Young team improves with experience, upperclassmen leadership

Sophomore Jose Mendez swings at Windsong Farm Golf Club on Sunday at the Gopher Invitational. Mendez tied for fifth at the tournament, and the Gophers placed fourth overall.

Alex Tuthill-Preus

Sophomore Jose Mendez swings at Windsong Farm Golf Club on Sunday at the Gopher Invitational. Mendez tied for fifth at the tournament, and the Gophers placed fourth overall.

Brad Bobel

With just one senior and one junior on the team, the Gophers underclassmen have seen increased pressure to perform.
 
Minnesota has three freshmen and five sophomores, who have made up the majority of the travel team in recent tournaments.
 
“This year is as much fun coaching as I have ever had, and it helps that the guys are eager to learn,” head coach John Carlson said.
 
With such a young team, the camaraderie comes easy — most arrived on campus after being the best on their high school team as seniors.
 
“It’s easier to fit in because we all come from similar situations and we are all so young,” freshman Riley Johnson said.
But with such a young team, inexperience can hurt on unfamiliar courses.
 
“It’s hard to adapt to the courses you haven’t played yet,” Johnson said. “The coaches do a good job preparing us, but it’s still hard to get that experience.”
 
Dealing with inexperience is new to the team, as the last couple years have included more upperclassmen.
 
“You never want to make [being young] an excuse,” freshman Rúnar Arnórsson said. “I know the potential we have, as all the guys can shoot low numbers.”
 
Despite the young makeup of the team, Carlson sees potential in the team’s future.
 
“We’ve made more mistakes than in the past, but this is one of the most talented teams I’ve had,” Carlson said. “Practices are more competitive, and I’m eager to teach them.”
 
One young player who has been leading Minnesota is sophomore Jose Mendez.
Though Mendez is young, he emerged as the team’s top golfer almost immediately when he stepped foot on campus last season.
 
He won Big Ten Freshman of the Year and made the All-Big Ten First Team last year.
 
“It’s unreal how good he is, and he has lot of experience under his belt,” Johnson said. “He never gets scared and is fearless, and that translates to us.”
 
With some experience, Mendez has started leading the team.
 
“They all know the type of leader he is on the course, but he is branching off to off the course now,” Carlson said.
 
While leadership on the course is important, off-the-course leadership is just as significant, and some of the team’s more experienced players are beginning to emphasize it.
 
One of the upperclassmen who has brought it upon himself to mentor the younger players is junior Jon DuToit.
“It’s fun to teach the younger guys the ins and outs of golf. They get to learn from the older guys and see what’s worked so well for us,” DuToit said.
 
Though some of the younger players have stepped up, having upperclassmen around has helped shape the team’s culture.
 
“Upperclassman leadership is more important than people think,” Arnórsson said. “Being a leader is much more than playing but making an impact on the 
younger guys.”