Men’s golf takes

by Sarah Mitchell

In a word, Hazeltine National Golf Club is vicious.
Lightning-quick greens, severe rough, tricky pin placements and U.S. Open-caliber length can make a victim out of even the smartest golfer.
And considering the tough wind conditions on Tuesday, it’s a wonder the winner of the three round Ping/Golf Week NCAA Preview walked off the course managing to save par.
“You have to play this golf course so intelligently and take what it gives you,” Gophers coach John Means said. “As soon as you try to get a little bit more, as soon as you try to get greedy, it jumps up and bites you.”
And most every player from the 15-team tournament stumbled away from the par-72 Hazeltine battlefield Tuesday nursing a wounded scorecard.
“You’ve got the best college players in the world here,” Means said. “And the golf course jumped up and bit all of them.”
Only the tournament’s winner, sophomore Charles Howell of Oklahoma State shot par for three rounds. The Augusta, Ga., native recorded rounds of 73, 69 and 74, helping the Cowboys win the team title with a 16-over-par 880.
Gophers sophomore James McLean, who will defend his NCAA title at Hazeltine in June, led Minnesota with a 4-over 220, tying for seventh.
Minnesota used its familiarity with the course to finish fourth in the team standings, 11 strokes off the lead. Georgia shot the low score of the day to jump into second place (888), followed by Arizona State at 889.
Means said the team played well in practice rounds last week, but the Gophers struggled with the new pin placements they saw during the opening round on Monday. The flag was often perched on ridges or tucked behind bunkers.
“I expected the guys to just play their normal game, post a good score and people would have to come and chase us, but it didn’t happen,” Means said. “It was a good finish, but it wasn’t what we came here to do.”
Heading into the final round, Minnesota senior Adam Dooley was four shots behind leader Arizona State’s Jeff Quinney, who was at three under.
But Dooley dropped off the leader board early on Tuesday, shooting a 5-over-par 77 and plummeting to a tie for 12th place.
“I’ve been in contention a lot and it seems like in the last round I don’t play,” Dooley said. “I play mediocre and I’m not going to win any tournaments finishing that way.”
The Albany, Minn. native said he struggled on the greens.
“My putter was just awful,” Dooley said. “Pushing them, pulling them, anything but putting them in the hole, accept for the last shot.”
On the 18th, Dooley sunk a 40- foot downhill putt to birdie the final hole and give the Gophers a one stroke advantage over Houston.
Although he birdied the final two holes, Dooley missed several short putts that could have hoisted Minnesota into the top three.
“When you’re missing short putts like that it’s a mental thing, not a fundamental thing,” Means said.
Hazeltine’s greenskeepers might also be to blame. The greens appeared to be greased, and the slightest tap of the putter could send a ball rocketing past the hole.
“You can think you hit a good shot and you’re 30 feet away from the hole,” McLean said, “but if you’re above the hole, you’re in three-putt territory.”
McLean, who shot rounds of 72, 74 and 74, was challenged by the four par-3 holes. He parred two of them, but bogeyed the 178-yard 8th hole and double-bogeyed the 204-yard 13th hole.
Teammate Dooley also struggled with the par-3s, bogeying the 196-yard 4th hole twice.
“The par-3s at Hazeltine set you up so that there is an illusion that you can make something happen,” Means said. “As soon as you buy into that illusion that you can make something happen, you make a mistake.”
While the Gophers misjudged shots on the par-3s, they waltzed through the long par-5 holes.
“You can hit them long and you have more shots to work with,” Dooley said of the par-5s. “(On) par-3s, if you don’t hit the green, saving par is impossible.”
Saving par will be an achievement in early June when the nation’s top players return to compete in the NCAA championships.
Chip shots
ù Minnesota senior Jeff Barney finished 11-over and tied for 29th place. Sophomore Martin LeMesurier was 13-over and tied for 36th, followed by senior Bill Thompson, who finished 14-over and tied for 38th.
ù The top two teams in the national preseason poll — Nevada-Las Vegas and Georgia Tech — fell to the middle of the pack, finishing eighth and ninth, respectively.
ù Georgia Tech’s Matt Kuchar, the 1997 U.S. Amateur champion, finished 10-over and tied for 26th place. Yellowjackets teammate Bryce Molder, the 1997 Collegiate Player of the Year, was 15-over and tied for 42nd.