Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Hankins Ready To Raise Husker Golf

By Brian Rosenthal

Mark Hankins brings a wealth of Big Ten Conference experience to the Nebraska men's golf program. Hankins spent eight seasons (2000-07) as the head coach at Michigan State, where he led the Spartans to five NCAA Tournament appearances from 2002-07, then took over an Iowa program that had finished in last place in the Big Ten. He led the Hawkeyes to six consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and 11 team tournament championships from 2009-14 before serving as an assistant athletic director at Iowa and the past two years as a member of the NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Committee. Hankins told of his plan for rebuilding the Nebraska program in this question and answer session, as Nebraska begins its spring season Saturday with the Big Red Alumni Invite in Jacksonsville, Florida.

BR: What most attracted you to come to Nebraska?

Hankins: "As a Power 5 Conference, Big Ten Conference job, Nebraska fit my personal strengths and interests in building another strong golf program in the Midwest. I could see the commitment from the administration was promising from a facility standpoint, and the opportunity to make some necessary changes was available with hard work and vision."

 

BR: You took Iowa from last place in the Big Ten to top 10 nationally. What was your plan, and can you implement a similar turnaround here?

Hankins: "Recruiting the right players that have the ability to improve and excel in an academic/athletic environment and want to be a part of something special is the start. You have to have a top competitive schedule, a disciplined practice schedule and accountability in everything that we do. We want to engage our alumni, the regional golf pros, local golf courses and anyone that has the ability to help us excel. A lot of it is just time spent with the players, building every area of the program and knowing what the path is."

 

BR:  What is the premise of your recruiting philosophy?

Hankins: "We are looking for players that have the ability to play for us right away. We will take players locally, regionally and internationally. They have to have a love of the game and aspire to take their game to the next level, professional golf, while they are here at Nebraska. That is the intrinsic motivation that I would like every player on this team to have, allowing them to really dig deep when things get tough. Conditions aren’t perfect and we need them to compete at the highest level. We want players that fit here at Nebraska and that care enough about every aspect of their life to be great."

 

BR: How do you convince the top players to choose Nebraska?

Hankins: "It’s different for every player that we recruit. Depending on what their options are, we can promote our strong Big Ten Conference academics, quality home golf courses with options to play up to eight golf courses in the area, numerous off-season facilities, a top five tournament schedule in the Big Ten, and aspirations to be NCAA qualifiers and Big Ten Championship contenders every year. Nebraska also offers great opportunity in academic scholarships, which is helpful when competing for recruits that require scholarship money to help finance their admission and attendance at Nebraska. We always promote our passion and support for Husker Athletics and a fan base that is second to none."

 

BR: Do you have to find some players who may be overlooked and turn them into better players after they get here?

Hankins: "We start by recruiting every ranked player in the region, all of the states that are close to Nebraska, then anyone that has any tie to Nebraska, and then nationally and internationally, depending on what they are looking for in coaches, facilities, academic experience and playing opportunity. Then it’s a simple matter of putting them in our system, holding everyone accountable and expecting excellence."

 

BR: What did this team accomplish in the fall season that encourages you heading into the spring?

Hankins: "Our best tournament was our final tournament with multiple under-par rounds and quality scores across the board. We have seen some significant growth and improvement from Tanner Owen as our No. 1 player through the fall and support from Jace Guthmiller (pictured above) and Jackson Wendling. We add two new graduate transfers this semester with Jay Cottam and Mitch Klooz, who will add depth and experience to an improving team and starting lineup."

 

BR: Individually, is there anyone in particular you see making a significant jump from the fall into the spring season?   

Hankins: "Every guy has been pushed through the off-season in our strength and conditioning program and explored their toughness off the golf course. We look to install that same mentality to the Big Ten Match play and throughout the spring. Our goal is to be the best version of ourselves as possible, maximize our experience, competitive nature and be competitive for tournament championships as a team."

 

BR: How would you describe your coaching style?

Hankins: "My job is all about putting these people in a situation to be successful. I provide the tournament schedule, the consistency in message and resolve every day, leadership in areas that we need to improve, and then let the guys tee it up and play to their own strengths. I believe each guy should bring it every day in practice, and that allows them to relax and just continue to compete at their optimal level, whether in a tournament or qualifying or practice. Play to your best each and every day." 

BR: How does having a Husker alum like Brady Schnell make the PGA Tour give your program a recruiting boost? 

Hankins: "Brady is a great player and ambassador for our program. He provides the affirmation that you can make it to the PGA tour from the Midwest and the University of Nebraska. We have quite a few guys still playing and succeeding on the Web.com, mini-tours and as successful teaching and PGA professionals. This all provides that intrinsic motivation for our guys that want to play at the next level."

 

BR: Who is your favorite golfer, ever, and why? 

Hankins: "I have a lot of favorite players and they have all played for me. The best part of this job is helping to guide and mentor each of my players toward their dream and future careers, whether in golf or otherwise. They are all unique and talented young men with bright futures and accomplishments that have allowed them to play NCAA Division I athletics and graduate from a Big Ten University with a top-level education and a priceless experience."

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.

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