Iowa's Alex Schaake takes on leadership role with eye on NCAAs

Stephen Mally/UI Athletics/hawkeyesports.com

Iowa's Alex Schaake takes on leadership role with eye on NCAAs

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Iowa's Alex Schaake takes on leadership role with eye on NCAAs

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For as long as he’s been at Iowa, Alex Schaake has been atop the Hawkeye leaderboard in words and emotions.

Watch carefully for a few holes, and he’ll let you know how he’s feeling – not in a mercurial way, but an unvarnished one. Talk to him for a few minutes, and you’ll discover another clear window inward.

Last golf season, he cemented his place as the on-course leader for Iowa, too, with five top-10s, including a win and two runner-up finishes.

So it’s understandable that the reigning Big Ten men’s Golfer of the Year is holding himself and his fellow Hawkeyes to a higher standard in his senior season.

Over the long term, team finishes such as this week’s fourth-place performance in the 11th annual Golfweek Conference Challenge at the Cedar Rapids Country Club won’t do. Nor will his individual effort at the 93-player event that brings squads from 16 different leagues together for an early-season event. The Creighton Prep (Neb.) product stumbled to a final-round 77 to finish tied for 19th in the individual race at 2-over 218.

Golfweek Conference Challenge: Team | Individual | Photos

That said, part of leadership is showing maturity even when tournaments don’t work out as one hoped. And Schaake has learned to become a grinder on those less-than-sharp days.

“Right now, my putting just hasn’t been that sharp. Last week (an eighth-place finish at the Gopher Invitational in Minneapolis), my putting was on-point, but I missed a ton of greens. That’s kind of how golf is. Something isn’t working, but usually another thing is on,” Schaake explained. “Especially for me, I grind. I try to shoot even par if it’s not going all that well.

“You watch those guys (on the PGA Tour), and they putt the heck out of it. If I can get to that point, I feel like I am a good ball-striker and can compete on that level. But I need to focus on putting and the short game, because that’s where it all lies.”

Iowa coach Tyler Stith, now in his sixth season, has seen similar development from his top player. He remembers Schaake coming up to him his freshman season, letting Stith know he wanted to be a leader.

“I knew he was going to be,” Stith relayed, smiling, “but I’ve seen the growth and the maturity over these past four years. He’s a vocal leader now, too, where if he sees something that he doesn’t like and thinks some of the other guys need to do something a little differently, he knows that he has my trust and can say what he feels.

Iowa’s Alex Schaake. Photo: Stephen Mally/hawkeyesports.com

“The guys obviously respect and look up to him, and from that standpoint, he’s the type of kid you want on your team.”

The Hawkeyes could use another Alex Schaake in their quest to reach the national level of the NCAA Division I Championships for the first time since 2012. Iowa finished seventh in 2019 at the Austin Regional and has made the regional round in six of the past seven seasons.

Benton Weinberg, the team’s other senior, is up to the task. He tied Schaake as the Hawkeyes’ top finisher at the Golfweek-organized event after shooting a 1-under 71 in the final round to reach the same 218 total.

Junior Joe Kim and sophomore Gonzalo Leal are promising supporting pieces, and freshmen Garrett Tighe and Bettendorf (Iowa) graduate Matthew Garside have traded turns in the fifth spot.

“Honestly, I want the team to get to nationals, because I know that’s one of (Schaake’s) goals, but I really want him just to enjoy his last year,” Stith said. “The four years go by so fast. It’s over in the blink of an eye. So I hope he enjoys being with his teammates and being a part of the program.”

Schaake has a short time in his career to go, but a long time to peak in the final season as a Hawkeye. The third-team preseason Golfweek all-American is keeping his goals measured yet broad.

“First, try to get better every year. I was Big Ten player of the year last year, and of course I want to do that again,” he said. “It’d be kind of a disappointment if I didn’t. The goal is to shoot for all-American status, and then make nationals as a team. … So I’ve just got to be competitive in practice every day.”

Accomplish that simple feat, Stith says, and the rest will follow. Both for an exemplary individual talent and for his team.

“The thing our guys can learn from him the most is his competitiveness. He comes to practice every day with a purpose, knows what he needs to improve, and he does it,” Stith said. “Overall, it’s his mentality. There’s so much confidence and belief. Every time he tees it up, he feels like he can win, and that’s his greatest asset.”

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