Two former Gophers break ground in Ames

Alex Gookin

As Patrick Datz got off the plane in Minneapolis, he wasn’t sure what to expect. After all, he was a high school golf recruit making his official visit to one of the hottest teams in collegiate golf — University of Minnesota.

The first person to greet Datz at the airport was a UM assistant coach who introduced himself as Andrew Tank. He was a Minnesota alumnus himself who was awarded as a scholar-athlete and was part of the 2002 national championship team.

Datz eventually decided to attend Minnesota. He was part of the 2006 team that placed third at the NCAA Championships and the 2007 Big Ten Champion team. Like Tank, he was a scholar-athlete award winner.

“My first memories of Minnesota were directly related to coach Tank,” Datz said. “He was always very helpful, like if I wanted to work extra on something, then he was always available.”

While Datz played for the team, Tank was promoted to associate head coach when former coach Brad James made the move to director of Minnesota’s men’s and women’s golf programs. The two developed a relationship over the years while together at Minnesota.

Datz showed interest in coaching before he graduated, interning under James for the men’s and women’s golf teams while getting his master’s degree. After getting his degree in education and applied kinesiology in 2009, Datz left Minnesota to play professionally.

The story could have ended there, with both Tank and Datz in unrelated golf business, maybe exchanging a few emails from time to time to stay in touch, but then Tank saw an interesting job opening.

In 2010, Iowa State was looking for a new golf coach. The program had been running in place for a decade, failing to make it to the NCAA Regionals since 1999.

Coincidentally, Tank grew up in Des Moines, where he helped his Dowling Catholic High School team to four state tournaments and two state titles. A return to his home state was starting to sound appealing to Tank.

“I grew up coming to Cyclone events, very familiar with Iowa State,” Tank said. “It was always a goal of mine to be a head coach, and when the position was available I jumped all over it.”

Iowa State hired Tank in July of 2010 as their new men’s golf head coach, hoping for a fresh start and more success. The athletic department started taking applications for assistant jobs as well, when a familiar name popped up.

Datz had been playing professional golf for a year when he decided it was time to look for a job.

“I started playing professionally … [but] I wasn’t really making that much money, I wasn’t playing that well,” Datz said.

Seeing the job opening under the coach who picked him up from the airport all those years ago, Datz applied. 

“I found out coach Tank was leaving Minnesota and heard he was coming [to Iowa State], ended up applying … and I got the job,” Datz said.

Datz arrived on campus the first day of school in 2010; from that day, the young duo of coaches has propelled the ISU men’s golf program to new heights.

In their first year as coaches, the team broke 15 school records, including lowest 54-hole tournament in the history of the program. Nate McCoy also started proving himself to be one of the best Cyclone golfers by adding his name to the single-season stroke average list.

In year two, Tank and Datz introduced their first recruiting class, which included Scott Fernandez, Sam Daley, Collin Foster, Duncan Croudis and junior college transfer Zach Steffen.

Both Fernandez and Daley immediately etched themselves in the record books, with Fernandez shooting the best freshman season in Cyclone history and Daley leaving his mark as third. 

As McCoy finished his senior year, he left the school as the most decorated golfer in ISU history, finishing in the top two in six individual record categories. But the season wasn’t all about individuals.

Tank and Datz led the team to its first NCAA Regional since 1999 and finished seventh in the Big 12 — the second-highest it had placed since the forming of the conference in 1997. The team’s win at the Bridgestone Collegiate was also the first tournament win since 2007.

Although the team currently ranks lower than last season, the program is on the rise, thanks in large part to the big goals set by Tank and Datz and the new Cyclone Golf Performance Center the athletic department provided the program.

“The addition of our new facility makes a statement about the commitment that Iowa State has made to its golf teams,” Tank said. “I don’t think there will be a better facility in the country and so I think we’re really going to turn some heads.”

But the coaches, in their third year, aren’t done setting goals. The duo has a young team to work with, most of whom are their own recruits. With another recruiting class and another year of experience, the former Gophers are looking for more Cyclone success.

“I’d like to see the program become a top-25 [team] in the rankings,” Tank said. “I’d like to compete for a Big 12 Championship. We have a long way to go between where we are now and reaching those goals but I think those goals are within reach.”