Gophers head to Puerto Rico to open season after four-month break

After a four month hiatus from competitive golf, the Minnesota men’s golf team is set for its spring debut.

The Gophers open their season today in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico at the NCAA Shootout. The three-round tournament is hosted by Purdue University at the Rio Mar Country Club.

The 15-team field at the tournament is NCAA Championship quality, with 13 teams ranked in Golfweek’s Top 50, including the top two respectively, Georgia and Alabama.

The chance to play against such tough competition is a welcome challenge for the team, however.

“It’s nice to play against (top teams) every week,” senior Andy Paulson said. “We know we can beat them week in and week out.”

Minnesota currently sits at No. 41 in the rankings, and will learn quickly how it stands up to the best collegiate players in the country.

“You have some of the best amateurs in the world here,” director of golf Brad James said. “The team title is definitely one that’s tough to win, but I think more-so the individual title is tough to win.”

Indeed, three of the Gophers playing this weekend have experienced firsthand how tough the competition is. Sophomore Ben Pisani posted a 2-under 214 last year to tie for 12th, and Minnesota’s even-par 864 was only good enough for seventh place.

The Gophers refuse to think much about the other teams, however, and they realize that all participants are coming off a substantial break from tournament play.

“If we just go out and play our game, I can pretty much put my money on the fact that we’ll be right up there with them,” senior Clayton Rask said.

Rask is on the watch list for the Ben Hogan Award honoring the top player in NCAA Division I, II, or III, NAIA or Junior College golf. In fall play, he earned co-medalist honors at both the Windon Memorial Classic and The Prestige at PGA West.