Women’s golfers

by Jim Schortemeyer

After weeks of high hopes — thanks to a stronger-than-usual spring — the season ground to a halt for the Minnesota women’s golf team. The Gophers finished eighth at the Big Ten tournament in West Lafayette, Ind., this weekend.
Season-long favorites Ohio State and Indiana finished first and second, respectively.
While the Buckeyes were celebrating their win, Minnesota coach Kathy Williams spoke in a monotone about what might have been.
“We should have been in the top three, for how we were playing,” Williams said. “They’re just trying so hard, they’re not focused. They’re pressing it a little.”
The Gophers pressed themselves into ninth place after three rounds. With just seven strokes separating ninth and fifth, Minnesota just wanted to regain its composure for the final round.
“If we go out and can move up four spots,” Boom said on Saturday, “that’d be a good jump and it’d help the team sanity.”
But there was no such luck for the Gophers. They improved from Saturday’s horrendous 328 with a 316. The better score moved Minnesota up to eighth, seven strokes behind seventh place Penn State.
The Gophers finished seventh at the Big Ten preview event last fall.
The exception to Minnesota’s generally poor play was senior Melanie Lepp, who tore through the Pete Dye-designed course. Lepp was as high as third before sliding to fifth Saturday. Despite her impressive results, Lepp remained skeptical of her chances on Sunday.
“I usually don’t play well two days in a row, so I’m just waiting for tomorrow,” Lepp said on Saturday.
But it was an unusual weekend for Lepp. She fired a 74 Sunday to solidify a fifth-place finish. Lepp finished in the top 10 twice this season. She placed 33rd at last year’s tournament.
While Lepp was making her unlikely run up the leaderboard, the rest of Minnesota’s squad was struggling. The other Gophers carded just three rounds under 80 on the par-72 course. After Lepp, the next highest Minnesota finisher was senior Donna Boom at No. 28.
The difference in results made things awkward for Lepp, who is used to finishing near her teammates in the standings.
“Everybody was complaining about how tough the course was and I kept my mouth shut,” Lepp said. “I feel kind of out of place.”
While Lepp liked the course, the rest of the team was more critical. Boom said the links-style course was so tough, one woman ran out of golf balls.
“This course tends to psych you out,” Boom said. “If you’re not on the fairway, you’re in trouble. You can’t just grip it and rip it.”
The Kampen Golf Course is littered with pot bunkers and waste areas that helped drive up scores. Williams said her golfers were concentrating too hard on where to send their shots.
“You come out here and look at 18 holes of golf and you try and put a steering wheel on the golf ball,” Williams said.
The flat finish ended Williams’ tenure as Minnesota’s coach. Williams — who will retire to work for a golf school she co-founded — empathized with the four seniors on the Gophers squad.
“It’s kind of a sad ending,” Williams said. “I feel for them. They’re trying their hearts out.”