Kerr wins regional, but men’s team struggles to close season

Kristian Pope

On his approach to the final hole at the NCAA Central Regional tournament in Ann Arbor, Mich., Rob Kerr’s thoughts were on his teammates, not himself.
It was an unselfish gesture by the sophomore from Pointe Claire, Quebec. If the Gophers men’s golf team — two strokes away from qualifying for NCAAs — were to advance, they would likely do so with a par or better from Kerr.
His teammates had virtually played Minnesota out of contention, carding final round scores of 76, 76, 79 and 83 on the par-71 Wolverine Course. All hopes for qualifying were pinned on Kerr.
A disappointed Kerr wound up bogeying the 18th hole. He made an effort, but it wasn’t enough to carry the whole team.
Kerr’s unselfishness was evident when he chose to think of the team when he was only four strokes behind the leader entering Saturday. He easily could have thought about getting himself to NCAAs — the top two individuals on nonqualifying teams advance — but instead he chose to concentrate on the team.
“The way things were going on the back nine,” Kerr said, “I didn’t think I had a chance to win the individual.”
But he did.
Despite the bogey, he shot a 2-under-par 69 to earn medalist honors. He will be the only Gopher at NCAAs, May 26 through June 1 in Chattanooga, Tenn.
“After the round I didn’t even know that I had won,” Kerr said. “I was playing better on Saturday, but I didn’t think it was good enough. It turned out the wind was strong and the pin placement was tough.
“I knew I had to shoot below par to have a chance,” said Kerr, who finished with a 72-70-69-211. “I didn’t anticipate anyone would shoot higher.”
That’s exactly what happened. Texas A&M’s Dru Fenimore, on pace to win individual honors, shot a 5-over-par 75 on Saturday to finish third with a 69-69-75-213. Southwestern Louisiana’s Matt Trevino finished second with a 67-73-72-212.
Kerr said he wasn’t aware that he had won. It didn’t occur to him until he was walking off the green and heard shouts from his teammates.
“I went to the scoreboard, and everyone was telling me I won,” Kerr said. “They were saying ‘211. No one will beat that.'”
While Kerr will play at NCAAs in two weeks, the rest of the Gophers will stay behind. Minnesota finished 12th overall, missing the final cut by two strokes.
Freshman Matt Doyle, Minnesota’s No. 2 starter, struggled during the three-day tournament, carding a 12-over-par 83 on Saturday to finish 90th. Senior Aaron Barber, hoping to leave Minnesota as an All-American, fired a third-round 79, putting him in a tie for 76th.
“I couldn’t get comfortable all week,” Barber said. “No one played well except for Rob. We’ve played there so many times. We just can’t explain what happened.
“Everyone looks in the mirror when you finish only two strokes behind.”
Texas A&M won the team competition with a three-round 871. Southern Methodist was second with an 872. Arkansas, Kansas and Texas tied for third at 874.
Minnesota’s 12th place finish marks the third straight year the team will not advance to the NCAA final round. Under Coach John Means, it is the team’s highest finish at Regionals. The team placed 13th in 1994 and 14th last year.
Kerr’s individual title was the first for a University golfer since Louis Lick in 1944.
What’s more improbable about Kerr’s win is he was recently named to the starter’s team after playing well enough to be the No. 5 starter.
He played his worst round of the year at Ohio State in late May. Since then he has played some of his best golf.
“I’ve come a long way since my freshman year,” he said. “I only played half a season that year. I dwindled off and decided that I would redshirt the next year.”
Upon returning to the lineup this year, Kerr started slow during the fall. Winter quarter his play improved, and by spring he earned a starter’s position.
Kerr credits part of his recent success to his grandfather, Bill Kerr, a former Canadian professional who once played in the Master’s.
“He gave me a lot of tips,” Kerr said of the 84-year-old retired pro who now lives in Montreal, “… to practice hard and to be low-key.”
Kerr was never more low-key than last weekend in Ann Arbor. After quietly making the traveling roster, he almost led his team to NCAAs single-handedly. But quietly, he’ll go alone.