The Iowa State men's golf team is four tournaments deep into the spring portion of their season and with most of those tournaments ending with top-ten finishes for the Cyclones, some big storylines have taken shape.
Lachlan Barker leading the way
On a roster of eight guys, each individual can impact the outcome for the team in big ways.
If just one of the Cyclones shoots 5 over par for the first round, that can translate into Iowa State falling two spots down on the leaderboard.
But, if just one golfer can shoot six birdies on the front nine holes of the Colleton River Collegiate, the Cyclones can find themselves finishing in third place at the event.
Lachlan Barker did the latter.
Barker finished in third place on the individual leaderboard with a score of 210 (72-65-73). With his second round 65, Barker tied his career-low for a round and collected his third top-10 finish of the season.
Barker also leads the team currently with 82 birdies, 12 more than anyone on the team.
Barker's 82 birdies has him on pace to surpass his 112 birdies he accumulated last season.
His teammates and coaches said it is no accident that Barker is leading in birdies and racking up top-10 performances.
Tripp Kinney, one of two juniors on the Iowa State roster, says Barker has found consistency in getting birdies by his ability to always be in play on the course.
"If [Barker] is keeping the ball in play, then all of the sudden he gets hot a couple times and that is all it really takes for him," Kinney said.
Kinney said all it takes for Barker's ability to get birdies comes from his natural personality of not getting in his own way by getting too frustrated on the course.
Barker said that he was tense and nervous about birdie putts last season and says he didn't take as many opportunities as he has done this season.
Last season, Barker said he was worried about if he holed the putt or missed too much and now feels much more confident about his game and his ability to face birdies as opportunities, not something to be afraid of.
"I am not scared of birdie putts anymore," Barker said.
Barker said it all starts with his putting, which he and coach Andrew Tank have been working to improve the last two weeks.
Barker's teammates said his consistency and pure talent have made him into the force that he is.
Kinney, a three-year veteran of Iowa State's golf program, sees Barker growing stronger mentally every day and believes that if Barker continues his strong work ethic that he will accomplish plenty for Iowa State golf.
"[Barker] came in as a really good player already," Kinney said. "His golf game is always going to be there and I think it is funny how you see him in some pretty weird scenarios on the golf course but you never get too worried because you know he will get out of it."
Tank said that when Barker is driving the ball well, the strength of his game according to Tank, Barker puts himself in position to knock down birdies more often.
Besides his birdies, Barker is on pace for the best career stroke average in school history with his current 71.70 stroke average.
Currently, the career record for stroke average for a single career at Iowa State is held by Nick Voke, who played for the Cyclones from 2013-2017, with his 71.89 average.
Just like his ability to make birdies, Barker's coach sees his potential for a low career stroke average as something Barker has earned and will continue to improve upon.
Tank said Barker's career for the Cyclones is still so young but says he is excited to see what Barker has in store in the future.
"He still has a lot of room to improve so it will be a lot of fun to see him continue to develop," Tank said.
Jumping up in the rankings
Throughout the season, Iowa State has paid little attention to what the outside noise places in the Cyclones' corner.
Whether it be a tournament against highly ranked opponents or expectations placed on the team based on results from the past, Iowa State hasn't given much notice to what outside forces have to say about them.
Golfstat ranks every NCAA Division I golf team based on tournament results, individual performances and how a team performs against other top-rated schools.
In Golftstat's latest rankings, the Cyclones sit as the 42nd ranked team in college golf.
This is something the Cyclones have started to pay attention to, but not because of the number placed next to the school's name, but rather because the number is quite an improvement from just a year ago.
And the Cyclones know why that is.
At this time last season, Iowa State was ranked 88th in the nation, placing towards the bottom of the leaderboard at the beginning two tournaments of the spring season.
Iowa State eventually climbed out of the hole and ended the 2017-18 season ranked 47th.
Jump to the 2018-19 season and the Cyclones have finished in the top-ten at all four of the spring tournaments and is receiving big years from Barker, Kinney and Sam Vincent to boost the ranking.
Despite the obvious higher finishes in tournaments this year, the Cyclones see a much bigger reason as to why Golfstat has them ranked higher than they what they were all of last year.
It boils down to one word: practice.
"The intensity of our practice and the focus we have had during practice has been the biggest factor in the higher ranking," Tank said. "It has been an emphasis of ours to stay hot and stay focused during the spring."
Tank said the Cyclones have become aware of the higher ranking but instead of focusing on the higher number they recieve, the team has become intense in the passion and work they put in during practice time.
Kinney agreed with his coach, saying that new additions to the team in freshmen Jackson Kalz and Bryce Hammer have increased the focus in practice.
Kinney said the first-year golfers in Kalz and Hammer have meshed into the expectations of practice time and what is expected while you are in the facility.
"A lot of the reason behind the higher ranking comes from how we are all practicing and how we handle ourselves around the facility," Kinney said. "We want our ranking to be as high as possible."
Barker sees the reason behind the higher ranking from Golfstat being a result of the past talent that the Cyclones have had.
While Barker agreed practice has been key for the Cyclones this year, Barker says that the team is building off of the work that previous golfers for Iowa State have done.
Barker says that this year's team is continuing the work of past Cyclones in how they approach each tournament.
"Our ranking this year has been really an accumulation of the last few years," Barker said. "It is where the program has been going since you know, your Reubens [Sondjaja], your Scott Fernandez and Nick Vokes, and they put everything into place and we all want to continue that for them."
Putting together a whole tournament
Despite putting together four top-10 finishes in the spring season, Iowa State still isn't satisfied, not until the Cyclones can play a complete tournament.
It has been a consistent message laid out by the coaching staff all year long, the want and desire to get off to a hot start.
Iowa State has improved in that area, finding themselves on the top of the leaderboard instead of the bottom for the start of the spring season.
However, Tank and players alike say that the problem of finishing off tournaments where the Cyclones get solid opening rounds has been the big obstacle in the Cyclones success in the spring.
"I wish we could find that recipe because that is what we are looking for," Tank said. "I was encouraged by what I saw in South Carolina because we didn't have a round that took us out of it, so we need more of those."
Barker and Kinney both say that the coaching staff told the team heading into the National Invitational Tournament about the idea of staying on top and not faltering on the final day to lose the high spot on the leaderboard.
Barker said a possible strategy the team might implement at future tournaments is to stay positive and loose around each other.
"Before our first rounds and throughout, I think we are going to keep it more upbeat during the week before tournaments," Barker said. "It seems like everyone gets really tense and quiet before the first round and that is not who we are when we are back in Ames and on the practice course so we need to just be who we are."