AMES, Iowa (AP) — The Iowa State men’s golf team is no longer an afterthought, not after snapping a 61-year NCAA tournament drought.
Fourth-year coach Andrew Tank and his team are headed to the tournament later this week for the first time since 1953. Although the NCAA doesn’t keep track, it’s believed to be the longest drought between NCAA appearances in the history of men’s golf.
They’ve been joined by the Iowa State women, who’ll tee off in the NCAA tournament for the first time in Tulsa on Tuesday.
Iowa State is one of just 11 schools to put both of its teams in the NCAA meet. But the Cyclones and Washington are the only ones from a so-called northern state.
“It’s a big step forward for us, for sure. I think it means more than we probably realize here in the short term. But it puts us on that national stage. It shows we can compete with the best teams,” Tank said.
That’s largely due to Tank, who has proven to be a perfect fit for Iowa State.
Tank grew up in nearby Des Moines and played at Minnesota. In 2002, he captained the Gophers team that won the NCAA title – the only northern-based team since 1979 to do so. Tank then spent eight years as an assistant at his alma mater before landing his first head coaching job at Iowa State, where he has expanded the program’s reach well beyond the Midwest.
Tank leaned on the international connections he built while in Minneapolis to put together an initial recruiting class that included players from Spain, Australia and New Zealand.
Iowa State’s diverse roster is led by Spaniard Scott Fernandez, who is the program’s career leader in stroke average (72.15) and top-10 finishes with 21.
“I think it’s a really cool aspect of the program. We’ve got players from central Iowa, Ohio. It’s a little bit like studying abroad for them,” Tank said. “It provides a pretty good atmosphere for the guys.”
For women’s coach Christie Martens, reaching the NCAA tournament was the culmination of a decade-long struggle to build a contender.
Martens, who like Tank captained a northern school (Northwestern) to the NCAA tournament, led Iowa State to its first postseason appearance in 14 years in 2010. But Iowa State failed to advance in four consecutive NCAA regionals, and many thought this year would end with the same disappointing result.
Senior Prima Thammaraks spearheaded a breakthrough on May 10 with an even-par 72 that helped put Iowa State in the NCAA finals. It was vindication for Martens, who always believed it was possible to win at a school that’s often dealing with snow well into March – at least.
“I think just to surprise some of those schools as a northern school that’s seen as a contender is huge,” Martens said. “People are always talking about weather, weather, weather. I think it is (big) to show them that it’s really not about weather. It’s about preparation. It’s about peaking at the right time.”
This probably won’t be the last trip to the NCAA tournament for either team, thanks to a new $2 million golf-only center that ranks among the best in the country.
The facility, which opened last fall, has a spacious clubhouse and 11 greens, a pair of fairways and bunkers, rough and a water hazard for the Cyclones to practice on.
“It’s going to get us a lot of attention and shine a light on the program, which we’re really excited about,” Tank said. “I knew the potential was here, and I knew with the right ingredients in place that Iowa State could be very successful. But it’s happened a little bit quicker than I expected.”