McLean’s feat shows U saved its best for last in spring season

Before this weekend, there were four candidates for the top Gophers sports performance of the spring season.
Now, there is one.
With all due respect to the accomplishments of the men’s track and field, men’s tennis, baseball and softball teams, Gophers golfer James McLean and the rest of the men’s golf team did far more than cap off an impressive spring for Minnesota — they left four outstanding performances clearly in their wake.
McLean, the 19-year-old Australian with a knack for outdriving short par-4s, won the NCAA individual title Sunday with a record-tying 17-under par 271. In the process of becoming the first Minnesota golfer to win the championship in 54 years, McLean led the Gophers to a seventh-place team finish.
His accomplishments had to be spectacular to outdo those of Minnesota’s other successful spring sports teams. Consider:
ù The men’s track and field team won the Big Ten outdoor championship. Minnesota also won the indoor title earlier in the season, making this the first time in 88 years the Gophers had won both crowns.
ù The men’s tennis team beat three teams ranked in the top 35 in the NCAA regional tournament to advance to nationals. The Gophers’ run was all the more stunning considering they entered regionals with a losing record.
ù The baseball team won its first Big Ten title since 1992, made its first NCAA regional appearance since 1994 and set a team record for wins in a season. Along the way, several players set individual records and the program restored some of the luster it lost when it missed the conference tournament two years in a row.
ù The softball team qualified for the NCAA regional tournament and defeated two higher-seeded teams from California before ultimately bowing out. Minnesota had gone 1-6 in its previous three national tournament appearances before this year.
Those accomplishments really put what McLean did in perspective.
He has the benefit of participating in what is basically an individual sport. With track and field, the Gophers needed the individual performances of many athletes to win the Big Ten title. Baseball and softball both require entire team efforts.
The only remotely comparable sport in terms of solo competition is men’s tennis. The Gophers’ Tyson Parry won the deciding match against two of his three regional opponents — clutch performances, but not near McLean’s standard.
While it’s true that Minnesota needed the scores of four golfers to acquire its team sum, consider this: If McLean had shot 5-under — a more than respectable score and the number Martin LeMesurier, Minnesota’s next-highest finisher, carded — the Gophers would have finished in 13th place instead of seventh.
Another bonus: Men’s golf coach John Means favorably compared McLean’s drives to those of Tiger Woods. Any man who draws favorable comparisons to Tiger Woods — even if it’s in terms of placement of the ball on the tee — deserves a certain amount of respect.
The freshman reached a 495-yard par-5 in two shots: one with a driver, one with a nine iron. Some of us around the Daily are known for reaching par-5s with drivers and nine irons. We are also known for using a variety of woods, irons and limbs in between.
The bottom line is that McLean’s victory is astounding. His four-day performance will go down as one of the greatest in University history.
Again, this is not meant to detract from the accomplishments of any other team. To all of you: Congratulations.
To James McLean: Enjoy being the best.

— Michael Rand is the sports editor at the Daily. He welcomes comments at [email protected]