Golf teams cap off season looking to youth

Minnesota’s women’s team will rely on its sophomores, while the men will rely on some of its star underclassmen.

Freshman Grace Kellar drives the ball during the Minnesota Invitational on Monday, Sept. 11, 2017 at Prestwick Golf Club in Woodbury, Minnesota.

Ellen Schmidt

Freshman Grace Kellar drives the ball during the Minnesota Invitational on Monday, Sept. 11, 2017 at Prestwick Golf Club in Woodbury, Minnesota.

by Nick Jungheim

Both the men’s and women’s golf teams are building towards the future. With plenty of young talent on both programs, this fall served as an early glimpse at what the teams can become in the spring.

Men try to build on young talent

The men’s team notched a pair of top five finishes in the fall, coming in a tie for fifth place at the Gopher Invitational and Marquette Intercollegiate.  Associate head coach Justin Smith was pleased overall with his team’s performance, after only finishing in the top five at one tournament last season.  

“We’ve got a spring schedule that we’ve set up that we’re going to put these guys in position to win golf tournaments,” said Smith. “We’ll build momentum and hopefully that builds into the Big Ten Championships.”

Sophomore Angus Flanagan built upon an impressive freshman campaign. He lead the Gophers in stroke average this fall with 72.13. That figure was as low as 71.75 before the fall’s last tournament at the Royal Oaks Intercollegiate in Texas, a competition during which almost every golfer shot higher scores than usual.

Still, Flanagan is on pace to improve upon his 2017-18 season, during which he posted the 32nd best single-season in Minnesota history with a 73.22. All indications suggest Flanagan will become a common name near the top of that list, but first he’s focused on staying consistent in the spring.

“My game feels like it’s in good shape, I just have to keep it there,” Flanagan said. “I might play a couple events over Christmas to see where my game’s at work on the things I need to work on.”

Flanagan has already shot multiple rounds below 70 in two tournaments this season, first at the Maui Jim Intercollegiate, and then again at the Jerry Pate National Intercollegiate. He tied for sixth place overall at the later, the best finish on the team this fall.

Women see growth from sophomore class

Underclassmen were also the story of the women’s fall. It’s no secret that the team relies heavily on its quartet of true sophomores: Grace Kellar, Joanne Free, Kate Lillie and Jessica Lee. Kellar, Free and Lillie started every tournament for the Gophers, as did senior Muyu Wu.

Of that group, Kellar stood out above the rest, having far-and-away the best fall in terms of scoring average with a 72.91. That score is over three strokes better than Wu, who sits at second on the team with a 76.17.

“I don’t think I was really expecting it, but I’m happy I could do it.” Kellar said of her play this fall.

One of Kellar’s performances stands out above the rest. In the team’s first tournament of the season, the Minnesota Invitation in Woodbury, Kellar shot a 214 (-2). That score earned her a tie for third place and recognition as the Big Ten’s Golfer of the Week. It was the first time since 2015 that a Minnesota golfer had earned that honor.

“That was the highlight of my season,” said Kellar, “I thought it was really cool getting the award and I definitely want to work to get it again. I loved the feeling I got with it and being able to represent Minnesota.”

Spring season to begin in February

Both teams will return to competition in February with tournaments in Florida. 

This winter promises to be a little different for the golf programs. Just before New Year’s a new indoor facility will open near St. Paul campus, serving as the golf teams’ training complex during the winter months. It’s an addition the teams have long wanted and something players and coaches are excited to finally have.

“It’s going to make a big difference,” said women’s head coach Michele Redman. “It’s going to be nice to go somewhere and practice not worrying about whether we have a place to practice or how many people are going to be there.”