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Hawkeyes ready to tee off
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Despite preparing for an upcoming practice round under rainy conditions, there was a strong sense of excitement from the University of Iowa men's golf team as they hosted media day Thursday, Sept. 13 at Finkbine Golf Course. That excitement was undoubtedly from what's coming this weekend: the Golfweek Conference Challenge.
The Hawkeyes and Spirit Hollow Golf Course will co-host the Golfweek Conference Challenge in Burlington from Sept. 16-18. Hosting an elite national event, playing on the state's top-ranked course, and the chance to play in front of a home crowd has the Hawkeyes eager to tee off.
"The cooperation between us, Golfweek, and Spirit Hollow has been very unique, and it's helped create a tremendous tournament," says head coach Mark Hankins. "Playing on the state's top course, receiving the coverage from Golfweek, and drawing a national field is very special. Overall, it's turned into a top-15 tournament in the country."
The Golfweek Conference Challenge pits 15 teams from 15 different conferences, creating a competitive national field. Iowa will be joined by Ball State (MAC), Campbell (Big South), Central Arkansas (Southland), Florida Gulf Coast (Atlantic Sun), Jacksonville State (Ohio Valley), Kansas (Big 12), Long Beach State (Big West), Missouri (SEC), San Francisco (West Coast), San Jose State (WAC), Tulsa (CUSA), Wake Forest (ACC), and Xavier (A10).
The Hawkeyes, who won the 2010 Golfweek Conference Challenge with a program record 833 (-31) 54-hole score, are eager to see where they stand in this week's field after opening the fall season at the Golden Gopher Invitational last week. Iowa opened the season with a 922 (+58) on the Spring Hill Golf Club to place 10th.
"Anytime you finish in the top third of a nationally ranked field, you are able to really help your rankings and give your individuals a chance to add to their resume," says Hankins. "This event certainly brings a good field, and our expectations as far as what we can accomplish in it are high."
Iowa will have a strong home-course advantage, playing on a course that they have practiced on numerous times the past year. Spirit Hollow was ranked the top course in Iowa in 2012. It's a par 72 course that plays 7,360 yards from the tips. Spirit Hollow has been the host of many prestigious events, and has been the home of the Golfweek Conference Challenge since 2010.
"It's the biggest home court advantage in sport," says Hankins. "There are so many unique shots in golf and every course is different, so being able to play a national field at your home course is a substantial advantage."
Junior Steven Ihm, who led the Hawkeyes with a 229 (+13) and a 29th place finish in Minnesota, agreed.
"We're really excited for this," says Ihm. "It's one of a few chances we get to showcase our skills on our home course. We'll know our way around Spirit Hollow better than anybody else and we will have a home crowd. It should be a really fun time."
Ihm and sophomore Ian Vandersee, who both earned PING All-Region honors last season, each played in the 2011 Golfweek Conference Challenge. Iowa placed sixth last year with an 879 (+15), while Ihm finished 22nd and Vandersee placed 28th. The Hawkeyes will be counting on the two returners to anchor the lineup at this year's Golfweek Conference Challenge.
"I'm really looking forward to it this year, and I think I will be a lot more comfortable this time around," says Vandersee. "I feel a lot better about my game right now, and it's always nice to play Spirit Hollow and to play in front of the fans."
Tee times on Sunday and Monday will run from 9 a.m. until 11:20 a.m. on holes No. 1 and No. 10, and Tuesday's final round will be a shotgun start at 8:30 a.m. An awards ceremony will be held at 1:30 p.m. (CT) after the tournament. Fans can follow the action live at golfstat.com or golfweek.com.