Minnesota finishes seventh in Puerto Rico

The Gophers improved by 37 strokes and 10 places from last year to this year.

Brian Deutsch

The Minnesota men’s golf team used three sub-par performances from freshman Ben Pisani and seniors Bronson La’Cassie and Niall Turner to finish in seventh place at the Puerto Rico Classic.

A difficult course and a field that included 15 of the country’s top 50 teams would have made it easy for the Gophers to repeat their poor play at the Classic in the past.

But with three golfers finishing in the top 20, Minnesota drastically improved on its 17th-place performance from a year ago.

“For the most part, everyone seemed prepared this year,” Turner said. “I think last year was a bit of a fluke.”

Coach Brad James said before the event that last year’s play was not usually the way the Gophers perform at the Classic, and, hopefully, heading down to Puerto Rico earlier would prevent last year’s travel woes from repeating themselves.

Last season, Minnesota got stuck in Chicago and New York and missed its practice round.

James’ hopes definitely came true as his team carded an even- par 864 this year – a 37-stroke improvement from last season’s Classic.

The Gophers started the final round in sixth place, but three of Minnesota’s six participants fired their worst rounds of the tournament and the team dropped a spot.

The 27th-ranked Gophers finished behind six teams ranked in the top 15, while finishing ahead of four teams ranked higher than them, including top-ranked Florida.

Sixth-ranked Georgia claimed the team title with a 14-under-par 850, edging out No. 11 Clemson and No. 2 Stanford by one stroke.

Stanford freshman Joseph Bramlett and Georgia Tech senior Roberto Castro split the individual title – each firing a 7-under-par 209.

Turner and Pisani led the Gophers with a pair of 2-under-par 214s to tie for 12th place – five strokes off the lead.

“We put in four solid rounds this weekend,” Pisani said. “It was our first tournament of the spring, and it laid down a good base for the rest of the season.”

La’Cassie, the eighth-ranked amateur in the world entering the tournament, finished one stroke behind Pisani and Turner with a 1-under-par 215 and tied for 17th in the tournament.

Junior Clayton Rask shot a 6-over-par 222 to finish the event in a 10-way tie for 47th place, while sophomore Andy Paulson recorded a 12-over-par 228 to tie for 70th place.

Minnesota’s next tournament will be the Las Vegas Founders Invitational, which will be played March 9-11.

Pisani’s prime play

After a shaky start in his first year with Minnesota, Pisani has emerged as one of the Gophers’ premiere players in the past few tournaments.

A product of James’ Australian recruiting pipeline, Pisani struggled in his first few events as he adjusted to collegiate golf in the United States.

Minnesota’s frigid winter months that prevent the team from practicing outdoors for a large chunk of the year were a big change from Australia’s warm climate.

But, as of late, Pisani’s clubs have heated up as his finishes have steadily improved – including a fourth-place finish at the Prestige Invitational last fall.

“First semester, I was just adjusting to college,” Pisani said. “It was a lot different than playing back in Australia.”