When your team finishes in last place at the most important tournament of the season – as Minnesota’s women’s golf team did at the 2002 Big Ten championships – it doesn’t exactly leave players and coaches brimming with confidence.
What a difference one year and two spots can make.
With nowhere to go but up following last season, Minnesota’s ninth-place finish at this year’s Big Ten championships last weekend in Iowa City, Iowa, might not seem like much of an improvement.
But the smiles on the faces of head coach Katie Weiss and sophomore Terra Petsinger send a different message.
“I don’t think our finish placewise tells the true story of what we accomplished,” Weiss said.
Indeed, the Gophers accomplished more than just moving out of the conference basement to within reach of the Big Ten’s top tier – Minnesota finished just four strokes out of the top five and eight strokes out of the top three.
More importantly, Weiss witnessed some breakout performances by younger golfers she hopes will lead Minnesota back to Big Ten prominence. None of which were more impressive than Petsinger’s.
The sophomore from Arvilla,
N.D., tied a Minnesota record for the second-lowest, 72-hole total in school history (six-over-par 298) by carding rounds of 75, 75, 75 and 73. Her fourth-place finish overall was the highest for a Gopher at the Big Tens since Sara Evens did the same in 1993.
“We’d been mentally preparing for it,” Petsinger said. “Practicing in the dome, I would play that course over and over in my head.
“It almost felt like a home course advantage because I knew every hole,” she said.
Minnesota played the same Finkbine Golf Course at the Lady Northern Invitational in September.
Weiss hopes it’s a sign of things to come from Petsinger, who will head into the fall as the team’s No. 1 golfer following the loss of senior co-captains Karyn Stordahl and Kirstin Whalen.
Petsinger led the team in scoring average last fall and was among Minnesota’s top-three golfers all season, but never finished first for Minnesota this spring until the final two tournaments.
“You could see glimpses of her getting better and then all of a sudden she made the jump,” Weiss said. “It’s going to be exciting to see what she’ll do from here on out. She’s made such progress in nine months.”
That progress started last summer, when Petsinger decided to take lessons from Peter Krause, one of Golf Magazine’s top-100 teachers in the nation.
“I worked and worked and worked at everything he taught me,” Petsinger said. “And eventually all that hard work is going to pay off.”
Petsinger also attributes her solid play to better course management and an improved mental game. But she isn’t the only reason Weiss is optimistic heading into next season.
Freshman Sarah Butler fired back-to-back 75s over the weekend and first-year walk-on Jessica Thomas shot a career-best 77 on Sunday in her first Big Ten tournament.
“That’s the time to do it,” Petsinger said. “It just shows how much character this team has.”
The only downside about having such a good showing last weekend is the Gophers must wait until the fall to see if they can realize all the potential their coach sees in them.
“It’s kind of bittersweet,” Weiss said. “We were looking forward to this tournament all year and suddenly it’s over.
“But I feel really good about the whole team. It’s been a great transition.”
Minnesota’s younger players will be forced to step into the leadership positions vacated by their graduated co-captains a little sooner than Weiss might like, but Petsinger is looking forward to the challenge.
“Having a lot of young players just means there will be a lot of competition,” Petsinger said. “I feel like I’m ready to be a leader. There’s still a lot to look forward to.”
Brett Angel covers golf and welcomes comments at [email protected]