew up being a Hawkeye, and I felt like that was the best way to get back."
Hankins led the Spartans to Big Ten titles in 2005 and 2007, and the Hawkeyes soon came calling with a job offer.
He wanted Iowa, and the Hawkeyes wanted him — even though that meant shifting from arguably the conference's best program to its worst one. Michigan State made five NCAA championship appearances in his seven seasons.
Iowa was coming off a last-place finish in the Big Ten.
"I felt there was a necessity to revive what was going on here at Iowa," he said. "And, hopefully, get us to a level where we could be competitive in the Big Ten and in the country."
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He immediately brought confidence and a calming attitude to Iowa City, former player Dan Holterhaus (2003-2008) said. Holterhaus said he was "thrilled" when Hankins was appointed the team's head coach.
"We had good players [in Hankins'] first year, but we just didn't have the confidence," Holterhaus said. "Nobody was pushing each other that hard. That's one of the main things he's had to do since he came to Iowa — instill confidence in the players.
"Look at Vince India, who played most of the time as a freshman and now as a senior, he is the 10th-ranked player in the entire country and has that confidence."
When Hankins came to Iowa, he had a blueprint for the team to prepare, play, and act. He knew what it took to win Big Ten championships, and he wanted to imprint his ideas on his new team. His method of pushing and stretching the golfers makes them work harder in order to perform better.
Hankins believes there are three stages for a golf team. First is the preparation and discipline stage, which happens during practice. The second stage occurs while team competes in a tournament; the coach keeps his distance and remains supportive.
Finally, after the tournament, the evaluation stage. He will regroup the Hawks to talk about what they did well and what they need to work on, then set plans for what they need to prepare for.
"I always preach that preparation is the key to winning golf tournaments," he said. "If we aren't prepared, we aren't going to win. This year, we have a schedule I put together that incorporated a lot of tournaments we've played in before. Each week, the guys have stepped up and played good golf right from the get-go."
The preparation has paid off for Hankins and the golf team this fall, but he isn't satisfied. Never mind that the team is ranked No. 9 in the country by Golfstat.com and that it has the most tournament titles — four — of any Division I program this fall.
He came back to the state on a mission — not to build a top-35 team that focused on individual accolades — but rather, a squad that has the chance to make the NCAA regionals and win an NCAA championship.
Besides pushing his athletes and instilling confidence in them, Hankins' mantra is to not dwell on the past or worry about the future, just prepare for today. As a result, the Hawkeyes never appeared to be satisfied with their tournament victories. They are more focused on how to prepare for their next competition.
"I think one of our biggest strengths is our ability as a team to stay in the present and not get ahead of ourselves," India said. "We don't want to become cocky or self-absorbed with the rankings and have it all fall apart in the spring."
After missing last year's NCAA championship by a single stroke, Hankins and the Hawkeyes have plenty of motivation for a strong spring season.
"I think [Hankins] realizes there is more work to do," Holterhaus said. "They know they have to be focused the entire season, and they have to bring it every tournament.
"They have bigger dreams than just winning a few tournaments this fall."
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