Men’s golfers not concerned with slow spring start

Brett Angel

A quick glance at the finishes of Minnesota’s men’s golf team in its last two tournaments won’t reveal anything particularly encouraging.

After starting the spring season with an impressive second-place finish at the Puerto Rico Classic in late February, the Gophers have since finished last in a 15-team field in Las Vegas and ninth in the National Invitational Tournament in Arizona a week ago.

But Minnesota’s second-year coach Brad James isn’t exactly worried.

“We haven’t played right up to our potential at the moment,” said the laid-back James as he munched on a bag of beef jerky during last Friday’s practice. “But we also haven’t had a chance to get outside and play as much as we’d like to.”

James probably has good reason to hold his concern. Make that three good reasons.

He’s been tweaking Minnesota’s lineup throughout most of the spring season, giving some of the team’s five underclassmen a feel for Division I competition.

Senior All-American and 2003 Hogan Award candidate Simon Nash sat out the Las Vegas tournament with a neck injury.

And when the Gophers have been in Minnesota, cold weather has forced them to hit balls off artificial surfaces from heated trailers rather than play practice rounds on the course.

“It’ll be nice in two weeks when we can hopefully play outside and not freeze our asses off,” senior Will Schauman said. “But it’s just something we have to deal with and you just work around it.”

Not to mention Minnesota’s revamped national-championship-inspired spring schedule pitted them against some of the best competition the nation has to offer.

“You’ve got to remember that with the schedule we’re competing against, we may finish sixth or seventh at a tournament, but you’re playing against the top 15 teams in the country,” James said. “So you’re finishing seventh in the country, which is pretty good. Especially for a northern team.”

Last season ended in an NCAA title for Minnesota – the first by a northern school in 23 years – and all that after the men’s golf program was nearly eliminated by former University President Mark Yudof.

Rather than seeing the negative in his team’s recent finishes, James instead points out the benefits of such difficult competition.

“It’s a great advantage for us,” James said. “Especially if the younger kids can get in there and get a chance to play against the best players in the world. That makes them better really quickly.”

Junior Ben Greve is one of the younger golfers who competed for the Gophers this spring – a tough task considering Minnesota is the only team in the country to return four All-Americans from last year’s squad.

James said his team’s top-five players will be solidified by the time the Gophers tee it up in The Intercollegiate tournament this weekend in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

“We’ll be fine as long as we’re learning at each tournament and working our way up to the Big Ten, NCAA Regionals and the national tournament,” James said. “(Early season) results can only mean so much when you look at the overall picture.”

Added Greve: “There’s been a little more sense of urgency lately. But we’ve got some great players and everyone knows we can definitely play a lot better golf.”

Brett Angel covers golf and welcomes comments at

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