Six quality ball strikers lead to some productive practices

Competition for the fifth spot in the lineup has been a good thing so far for the Gophers.

Matt Perkins

Every season, Minnesota’s men’s golf team establishes the same main goal – winning a Big Ten title.

This year, the Gophers have increased their chances by having not just five good golfers going into competition but six who are swinging hot clubs. This has created some healthy competition for the five spots on tournament day.

The lot of golfers consists of sophomore captain Bronson La’Cassie, junior Josh Persons, sophomore Niall Turner, senior Ben Greve, junior Ryan Paulson and freshman Jurrian Van Der Vaart.

“It’s a true luxury to have six guys to pick between,” coach Brad James said. “Our first goal is always to win the Big Ten Championships, and with six guys playing well instead of five, we have an increased chance of accomplishing our goal.”

James has coached the Gophers for three years, twice winning Big Ten titles and, in 2002, an NCAA title.

Last year, Minnesota graduated two-time All-American Justin Smith, and James said he wasn’t optimistic about the team’s depth.

But the team answered the call with increased competitive spirits, not only in tournament play, but practices too.

Even Greve, who is competing for the fifth and final spot, said he is encouraged by the competition.

“If you want to be starting, you have to perform in practice,” Greve said. “Last year, you knew the same five would be there. Now, it puts a little more pressure on the individuals.”

He also said he doesn’t believe it will be damaging to the team’s chemistry.

“It really only affects you positively,” Greve said. “You don’t just relax and hope your game comes back to you. You go out and work for it.”

Persons said the whole team feels that way and that keeping one’s game at its highest level is important in practice just as much as in tournaments.

“Competition is great,” Persons said. “We understand that one person is going to be left out, but it is for the good of the whole group.”

Things seem to be coming together so far.

During the fall portion of the season, the Gophers won the Big Ten/Pac-10 Challenge, which served as a preview of the Big Ten Tournament with teams such as Northwestern, Penn State, Purdue, Indiana, Michigan and Illinois.

And no matter which five make James’ final cut, they plan on winning the Big Ten title – so much so that Persons almost went as far to make a Joe Namath-like guarantee.

“We expect nothing less than to win,” he said, “and that’s what we are going to do.”