Iowa men’s golf kicks season off at Gopher Invitational

Coach Tyler Stith and the Iowa men’s golf team will try to get off on the right foot this weekend at the Gopher Invitational.

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Iowa men’s golf kicks season off at Gopher Invitational

Iowa's Matthew Walker walks on the green in a downpour during the Hawkeye Invitational at Finkbine Golf Course on Saturday, April 15, 2017.

Iowa's Matthew Walker walks on the green in a downpour during the Hawkeye Invitational at Finkbine Golf Course on Saturday, April 15, 2017.

Joseph Cress

Iowa's Matthew Walker walks on the green in a downpour during the Hawkeye Invitational at Finkbine Golf Course on Saturday, April 15, 2017.

Joseph Cress

Joseph Cress

Iowa's Matthew Walker walks on the green in a downpour during the Hawkeye Invitational at Finkbine Golf Course on Saturday, April 15, 2017.

Jack McFarland, Sports Reporter

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The 2018 season for the Hawkeye men’s golf team will kick off Sept. 9-10 in Independence, Minnesota, at the Gopher Invitational. This is the team’s first opportunity to prove that all the offseason work the players have put in has been worth it.

There is no better way to start a season than with tough competition and a chance for the Hawkeyes to turn some heads.

There will be no shortage of competition this weekend. Some of the teams competing are among the nation’s top squads: Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Coastal Carolina, Michigan State, Purdue, San Diego State, Charlotte, New Mexico, North Carolina State, Utah, Washington, in addition to Iowa.

Both Oklahoma and Texas were among the final eight teams to reach match-play quarterfinals at the NCAA Championships.

Last season at the Gopher Invitational, the Hawkeyes were tied for 12th place among 16 teams after the first day and finished 14th. However, they are competing on the same course as last year, so familiarity should help boost their confidence heading into the tourney.

The Hawkeyes return key golfers in Matthew Walker, Alex Schaake, and Alex Moorman. Each was named a 2018 Big Ten Preseason honoree recently, and all three eye a better go-round this time at the Gopher Invitational. But players can’t get better without practice and some slight alterations.

Senior Walker turned to some small changes to help his game.

“I definitely worked the most on my short game this offseason,” he said. “I adopted a new swing technique that I found success with at many tournaments over the summer. I shot a lot better, had some lower scores.”

It’s also a little tough to practice golf when the state has been bracing daily recently for monsoon-like rainstorms. But an indoor golf facility helps the Hawkeyes put in extra work even when the weather doesn’t cooperate.

“We still get work done inside when the weather won’t let us out — take this week for example,” head coach Tyler Stith said. “The guys still worked very hard and are dedicated to getting better every day, no matter if they are outside or inside.”

The guys still worked very hard and are dedicated to getting better every day, no matter if they are outside or inside”

— Tyler Stith, head coach

All the golfers understand the importance of starting the season off on the right foot. There’s no room for error, especially with a field as deep as the one they will compete against.

The qualifying round recently allowed Stith to piece together the first starting lineup for the invitational. With a 72-hole qualifier taking place, Stith had a simple takeaway.

“Lots of low scores; both Walker and Schaake were impressive,” he said.

It’s no surprise that Walker, who said his favorite golfer was Tiger Woods, is producing low scores. He said he looks toward Woods’ 2000 U.S. Open performance as a moment in Woods’ career on which he tries to model his game, sheer domination.

Woods won the U.S. Open that year with a 15-shot cushion, shooting 12-under with the next closest competitor shooting 3-over. That’s a score Iowa wants this weekend.