IOWA CITY – Ian Vandersee walked out on the putting green at Finkbine Golf Course Thursday. As he put his clubs down he discussed with sports information director about the 10 hours of sleep he got the night before. The SID wasn’t as fortunate explaining he woke up three times during the night.
“I’m never having kids,” Vandersee laughed.
Ironically as the Iowa sophomore stepped onto the green, he instantly became a father figure. The Hawkeyes lost five seniors from a year ago including Chris Brant and Barrett Kelpin. Kelpin boasted the second best stroke average in program history last season at 72.04. Brant wasn’t far behind with a 73.29 average, which was good enough for ninth best all-time.
Currently head coach Mark Hankins has three freshmen, three sophomores and two juniors on his squad with junior Steve Ihm, the only returner who competed in every tournament last year. He’s looking for Vandersee and Ihm to fill their shoes not only on the leaderboard but as leaders too.
“I think what we try to do is basically come in do a lot of intrasquad competition,” Hankins said. “When we do that, that helps us prepare for the tournaments. I think as we go along we’ll continue to do that. We’ll try to keep that intrasquad competition. As long as that’s strong, our team will be strong.”
Hankins has been in this situation before. In fact it was four years ago when he brought in Brant and Kelpin. When they were freshmen though, he did have a single senior to captain his ship. Now he’ll rely on a junior and even a sophomore.
“This year I definitely have to be one of the leaders,” Ihm said. “As two of the two players, me and Ian are the only ones who played a lot of golf meets last year. Me especially, I played in every single one of them. I kind of have to show – me and Ian have to show an example for everyone else and I think we’ll do a good job of that.”
The tough aspect of leading on the course is despite the team score, at heart it’s an individual sport, even in practice. There are only five spots for each tournament. The week of practice decides who plays. So one minute a player could be another’s mentor. The next he could have taken the final spot on the tournament roster.
“It’s tough. We all are good friends. You know we’re close ages, but it’s just important each time you come out here, I know I do, I want to beat every one of them,” sophomore Brian Bullington said. “I mean they’re you’re friends but when it comes down to it you’re competing against them for a starting spot.”
Hankins said that’s the most difficult aspect younger players deal with. But Brant and Kelpin didn’t only leave their imprint on the Hawkeye record books. They also left their mark on Ihm, Vandersee and Bullington.
The most valuable asset the returnees have is they know what it’s like to be a fresh face and how they were mentored, good or bad.
“I learned the last few years having the older guys here and I learned what they did,” Vandersee said. “There were some things that I liked and some things that I thought they might have been able to do better. So basically I’m just trying to do what I think would be best for the team at this point.”
That may be the upcoming tournament spanning Sunday through Tuesday. It isn’t at Finkbine, but the Hawkeyes and Spirit Hollow Golf Course host the Golfweek Conference Challenge in Burlington.
The tournament will consist of 15 teams from 15 different conferences, including NCAA Regional qualifiers Jacksonville State, Long Beach State, San Francisco, and Wake Forest. Tulsa, an NCAA Championship qualifier will also compete.
The competition will be at a premium but the familiarity will eradicate the team’s inexperience and set up what Hankins hopes is his fourth trip to the NCAA tournament in his six years.
“We’re not going to be surprised by anything down there, Hankins said. “I think that allows maybe us with a little less experience to be ready. Seniors and juniors they’re used to going places and doing stuff. Coming home this will be a little more familiar for the guys and I think we’ll be better prepared.”