Gophers head to Big Ten Championships in Ann Arbor

David McCoy

Minnesota’s women’s golf team is heading into this weekend’s Big Ten Championships hoping to keep two things going.

But to do that, there’s one thing it’ll have to stop.

The Gophers will pretty much have to win the conference tournament today through Sunday in Ann Arbor, Mich., to qualify for the NCAA Central Regionals. Otherwise, their season is over.

That also means that if Minnesota does not advance to regionals, the team’s only senior, Terra Petsinger, will conclude her collegiate career.

“I have a different outlook because it could potentially be the last tournament of my college career,” Petsinger said. “But I don’t look at it like that. It’s not like it’s going to be the last tournament of my life, even if it could be of my college career.”

And as if the first two incentives weren’t enough, Petsinger said bearing the stain of last year’s last-place Big Ten finish for a whole year is enough to make any team eager to turn the tables.

“It really isn’t fun to have to tell people that you finished last in the Big Ten because, really, your season is based on your Big Ten finish for an entire year afterwards,” Petsinger said. “We’re all really determined and kind of inspired to play better after that.”

To do that, Minnesota needs to correct a trend. All spring, the Gophers have been starting tournaments poorly.

In three of their last four tournaments that consisted of more than one round, their worst round has been the first.

And though the Gophers have done well rebounding – in five of their last six tournaments, their best round has been in the final round – the deficit has been too much to overcome.

“The first two rounds have got to be better,” coach Katie Hanneman said. “That first day of 36 holes has got to be better to start off on a good foot.”

The return of junior Sarah Butler could help with that. She was Minnesota’s third-best golfer before she broke her right ankle this winter and missed all of the spring season before returning for the Boilermaker Invitational on April 9-10.

Petsinger said it’s much more of a mental issue than a physical one. She said staying focused for all 36 holes on the first day is not an easy thing to do, but it’s also something the Gophers have to do if they want to have any chance.

But whether it comes from desperation, determination, inspiration or just plain perspiration, the Gophers will take all the help they can get this weekend.

No. 10 Ohio State and host No. 26 Michigan come in as the favorites. The Gophers, on the other hand, come in with a No. 90 ranking – just the seventh-best in the Big Ten.

But no matter whether they’re playing for themselves or for Petsinger, the Gophers aren’t backing down from the challenge.

“Terra’s done so much for this program,” Butler said. “I think that’s one of the motivators. That’s not the only motivator, but we have such a great time together as a team, and we just don’t want it to end.”