IOWA CITY — Four years ago Mark Hankins brought discipline to an Iowa men’s golf program that sorely needed it.
The program languished near the bottom in the Big Ten and had reached only one NCAA Tournament (1995) since 1960. Hankins, who coached Michigan State to a Big Ten title in 1995, saw Iowa needed to change its approach to become successful.
“It’s everything,” Hankins said. “It’s details. It’s how we dress when we came out to the golf course. It’s how we act when we came to the golf course. It’s having a disciplined plan about what we’re going to practice that day, or how we’re going to qualify that day and overall it’s time spent. It’s time spent with each one of these guys, but really it’s sticking to my game plan.”
Hankins, a Mount Pleasant native, built the Hawkeyes quickly. Iowa went from 155th in the national rankings two years ago to the 13th seed in next week’s NCAA meet. It’s Iowa’s second national appearance in the last three years and this year the Hawkeyes have a chance to compete.
Seniors Vince India and Brad Hopfinger produced the top two seasons in Iowa history. India was named the Big Ten Player of the Year this year, posting a 71.08 stroke average. He also was tabbed the school’s top male athlete this year.
India, a Deerfield, Ill., native, credits Hankins with installing a strong mental approach to golf. For India, that meant dealing with on-course anger management.
“It’s something to say for how much Coach has worked, how much time and effort we’ve put in,” India said. “Looking back when I was a freshman, it’s kind of sad how bad we were. Now, you turn it around really nicely. Coach is a big part of that.
“He just kind of changed the whole attitude of the program. A lot more mental toughness, a better attitude out there. He just knows how to get the most out of players, really.”
Hopfinger joined India on the Big Ten’s first team while junior Chris Brant was a second-team member. They form the foundation of one of the nation’s top units taking on next week’s difficult field. Jed Dirksen and Barrett Kelpin round out the unit.
Only Illinois (ninth) is seeded higher among the five Big Ten schools qualifying for the tournament. The top seed, Oklahoma State, has an advantage of playing at its home course of Karsten Creek in Stillwater, Okla. It’s a demanding course, and India said each golfer needs patience on each stroke.
“You’re not really going to make any birdies so you’ve kind of got to stay patient out there,” India said. “You’re going to have to be satisfied with par at times. It changes your whole approach to the course.”
Hankins isn’t requiring a conservative approach, however. He’s asking each player to stay mentally disciplined and stick to their game plan on the course, nothing less.
“Each one of these guys plays differently,” he said. “Some guys hit it a long ways and are more aggressive and others like to play conservatively. Really what it is is adapting to the speed of the green as one of the things we have to do. Adapting to the overall feel of the golf course and create a game plan in that one practice round that we have. Once we do that, you’ve just got to stick to it.”
Hankins said the team was both rusty and tight in regional play two weeks ago when it tied for fourth to qualify for nationals. Now with a week of practice entering nationals, India expects a better outcome at Karsten Creek.
“It’s going to be tough but fair,” India said. “We tend to play better on tougher golf courses, so I think this week the course is set up in our favor.”