Men’s golfers primed for breakthrough

by Ryan Schuster

After making four consecutive NCAA tournament appearances for the first time since 1964, the men’s golf program is on the brink of a breakthrough season.
The Gophers have placed in the upper division of the Big Ten in four of the last six seasons with Coach John Means at the helm. But Minnesota has failed to place higher than third, and it has not advanced past the NCAA regionals since 1993. All that could change this year, though.
Three letterwinners return from last year’s team, which finished 12th at the NCAA Central Regional.
Leading the way is 1996 honorable mention All-American Rob Kerr. The junior from Canada is coming off his best season as a Gopher and is tied with senior captain Mark Halverson with the lowest stroke average (73.7) during the fall season.
Halverson, the only senior on the team, will be counted upon to bring experience and stability to the young squad.
Sophomore Jeff Barney, who redshirted last season, hopes to regain the form he had during the 1994-95 season when he lettered as a freshman.
Highly touted freshman Martin Le Mesurier, from England, is expected to be a big contributor to the Gophers in his first year on the team. He is coming off a strong summer and fall season and currently has the best stroke average on the team (73.5). Sophomores Bill Thompson and Andy Komor should also receive plenty of playing time for Minnesota this spring.
The Gophers lost All-America honorable mention selection Aaron Barber to eligibility and 1996 Big Ten Freshman of the Year Matt Doyle, who went pro after only one season with the Gophers. If the addition of Le Mesurier and the maturation of Barney, Thompson and Komor can offset the losses of Barber and Doyle, this could be a season to remember.
Minnesota is ranked 20th in the latest Rolex Men’s Collegiate Rankings poll and is the second-highest ranked Big Ten team behind No. 14 Ohio State. The Buckeyes are also the top rated team in District IV, followed by the Gophers in second.
The Gophers placed in the top five of all but one meet during the fall season and won the ReliaStar Collegiate Invitational in Chaska last September. Since the start of the team’s spring schedule, Minnesota has finished in the top 10 in all four meets, taking third at the Ashworth Invitational and fourth in the Bridges All-America Invitational in March.
Minnesota is hoping to improve on its fourth-place finish at the Big Ten championships a year ago. The team will have two more meets, including the Marshall Invitational in Huntington, W.Va., this weekend before traveling to Columbus, Ohio, for the Big Tens on May 9-11.
In a month or two, the Gophers men’s golf team will know for sure if this season was merely another strong but not spectacular year, or if it was something special.