Hawkeye men's golf tries to bounce back in Golfweek Conference Challenge


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The Iowa men’s golf team will attempt to use a home-course advantage of sorts in the Golfweek Conference Challenge at Spirit Hollow Golf Course of Burlington on Sept. 16-18.

The Hawks finished in a disappointing 10th place in last weekend’s Golden Gopher Challenge due to being mentally unprepared and first tournament jitters. The No. 3 golfer in the lineup in the tournament, Brian Bullington, said the squad is more prepared for this weekend’s tournament.

“We felt last week at Minnesota that all of our games were there, but it was a tougher course, and that kind of got to us,” the sophomore said. “We’re looking to trust our pre-shot routines and trust our mental preparation, so as we go into the tournament, we can just let it happen.”

The Golfweek Conference Challenge will feature 15 teams from 15 conferences. The field is composed of quality teams — six of the teams advanced to NCAA regionals last season.

Iowa has hosted the Golfweek Conference Challenge for four years in a row, and the tournament has been in Burlington for the last three years. The last time the Hawkeyes won the event was in 2010, when they shot a school record 54-hole total of 31-under.

“Not many golf tournaments get the kind of coverage that we get,” head coach Mark Hankins said. Golfweek is the college-golf bible, basically. That’s where most college golf is found. We’re happy to be able to host it. Overall, I think it’s turned into a top-15 tournament in the country.”

The lineup that Iowa will send to this year’s tournament won’t be set until after qualifying ends on Saturday. The three golfers exempt from qualifying who will for sure represent the Hawkeyes will be Bullington, Ian Vandersee, and Steven Ihm.

Ihm and Vandersee are the only returning players who took part in the tournament last year.

Hankins is confident that the pressure of a nationally recognized tournament at a home course won’t affect the younger players.

“We’ve had some guys who played the course this week,” Hankins said. “They’re, hopefully, going to feel a little more comfortable this week being in their second tournament. It’s still a golf course that we don’t play all the time, so we have a lot of respect for the course. I think they’ll be focused on the golf course and not what’s going on around them.”

Hankins pointed out that part of the advantage they’ll have with the course is that it’s a Midwestern-style course. Some attributes he said that Spirit Hollow has that are similar to Finkbine are bank grass greens, hills, trees, and overall length.

Ihm said that playing on the course offers the team advantages for which other teams may have to adjust.

“Most of us have played at least 15 rounds there, maybe more,” the junior said. “We kind of know our way around Spirit Hollow better than most teams, and that should play to our advantage. We might get rain or a little wind. Some of those Southern teams play in hot weather, where the ball flies a little further. For us, it’s nice not having to adjust too much.”

Hankins said that the goal for the team is to finish in the top five. After the tournament, he’s hoping to see a boost not only in the national rankings but also in the confidence of the team.

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