Want to watch a winner? Check out the men’s golf team this weekend

C.J. Spang

Dome dogs, beer, Campus Connectors and that sea of gold that disappears by the end of the third quarter.

Yes, it’s time for the football team’s home opener. And thankfully, I will be nowhere near it.

I’ll be in Wayzata, 13 miles away, at the Spring Hill Golf Club watching the men’s golf team in its only home event of the year.

So why in the world would I spend the weekend walking around watching college golf instead of sitting in the Metrodome watching college football?

Because I’d rather watch a winner.

Oh, there’s no doubt the Gophers will blow Temple out of the water. That’s to be expected when the Owls are considered by many to be the worst team in Division I football.

But, you see, I’d rather watch a team that has a chance to win something of importance. Say, a national title?

Some people point out the football team has too many disadvantages to overcome – namely a below-average stadium and an administration that doesn’t offer its full support – to contend for a national title.

Funny, the golf team faces those same challenges – in an even bigger way – and still finds a way to contend for, and win, national championships.

First, I’ll tackle the “home” issue.

The football team plays off-campus at the Metrodome, and, while the Dome isn’t terrible in my mind, I do agree it’s better to have an on-campus stadium.

Well, the golf team doesn’t even have its own indoor golf facility. Those guys have to drive 20 miles out to Maplewood to practice in the winter.

Don’t forget about the climate. It’s a little difficult to play golf in the snow and, thus, a little difficult to attract recruits, who could go anywhere in the South and play year-round.

Coach Brad James explained last year, in very simple terms, how difficult it is to recruit golfers at Minnesota.

“Recruiting kids to play for Minnesota is like recruiting hockey players to play in the desert in Australia,” he said. “That’s the way I look at it. It’s near impossible.”

Near impossible?

Then how did he manage to get the current roster? The one that returns four players from a squad that finished tied for third at last year’s NCAA Championships.

There’s All-American senior Bronson La’Cassie, who quietly went about winning the Les Bolstad Award for lowest stroke average in the Big Ten last season.

Then this summer, La’Cassie went out and won the Western Amateur Open. Previous winners include a few hacks named Nicklaus, Mickelson and Woods.

If that weren’t enough, La’Cassie made it to the round of 16 at the U.S. Amateur, and for his summer efforts, saw his world ranking jump to sixth among amateurs.

The only other senior on the roster, Niall Turner, didn’t have a summer like La’Cassie’s, but he did have a solid season last year. He won the inaugural Gopher Invitational in September and finished tied for 10th at the NCAA Championships.

The other two returning members from that Championships squad are junior Clayton Rask – the lone Minnesotan – and sophomore Victor Almstrom, who finished tied for 50th and tied for 70th, respectively, but both contributed low rounds that helped Minnesota to tie for third.

Another Minnesotan, junior Andy Paulson, could be making a few more tournament appearances this season after a successful summer of his own.

Paulson won the Minnesota Golf Association Players’ Championship and Amateur Championship, becoming the second man to do so. The other man to win both events was current U.S. Ryder Cup team captain Tom Lehman, who did it in 1981.

But don’t forget about the lack of administrative support argument.

While I certainly see why the University can’t give the golf team everything it wants because golf is not a money-making sport, I do think people who criticize this administration’s support of the football team should take note of what the golf team did in 2002.

Before the season, the University announced it would be cutting the men’s golf program at the end of the season.

So the Gophers did the unthinkable and won the National Championship.

If you claim to be a true supporter of Minnesota athletics, go out and catch some of the action this weekend starting at 8:30 a.m. Saturday and 7:30 a.m. Sunday. I assure you, you won’t regret it.

– C.J. Spang welcomes comments at [email protected].