Gophers need to survive Big Tens to make it to NCAA tournament

The men’s golf team is almost there. Sitting at No. 64 in the NCAA head-to-head rankings, they are on a path to finish in the top-70, the general cut-off for the NCAA tournament. Coupled with a history of success at the tournament, including a surprise national championship in 2002, the chances of them ending up in the NCAA regional two weeks from now are pretty good. But not for sure. They have one tournament left, and that means one more opportunity to play their way out of the tournament. Not that they haven’t been playing well lately, coming off a third-place finish in the Robert Kepler Invitational three weeks ago, but anything can happen in a golf tournament. Especially at the Big Ten tournament, which Minnesota is playing in this weekend, at a difficult Penn State’s Blue Course. The Big Ten’s northern location hasn’t hurt much in men’s golf this year, with a prime example being the Gophers, who are the ninth seed despite being ranked in the top-65 in the nation. Indiana is No. 13 and Illinois is No. 14, with Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Northwestern, Penn State and Iowa all breaking the top-60. Indiana’s Jorge Campillo is the No. 2 golfer in the nation. So, the good news for the Gophers is that they could finish near the bottom of the leaderboard and still not drop much. But finishing behind Purdue or Wisconsin, No. 80 and No. 81 respectively, could hurt their tournament chances. âÄúWe don’t really like to think about it that way,âÄù senior Victor Almstrom said. âÄúWe’re more just trying to prepare for this, because it’s going to be tough enough as it is. We can’t afford to think about winning or, especially, worry about having a bad tournament.âÄù The Gophers arrived at Penn State Wednesday night, and saw how tough the course will be in their practice round Friday. It’s short, around 7,200 yards, with narrow fairways, thick rough and small greens. âÄúIt’s definitely not a course where a lot of birdies will happen for you,âÄù Almstrom said. âÄúIt’s one where you have to be patient, and can’t get too frustrated. Because there are going to be some real tough shots.âÄù Unlike the women’s team, which had just a few days to return from a tournament before leaving for their Big Ten tournament, the men’s team hasn’t played since April 12. In that time the weather has improved significantly, and they’ve been able to practice outside in some form every day since. Much of that comes at the team’s practice facility at the Les Bolstad Course in St. Paul, where they can practice driving and putting. Players have also taken advantage of the weather on various courses throughout the Twin Cities, including Minikahda , Interlaken, Hazeltine and Olympic Hills. The perks of being a golfer is that coaches can usually swing a complimentary tee time for the players. Typically, Almstrom said, players get in three to four rounds per week, but practice every day. âÄúPlaying outside has helped everybody a lot more,âÄù Almstrom said. âÄúEspecially for guys like me who are struggling with putting and chipping and approaching, playing off grass is a lot different than playing off turf. And this weekend’s course; we’ll need that this weekend.âÄù