Clark spends much of the offseason playing golf in Iowa “This is a little out of my comfort zone, so I just tried to have fun with it,” (Details in comment)

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Finkbine golf course sits on the western edge of the University of Iowa campus, a few hundred yards from Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Tee up a golf ball—and get a few pavement-aided bounces through the parking lot—and one might be able to reach the school’s basketball arena with a big drive. But on days when Caitlin Clark is really cooking, it seems like she could connect the two spots with one of her jaw-dropping jump shots.

The rising senior has long had the attention of her home state, but she captivated the country last season by leading the Iowa women’s basketball team to the NCAA championship game. More than a decade after Jeremy Lin and “Linsanity” swept the NBA, it was “Clarksanity’’ that reached its peak with a Final Four upset over undefeated defending champion South Carolina. After recording the first 40-point triple-double in NCAA tournament history in the Elite Eight, Clark scored 41 points with eight assists in the semifinal. The matchup drew better ratings on ESPN than any NBA regular-season game on the network. You don’t have to watch the Hawkeyes for more than a few minutes to see why.

The six-foot Clark is a one-woman offense, dazzling with her dribbling, passing and scoring skills. Her ridiculous range sets her apart from about any woman—or man—in the game’s history and has drawn comparisons to the way Stephen Curry has revolutionized the NBA. “I would love to play him in a game of P-I-G,” Clark says of the Golden State Warriors star, one of her basketball idols.

These two sharpshooters have yet to meet but have another strong connection in their love of golf. In fact, over the summer, Clark is just as likely to be on the course as she is on the court. Just nine days after the Hawkeyes lost to LSU in the national title game, Clark shared an Instagram story from Brown Deer Golf Club with a golf emoji and two words: “So back.”

“That’s what I was looking forward to the most with basketball ending,” says Clark, who swept all the major national player-of-the-year awards. “Our coaches were like, ‘You need to get away from the gym,’ even though that’s really hard for me to do sometimes. I still want to be active and do something, so I’m going to go to the golf course.”
She spends much of her offseason at places like Brown Deer and Finkbine in Iowa City, and The Harvester Club outside of Clark’s hometown of Des Moines. She loves playing the game, but the golf course also provides a respite for arguably the most famous person in the state. Even with Iowa’s rabid football fanbase, the hottest ticket on campus is to see Clark. In March, the school had to pause ticket sales for next season’s women’s basketball games because they were in such high demand.

“You can clear your mind, do something you really love, and have the peace and quiet of just your friends around or even just yourself,” Clark says of being on the course. “I love being able to escape reality for a little bit.”

Clark, 21, showed she can draw a crowd on the course as well when she played in this year’s John Deere Classic Pro-Am. With Tiger Woods-like galleries following her every move, Clark played nine holes each alongside PGA Tour rookie Ludvig Aberg and two-time major champ and fellow Iowa native Zach Johnson.

“This is a little out of my comfort zone, so I just tried to have fun with it,” Clark said afterward. “Obviously, when you get to golf with the Ryder Cup captain, not many people get that opportunity, so it’s pretty special.”

If Clark was uncomfortable on the first tee, she didn’t show it, splitting the fairway with her opening drive. Those who know her would not have been surprised. Clark’s dad, Brent, began taking Caitlin to play golf when she was around 6, and she remembers getting a set of pink-and-blue kids clubs for her eighth birthday. Although she regrets never playing high school golf—the spring season conflicted with soccer—she has had countless battles with her older brother, Blake, who played football at Iowa State.

“We get pretty competitive,” says Clark, who follows the pro game closely and fondly recalls attending three days of the 2017 Solheim Cup in Des Moines. “I love getting to do something that’s active and outside but also with the people that I love.”

Clark doesn’t maintain an official handicap but is capable of shooting in the “low 80s.” She says chipping is the strongest part of her game, but her favorite club is her “versatile” 3-hybrid, which is fitting for someone who broke a slew of 3-point records last season. She also believes playing golf has aided her basketball career.

“Something I can always improve on is my mental toughness. You have one bad shot on the golf course or on the basketball court, you gotta move on to the next,” Clark says. “Obviously in basketball I have four other girls on the court with me that I can lean on if I’m not having a good day or shooting well. If I’m on the golf course, it’s all on me. You have to accept that not every day is gonna be great for you. That’s helped me by translating that to basketball.”

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Tom Pennington

When she’s on campus, Clark plays with teammates and coaches throughout the offseason. She tries to play golf four times a week in the summer, often having to be chased off by darkness.

“We’ll be like, ‘Oh, I think we can get one more hole in,’ but then you go to the tee box and you tee off and you’re like, ‘Yep, we have no idea where the ball is,’ ” Clark says. “We’re always trying to squeeze one more in.”

Clark attributes her uber-competitiveness and much of her success to playing AAU basketball against boys through the fourth grade. By seventh grade, she was already receiving letters of interest from Division-I schools.

It’s a safe bet Clark will receive plenty of interest when she turns pro, but she will have to wait a bit longer because she wasn’t old enough to declare for the WNBA draft after her historic junior campaign, which is fine with her. She loves her teammates and coaches, she loves being a Hawkeye, and, yes, she loves her golf setup.

“There’s this back driveway you can cut through, and you’re literally in the Finkbine parking lot. So I go work out and drive one minute over, and I’m already at the golf course,” Clark says. “It’s awesome. You can’t ask for better.”

Ask any Hawkeyes fan—Zach Johnson included—about having Clark for one more season, and they’ll say the same.

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