Supporting cast emerges to lead Gophers into Big Ten Championships

David McCoy

It’s common to hear coaches emphasize peaking at the right time of the season.

But all year long, Minnesota men’s golf coach Brad James was emphasizing something else.

Week after week, James drilled into his players the need for those not named Bronson La’Cassie to boost up their play to give the team essential depth.

And now, just a week before the Big Ten Championships, it seems James has accomplished both ventures.

“I can look at the five guys out there and say, ‘You know what, any one of these guys can win this week,’ ” James said. “And that’s what you’ve got to have.”

From October until April 17, La’Cassie was Minnesota’s top finisher in every tournament.

But in the last two tournaments, two other Gophers have stepped up to the task.

During the weekend, senior Ben Greve won his first-ever collegiate tournament at the Fossum Invitational, thanks to a career-low 216.

And at the Boilermaker Invitational on April 16-17, sophomore Niall Turner led the Gophers with his first-ever top-10 finish.

Along with Turner, another Gophers underclassman has made huge strides this season.

Michael Fiedler worked his way up the ladder all spring and moved into the top five during the weekend, replacing Ryan Paulson.

In his first spring tournament, Fiedler provided Minnesota with three solid rounds. As Minnesota’s fourth-best finisher, he took 42nd overall.

“In order to do well in this sport as a team, you need at least four guys a week playing really well,” Greve said. “Bronson was playing real well for a while, and now, some of the other guys … we’re just starting to come together.”

Of course, there’s the question of whether it’s really been an improvement in the other Gophers or just a recent slump by La’Cassie.

But while La’Cassie has shot his three highest scores of the spring in the last three weeks, it’s not as if he’s struggling.

He was still Minnesota’s second-best finisher in the last two tournaments. And three tournaments ago at the Augusta State Invitational, La’Cassie shot a season-high 224 but still led the Gophers and finished tied for fifth overall in the poor weather conditions. He also received Big Ten golfer of the week honors.

“He was on a great run,” Greve said. “And that’s more of the player that he is than how he’s been playing the last couple tournaments. I think that’s because we haven’t had the greatest weather, and being from Australia, I think that sometimes affects him a little more.”

But James said he isn’t concerned in the least. He’d rather focus on the team’s improvement.

“Everybody’s just getting better; that’s all,” he said.

That kind of improvement couldn’t have come at a better time for Minnesota, which travels to Madison, Wis., this weekend for the Big Ten Championships at University Ridge Golf Course.

“I’ve worked all year to have an opportunity to play,” Fiedler said. “All you can do is prepare yourself. Coming down the stretch of a golf tournament knowing that your team has a chance to win – that’s what you put in the hours for.”