Last summer, poor playing conditions marred the first two days of the NCAA men’s golf tournament forcing officials to contemplate slicing the 30-team field in half.
At the time, Minnesota stood in 16th place with its season – and possibly the program – on the verge of being washed away like the standing water on the Scarlet course of Ohio State University.
The NCAA decided to allow all teams to continue, however, and the Gophers shined down the stretch en route to their first national championship.
Unfortunately, history failed to repeat itself.
Thanks to extremely slow play – some rounds taking upwards of six hours – the NCAA opted this year to insert a cut after 54 holes. The top 18 teams were allowed to continue on in the fourth and final round; Minnesota and Duke shared the honors of “best team not given a final chance,” coming in a tie for 19th place.
Both teams fired a combined 920 (+56) for the three rounds.
“The pace was very slow, the course was extremely difficult and there had to be a cut,” Minnesota coach Brad James said. “An average person might look at these scores and say, ‘Wow, these guys aren’t very good.’ But it was the most difficult course I have ever seen in my entire life.”
Clemson, the top-ranked team all season, won the title at the Stillwater, Okla., Karsten Creek course by carding an 1191 (+39). The Tigers edged host Oklahoma State by two strokes.
The Gophers never really found their groove on the challenging par-72, 7,301-yard course. The defending national champions were in 11th place after day one of competition firing a 17-over 305. David Morgan came out of the gates well, in a tie for fifth after the first day with an even par 72 card.
“David played really well, he’s really stepped it up,” James said. “Any score under 77 is very good at this course.”
The momentum did not carry over into the tournament’s second day, however. Morgan struggled on the course including taking a quadruple bogey on the toughest hole, the par-4 17th. He tumbled all the way to 45th place, but the team as a whole managed to crawl to ninth with what it thought would be two more days to play.
However, Minnesota limped to an 18-over 306 in the third round and found out soon after that it did not make the NCAA-induced final 18 teams.
“Unfortunately for us, if you weren’t playing your absolute best, your score wasn’t going to be good,” senior Simon Nash said. “We were disappointed to miss the cut, but it was totally the right thing to do. We have no one to blame but ourselves.”
Junior Justin Smith fired an encouraging 1-over 73 in the third round but his three-round total of 224 (+8) still missed the individual cut by one stroke. Fellow junior Morgan finished the championships with a 3-over 75 in the third round and a combined 13-over total of 229.
Nash (+18, 224), Matt Anderson (+19, 225) and Wilhelm Schauman (+34, 248) – all seniors – rounded out Minnesota’s scoring.
The three will now all venture out on their own paths, minus the maroon and gold golf bags. Nash and Anderson both plan to turn professional soon. Schauman will return to classes in the fall and complete his degree before testing the professional waters.
And for James, while he is no doubt upset with this year’s finish he cannot help but smile when thinking toward next year.
Led by Smith and Morgan, James is about as optimistic as one can be after missing a national cut.
“It’s going to be an exciting year next year,” James said. “We’ll get better, and we’ll be a surprise team both in our conference and around the nation.”