Minnesota tees off spring season

The team will begin its spring slate with Big Ten match play this weekend.

Brad Bobel

Minnesota is back on the course this weekend as the spring season starts back up.

The Gophers will head down to Palm Coast, Fla., for Big Ten match play Sunday and Monday.

“We are a determined team after the fall [season] with a lot to prove,” head coach John Carlson said. “I really think our best is yet to come.”

The Gophers have big shoes to fill this year after last season’s team won its first Big Ten title since 2007 and Carlson earned the Big Ten Coach of the Year award.

But Carlson said he thinks this team could be even better.

“[This team is] more talented and younger [than last year’s team]. Our 1-10 guys are a lot deeper, and we have some great leaders,” he said.

The Gophers’ last tournament was at the end of October, which gave them many months to recover and improve their game.

Carlson said repetition was key for the offseason in order to prepare for the long spring.

“They hit more golf balls than others, and they train their bodies four times a week — even during spring season,” Carlson said.

 Sophomore Jose Mendez has repeatedly excelled for the Gophers. The sophomore has finished in the top 20 in each of his last 13 tournaments. Last fall, he led Minnesota with the lowest scoring average and the most top-10 finishes.

“Players look up to Mendez, and they strive to play in tournaments that he gets invited to,” Carlson said. “He doesn’t accept bad shots, and I hope that mindset passes to others.”

One disadvantage of being in Minnesota is that it’s tough to practice for courses like the one the Gophers are playing on in Florida. There are different grasses, like Bermuda grass, that grow in the south, and there is a lot of water around the courses.

“Florida has a lot of water off the tee, and there are dangers on each tee that we can’t prepare for here in Minnesota,” Carlson said.

One key to solving the disadvantages that Florida courses pose is a successful practice round. Each team gets a practice round before match play starts, letting players warm up and get ready to compete.

“The practice round is crucial for the team, as it will help them get a feel for the course and the Bermuda grass that Minnesota doesn’t have,” Carlson said.

The Gophers hope to repeat as Big Ten champions this season. That journey starts Sunday.

“It takes baby steps to win. We need to make more birdies and to sink more putts,” Carlson said. “We will keep improving in hopes of winning a Big Ten championship.”