Gophers travel to Stanford with roster spots on the line

by Brian Deutsch

Last fall at the Gopher Invitational, the Stanford men’s golf team was able to clinch its first win of the year thanks largely to a first place finish by senior Zack Miller.

Since then, Miller and the Cardinal have won an additional four tournaments and have never finished lower than fifth in nine events this season.

Stanford will look to continue its dominance this weekend as it hosts the U.S. Intercollegiate.

But 14 competitors, including Minnesota, will have their sights on the Cardinal, which is precisely the reason Gophers coach Brad James entered his team into the tournament.

“The main reason I wanted to get out there is because it’s a chance to play against (one of the top) teams in the country,” James said. “Anytime you get that opportunity you should take it.”

And although only four of the 15 competing teams are ranked in Golfweek’s Top 50 – Stanford is No. 2 while Minnesota is second highest at No. 30 – Minnesota can expect more than enough competition from the Cardinal, which boasts three golfers ranked individually in the Top 25.

As a point of reference, senior Niall Turner, arguably Minnesota’s best golfer, is ranked 29th, only three spots ahead of Stanford’s fourth man, junior Rob Grube.

The two-day tournament begins Saturday with two rounds of play at the Stanford University Golf Course.

A high finish for the Gophers this weekend would be just the boost the team needs with the Big Ten Championships looming two weeks away.

And a boost of momentum couldn’t come at a better time for Minnesota.

The Gophers have recorded their worst two finishes of the year in the past two tournaments – an 18th-place finish at the Administaff Augusta State Invitational two weeks ago and a 17th-place finish at the Schenkel Invitational.

“It would be a big momentum swing to go in and get a team together that we can take into the Big Tens,” junior Clayton Rask said, “one that would have some confidence coming off of a win.”

Rask, along with seniors Bronson La’Cassie and Turner and sophomore Victor Almstom, are James’ current locks to make Minnesota’s lineup for the upcoming conference tournament.

The foursome will compete this weekend along with freshman Thomas Campbell.

Campbell, whose only appearance this season came as an individual at the Gopher Invite, is the newest name to be added to James’ list of potentials for the fifth spot on Minnesota’s Big Ten roster.

“Obviously, it’s my first college tournament, and I don’t expect to win it or anything,” Campbell said. “I just really want to show them that I can play solid and that I’m here for a reason.”

James said that a strong showing this weekend could likely bump the freshman into the final position on the team’s roster, but the competition is still wide open between Campbell, junior Andy Paulson, sophomore Robbie Kelley and freshman Ben Pisani.