Third place finish is OK

A weekend tournament was seen as a warm-up for this week’s Big Ten meet.

Adam Fink

It might not have been a first-place finish, but there were enough signs for Minnesota’s men’s golf coach Brad James to believe his team is ready to defend its Big Ten crown.

The Gophers finished third at the 14-team Fossum Invitational on Sunday in East Lansing, Mich., in their final tuneup before the Big Ten Championships this weekend.

“I think the kids are doing fine,” James said. “I wanted to make sure their technique was fine, and I thought it was.”

The finish left No. 10 Minnesota with a small room for improvement before defending its last two Big Ten titles in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“We are still working through some things,” said senior Justin Smith, who competed individually and finished 20th overall with a 9-over-par. “We know we will show up next week and that is the one we want to finish first at.”

The Gophers were led by Bronson La’Cassie.

The freshman from Australia was the tournament’s second-best finisher behind Indiana’s Jeff Overton.

La’Cassie finished 2-under-par for the three-round tournament and impressed Smith with his performance.

“He has come on as one of the top golfers in the country, to be honest,” Smith said. “He has a carefree attitude. He just tries to get as many birdies as possible. “

The Gophers’ Ben Greve finished 5-over-par, senior David Morgan completed the two-day event with an 8-over-par and Clayton Rask finished 14-over-par to round out Minnesota’s top four.

The tournament also marked Ryan Paulson’s return from a shoulder injury. With three weeks since the Gophers’ last competition, Paulson had ample practice time but needs game experience before this weekend.

The sophomore finished 21-over-par as rain and windy weather conditions made the Forest Akers Golf Course difficult.

“I wanted to see how he would play for us,” James said, explaining his decision to not play Paulson individually. “I saw a lot of good things. I thought he got rid of the rust.”

The conditions made ball striking a challenge, one of the areas the Gophers said they want to improve on before Saturday.

The Fossum Invitational did more than just give Minnesota an idea of what they need to work on. The team also had the benefit of seeing eight other Big Ten teams.

“There are a lot of teams that have the ability to win the Big Ten title,” Smith said.

Two of them – Indiana and Illinois – finished ahead of the Gophers as the Hoosiers took home the team title. Six of the top seven teams were from the Big Ten.

Indiana finished 16-over-par in a performance Hoosiers coach Mike Mayer called “gutsy.”

“We were determined to win this tournament,” Mayer said in a statement. “Even though we struggled early, we held it together and got the job done. It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective.”

The Gophers begin the Big Ten Championships on Saturday.