Greve waiting patiently for chance to crack top-five

by Brett Angel

Minnesota junior Ben Greve knows he’s in some pretty select company. He is one of only 11 golfers in the country who can say they play for the defending national champion Gophers.

But Greve might have the most difficult role of any athlete on Minnesota’s men’s golf roster. He’s the best player on the team who will not get a chance to defend the Gophers’ national title beginning May 15 at the NCAA Regional.

As Minnesota’s No. 6 golfer, Greve experiences all the perks of practicing, traveling and learning from the best. But because most college tournaments – including the Big Ten and NCAA championships – allow only five golfers to compete per team, he must also deal with the frustration of watching his teammates from the gallery on weekends.

“I would’ve expected myself to be playing by this year,” said Greve, the 1999 Minnesota state high school champion. “It’s really frustrating. You feel like you don’t get much better when you just practice and the team goes off to tournaments.”

Greve narrowly missed out on cracking the Gophers’ top five this spring – losing to teammate David Morgan in a 72-hole playoff to determine the final postseason spot. Morgan shot 5-under-par in the final 18 holes to beat Greve.

His spring scoring average of 75.67 was slightly higher than Morgan’s spring average of 75 heading into last weekend’s Big Ten championship.

But don’t think head coach Brad James hasn’t noticed Greve’s improvement. “He’s playing very well,” James said. “Ben’s come a long way with his game in the past six months. He’s stepped it up a notch and was very close (to making the top five).”

Greve came into the spring facing the daunting task of moving up on a team that returned all five starters from last year, including four All-Americans.

“I set goals for myself to crack the top five, but I knew going into this year it would be really hard,” Greve said. “I just try to stay positive and keep thinking that eventually it’s going to happen.”

But it’s not as if being the sixth-best golfer on the defending national championship team is anything to be ashamed of. It’s that being so good and not being able to prove it in competition takes its toll on an athlete mentally.

Greve planned to redshirt his freshman year, but competed in the team’s first tournament in the fall of 2000.

“I wasn’t quite ready for that. Greve said. “I just remember being extremely nervous.”

It was the only tournament he played in all year, but a sprained knee suffered playing basketball that winter gave Greve a medical redshirt and an extra year of eligibility.

“It all ended up working out,” Greve said. “It would’ve felt like a wasted year otherwise.”

Greve now plans on using that extra year to prove his worth to Minnesota.

Minnesota seniors Simon Nash, Matt Anderson and Will Schauman will be gone after this season, and Greve plans on taking advantage of the opportunity to step into their shoes.

But while Greve looks forward to getting his turn, he’s not forgetting to enjoy his time with some of the best players in college golf as teammates.

“I guarantee there’s no way I would have improved as much as I have without my teammates,” said Greve, who has been Nash’s roommate for three years.

“He’s basically my best friend. I’ve learned so much just from being around him.”

After what he called a poor fall season, things started clicking again for Greve last winter. He credits the improvement to a simplified swing and switching to a long putter following a tournament in Las Vegas in early March.

And even if Greve doesn’t get another chance to compete again this spring, he ended his season with his best tournament this year – a 4-over-par outing at the Fossum Invitational on April 27. He finished third for the Gophers that weekend as an individual qualifier.

“He didn’t surprise me,” James said. “He’s got loads of talent and just needs to realize he belongs with the best players in the country.

“He’s definitely going to be an important contributor next year.”

Brett Angel covers golf and welcomes comments at [email protected]