Gophers ride strong third round to finish in tie for 11th

Minnesota shot two-over par on Tuesday to climb leaderboard.

Freshman Grace Kellar drives the ball during the Minnesota Invitational on Monday, Sept. 11, 2017 at Prestwick Golf Club in Woodbury, Minnesota.

Ellen Schmidt

Freshman Grace Kellar drives the ball during the Minnesota Invitational on Monday, Sept. 11, 2017 at Prestwick Golf Club in Woodbury, Minnesota.

Nick Jungheim

Last week, Minnesota women’s golf head coach Michele Redman expressed her satisfaction with her team’s improvement in their first tournament of the spring season. 

This week, the Gophers improved more over three rounds than any other team in The Gold Rush tournament in Seal Beach, California.

After a tricky first round on Monday in which the Gophers shot a combined 29-over par (317), the team found themselves in last place. Later in the day, four of the five golfers in the lineup improved upon their first-round score, and on Tuesday the team posted their lowest round of the season at 290 (+2). Ultimately, the Gophers finished tied for 11th place with a cumulative score of 905 (+41), but Redman knows it could have been higher.

“The first round was a fluke,” Redman said. “I don’t even know how to put it. I’ve never had all five players not play that well. I’m focusing on how much they improved from the first round to the second round, because obviously that’s the same day. If we play our normal round the first round, we’re right in it for the tournament.”

That first-round 317 was nine strokes higher than the team’s previous high-round this season, a 308 which came in the first round of the season at the Minnesota Invitational. 

Conversely, the third-round 290 was the lowest round the Gophers have shot in 2018-19. Among all teams in the tournament, only Georgia shot a better score on Tuesday with a one-over 289. Redman credited her team’s resiliency, especially among a line-up that featured four underclassmen.

“It says a lot about not only the people on the team now, but the type of people we recruit,” Redman said. “We’re careful about who we choose, and we only choose kids who work hard on themselves and on being a good teammate.”

Sophomore Kate Lillie led Minnesota in scoring with a 54-hole total of 224 (+8), tying for 24th among individuals. Lille led the team in scoring outright for the first time this season. The tie for 24th represents the best finish of her career and her one-under par (71) third round also tied a career best.

“There weren’t a whole lot of things that weren’t working,” Lillie said. “I have always been really consistent off the tee. One of my biggest improvements from even just earlier this year to know is the amount of greens I’ve been hitting, I only missed two greens [Tuesday]. Having that consistency and giving myself opportunities to make birdies allowed me to have a really consistent round.”

Coming off a stellar performance in the Moon Golf Invitational last weekend, senior Muyu Wu finished one stroke behind Lillie with a nine-over 225. Wu also shot a third-round 71. Not far behind, sophomore Joanne Free shot an even-par 72 on Tuesday, and finished in a tie for 44th with a 54-hole total of 228 (+12). Rounding out the Gophers lineup were sophomore Grace Kellar, who shot a 233 (+17), and freshman Karen Zhang, who ended with a 235 (+19).

Minnesota has nearly three weeks off before the team returns to California to participate in the Meadow Club Women’s Intercollegiate, starting on March 17. While it’s unlikely the snow will melt in the Twin Cities before then, Lillie says the team will have no problem improving.

“Since the opening of our new indoor facility, we’ve been taking advantage of opportunities so much,” Lillie said. “We’ve been able to practice so much better these last few weeks. We haven’t even seen what our full potential is.”