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IOWA CITY - Iowa men's golf coach Mark Hankins doesn't lack for confidence, but he doesn't make predictions, either.
Fresh from one of the best months in Iowa golf history, Hankins' team has a measured approach to this weekend's Big Ten championships. Iowa has won three of its last four tournaments and the other was a second-place finish among 15 schools in Tempe, Ariz.
Two weeks ago, Iowa rallied from a 10-stroke deficit on the final day to claim the 12-team Boilermaker Invitational. Iowa collectively shot 14-under the final day to card a 274, the second-lowest 18-hole team score in school history. Senior Steven Ihm shot 8-under on the final day and birdied seven of the first eight holes. His best effort, he said, was saving par on the 11th.
Those performances matter, Ihm said, entering the league tournament at Pete Dye Course in French Lick, Ind.
'We're definitely moving in the right direction,” Ihm said. 'We're coming off two pretty good weeks and even at Purdue, those first two rounds weren't bad. But that last round was something special.”
Hankins credits the program's rigorous schedule and nine-day spring training regimen in Arizona for elevating his team among the Big Ten's elite. Hankins, however, gave no assurances of victory. The course, the weather and the opponent have as much bearing on the final outcome as any of his players.
'Everybody talks about team, team, team,” Hankins said. 'Really we separate it out. We talk about the individual because really that's the only thing he can control. Do you play well? Not even what did you finish because who knows what players A, B and C did from another school? The goal is to play well individually. If we do that, I think collectively we'll be in a position where we can compete for a championship.”
Ihm, a former two-time Mississippi Valley Conference Player of the Year at Dubuque Wahlert, earned a second straight Co-Big Ten Golfer of the Week award after the Boilermaker Invitational. He now has five weekly honors in his Iowa career.
Iowa hasn't won the Big Ten championship since 1992. The Hawkeyes' roster is intact from a third-place finish last year. No. 8 Illinois is the tournament favorite, and but Iowa edged the Fighting Illini by one stroke (and No. 16 UCLA by six strokes) at the Boilermaker Invitational.
'We want to beat them so bad,” Ihm said. 'Everybody is gunning for them.”
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