Hawkeye golfers showing a lot of summer drive

Iowa players doing well in a variety of big settings

SILVIS, Ill. — The past week offered so much evidence that the University of Iowa’s men’s golf program keeps trending upward.

Here’s what current and former Iowa players in Mark Hankins’ eight years as the Hawkeyes’ coach did last week and will soon do:

Steven Ihm made the 36-hole cut at the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic in his first pro event, and goes into Sunday’s final round with a 54-hole total of 7-under-par 206.

Sophomore Raymond Knoll was in the top four of 73 players in the JDC’s Monday qualifier, and played in the tourney as an 18-year-old.

Sophomore Carson Schaake and incoming freshman Sam Meuret were the two players who advanced out of Omaha’s sectional qualifier to play in next month’s U.S. Amateur.

Vince India, the 2011 Big Ten Player of the Year, made the cut at the Tour’s professional event in Utah. Three weeks ago, he tied for 17th in a Tour tourney and made $9,000.

On Monday, senior Brian Bullington will play in the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship after advancing out of a sectional qualifier in June.

This week, former Hawkeye player Brad Hopfinger will join India in the Tour’s event in Idaho. He is 15th on this year’s PGA Latinoamerica Tour, which India used as a springboard to the PGA Tour’s Tour.

Eventually, the Hawkeyes will be represented on the PGA Tour. That hasn’t happened since 1986 Iowa grad Guy Boros had a Tour card 10 years ago.

“We’ve been starved,” Hankins said. “Zach Johnson has been Iowa’s only guy out there. He’s it. We’ve been lucky he’s an Iowa football fan.”

But the fruits of Hankins’ labors are beginning to show. His teams have gone to the NCAA Regionals seven straight years, and have three appearances in the NCAA Championships. Iowa was third in this year’s Big Ten Championships, just eight strokes behind winner Minnesota. Ihm was first-team All-Big Ten, Bullington and Ian Vandersee second-team.

A lot of the progression, obviously, comes in the summers. Hankins has a pretty clear directive to his players.

“I encourage them to play a national-level summer schedule,” he said. “Anything from a state amateur and a state open to a U.S. Amateur or U.S. Public Links. Play PGA Tour qualifiers, Web. Com qualifiers. I don’t want them playing just their local town amateurs. Get out and play against the best.”

It can only have helped 18-year-old Knoll to beat a large crop of pros last Monday and participate in a PGA Tour event, where he shot 74-71.

“It’s a ‘Hey, I belong’ type of thing,” Hankins said. “Now they step back in the college realm and feel more comfortable. All these experiences have helped these guys with what they’re doing.”

India is on the second-best U.S. golf tour. He’s 25 and trying to play his way onto the PGA Tour.

“All our guys have aspirations of doing it,” Hankins said. “When a couple of their buddies are already (playing high levels of pro golf), it really creates a culture that can kind of snowball. I think it’s starting to happen for us.”

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