Gophers seek first crown in 24 years

Kristian Pope

This season the Minnesota men’s golf team has matched up against Ohio State and Northwestern more than they’d care to admit. The Gophers will get friendly with those schools again today as the 1996 Big Ten Men’s Golf Championships begin at University Park, Pa.
“It’s like a homecoming,” said Gophers coach John Means. “Everybody’s ready. We’re all just waiting to see what the other brings.”
Seemingly equal in their abilities, the team that is ready to play may decide the winner of the tournament, which will be played on the par-72 Penn State Blue Course.
Means said the Gophers, ranked No. 3 in District Four of the Rolex Collegiate Rankings, are as ready as possible. “That’s what we’ve been teaching all year,” he said. “I don’t need to tell them anything. They’re ready to play.”
In head-to-head competition with Ohio State, the Gophers are 1-1-1 this season. Against Northwestern, the team is 3-4. From those records, it’s tough to draw any distinct advantage.
That’s why the Gophers’ last weekend win against both teams at the Fossum Invitational appears to give Minnesota an upper hand, albeit a small one.
“It’s better to be going to Big Tens with a win, for sure,” Means said.
The teams are close in the rankings, too. With Ohio State No. 1, Northwestern No. 2 and Minnesota at No. 3, it seems fitting that all three are favored to win the conference title.
Minnesota, winner of two tournaments this year, is in search of its first conference title since 1972. Under Means, the team’s highest finish was third in 1994.
The Gophers are led by senior Aaron Barber and freshman Matt Doyle. Last week, Barber took the Fossum Invite with a come-from-behind victory. Heading to Big Tens, Barber and Doyle are tied with the team’s low average of 75.2.
That’s good enough for 12th throughout the Big Ten. Ohio State brings four golfers in the top 10 of the conference; Northwestern has just one.
The breakdown
Ohio State: The team is trying to repeat as Big Ten champion. Sophomore Ryan Armour led the conference in average virtually all season. A dismal performance last weekend dropped him to No. 2, behind Indiana’s Randy Leen. Junior Chris Wollmam is No. 3 in average for a talented Buckeyes team.
Northwestern: The team welcomes back 1995 Big Ten Player of the Year and first-team All-American, Scott Rowe. Rowe currently ranks sixth in the conference. The Wildcats will try to improve on ’95’s fourth-place finish.
Gophers: The team placed sixth last season. Besides Barber and Doyle, Minnesota is represented by junior Mark Halverson, freshman Dan Arroyo and sophomore Rob Kerr. Kerr earned the fifth starter’s position after a fifth-place finish last week. If everyone plays to their abilities, a title is not out of the question.
Indiana: Leen has the conference’s top average, as the Hoosiers look to improve on last year’s 10th-place finish.
Wisconsin: The Badgers won the title in ’94, but dropped down to eighth last year. Senior Mark Scheibach was All-Big Ten in ’95 and is No. 9 in the conference this year.
The rest: Sixth place is probably all Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, Iowa, Penn State and Illinois can hope for.

Notes: Women’s golfer Amy Dahle shot an 80 during Thursday’s first round of the NCAA East Regional in Auburn, Ala. The score put her in a tie for 57th place.
Dahle is one of seven individuals not on a team already qualified for regionals; of the seven, she is in sixth place and the top three qualify for NCAAs.
The second round starts today and the third round starts Saturday.