Minnesota begins NCAA title quest

After finishing third nationally last year and narrowly earning a spot in this year’s championships, the Gophers seem confident.

Mark Remme

Things didn’t go exactly as planned the last time the Minnesota men’s golf team hit the links.

To be blunt, as their final round wrapped up, it was looking more like a disappointment.

The Gophers left the course at the NCAA Central Regional in Sugar Grove, Ill., thinking their season was over after struggling mightily through inconsistent weather and a difficult course.

But thanks to a playoff hole and a narrow defeat of Texas A&M, Minnesota isn’t done yet. The Gophers begin battling for a national championship today in Williamsburg, Va., knowing they’ve got a shot at new life as June rolls in.

“We knew we should be here,” junior Clayton Rask said. “We got a second chance; it was a matter of who wanted it more between us and Texas A&M.”

With a sense of new life, the team looks to improve on its third-place finish at last year’s championships, although such a result won’t come easy. After all, team members displayed a sense of disgust with its recent performances.

But despite recent woes, Rask said having been through postseason play before helps a lot in this year’s preparation.

“Experience plays into it a lot,” he said. “You take it as just another tournament now. Last year I was extremely nervous going into it, but I don’t see myself getting too nervous now.”

And that confidence seems to be expanding toward less-experienced players, as Rask said he’s willing to give guys like freshman Ben Pisani advice about how to handle certain situations that might arise at the NCAA Championships.

Staying with a leading by example approach, much of the team’s success will hinge on the play of seniors Bronson La’Cassie and Niall Turner.

La’Cassie’s play is crucial. His eight-over-par performance in Sugar Grove landed him a tie for 14th in individual results.

That type of leadership on the course will have to be followed if Minnesota plans on vying for a title.

And with teams that play virtually year-round golf swarming the course – specifically teams from southeastern states – the Gophers have stiff competition meeting up with them at the NCAAs.

But by having gone through a juggernaut of sorts at the NCAA Regional in Sugar Grove, the Gophers might have a slight advantage in location this time around.

Turner said that by comparison to the Central Regional, the course they’ll be competing on this weekend is far less difficult.

“This is nowhere near as difficult as that course,” Turner said. “You can go under par here.”

Though the team played in Williamsburg last fall with less than stellar results, Turner said the Minnesota team competing there this weekend has grown significantly since their last visit.

And this crew has an undeniable confidence and swagger about them.

“Everyone’s relaxed; we’ve played against these teams and we’ve beaten them before,” Turner said. “We don’t feel like any team is better than us and we can beat any team here.”