First-year sophomore brings experience to Iowa men’s golf


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Mark Hankins normally doesn’t have first-year sophomores on his team.

Because he prefers to bring players into his program as freshmen, junior-college transfers are rarely seen on a roster put together by the fifth-year head coach.

But this year, Steven Ihm is an exception.

Ihm, a sophomore, spent his freshman year enjoying great success at Indian Hill Community College in Ottumwa, Iowa.

Ihm posted a team-best season scoring average of 73.81, and Indian Hills won the 2011 National Junior College Athletics Association national championship.

For his efforts, the native of Dubuque won the Phil Mickelson Award as the best freshman in the country at the junior-college level.

Now, Ihm is working on making the transition from junior college to the Big Ten.

He said he plans on making the same kind of impact in Iowa City as he did in Ottumwa.

“I told my coach I wouldn’t have come [to Iowa] if I didn’t think I could play,” he said. “I want to make that [starting] five and be constantly playing. I could be playing at Indian Hills this year pretty much for sure, but I’d rather be playing for Iowa.”

The Hawkeyes originally recruited Ihm out of high school when he played at Dubuque Whalert.

Hankins said that original recruitment, paired with Ihm’s success at Indian Hills, played a big part in bringing in the Ju-Co transfer.

“We like to get somebody who is a talent out of high school, and he comes here and only know one way,” Hankins said. “But he was a good student, a good player. When you get someone from Indian Hills … those guys are good players.”

During Ihm’s year at Indian Hills, the Warriors won 11 of the 13 tournaments they entered. Ihm also took first place individually at two tournaments — the William Jewel Spring Classic and the District III Championship — and recorded 10 top-10 finishes.

His impressive play coincided with an improvement with his mental approach.

Describing Ihm as an aggressive player, Indian Hills head coach Michael Hagen said he had a tendency to play too fast and didn’t “stay within the moment” — he didn’t take his rounds one shot at a time.

Hagen said he evaluates his players at the end of every fall season, and he knew getting Ihm to slow down was going to be crucial to the young golfer’s success.

“His course management — getting his way around the golf course and slowing it down — was going to be a big component,” he said.

Hagen’s guidance also helped Ihm develop a better pre-shot routine. Ihm said during his younger years, he really didn’t have a set routine and would find himself just guessing where the ball would go.

“I’d be standing over the ball thinking different things,” Ihm said. “With a pre-shot routine, you’re standing behind the ball; you want to picture the shot. Then when you’re standing over [the ball], you look at your feet, the pin, [and say], ‘They’re lined up, OK.’ That’s your [cue] to go.”

Another lesson the 19-year-old took from his year at Indian Hills was the importance of playing with the team score in mind. Even if he is having a bad day, remaining only a few strokes over par could help a team record a first-place finish.

He has brought that winning mentality to Iowa, where he joins a program that has achieved great recent success — the Hawkeyes finished No. 10 in the country last year.

On his third day of official practice, Ihm said his expectation for this year is to bring a certain title to Iowa City that has eluded the Hawkeyes since 1992 — the Big Ten championship.

“I expect nothing less,” he said.

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