Gophers travel to California for Prestige Invitational

Minnesota finished 14th out of 15 teams at the Ping Preview two weeks ago.

Amber Schadewald

If Minnesota’s men’s golfers hope to play on the PGA Tour in the future, this week’s tournament offers the perfect place to prepare.

The Gophers are traveling to La Quinta, Cal., for the Prestige Invitational, played on the Greg Norman Course at the premier PGA West resort. It’s the same course where the final portion of the PGA Tour Qualifying School is held, which is one of the main reasons coach Brad James decided to participate in the tournament.

“It gives them an opportunity to play the golf course, so they can measure themselves against the golf course and what those guys have shot in the last five years at that golf course to qualify for the PGA Tour,” he said.

Some of the nation’s top teams will be there, including co-host Stanford – which finished first at the Gopher Invitational earlier this fall – along with Southern California and UCLA.

That level of talent is something the Gophers won’t see in the spring when, in a majority of their events, they will compete against other Big Ten teams. With the exception of Minnesota and Northwestern, the rest of the Big Ten is far from elite.

But that high level of competition isn’t something junior Clayton Rask said he thinks about.

“In every aspect there’s a little bit of intimidation, but yet it kind of gets you a little pumped up,” he said. “In some aspects you really don’t care just ’cause Ö I’m not out here to worry about what other people can do and what they’re gonna do, I’m worried about myself and that’s it.”

The rest of the lineup that will be taking on that top-tiered competition includes seniors Bronson La’Cassie and Niall Turner, sophomore Victor Almstrom and freshman Ben Pisani. It’s the fourth different lineup James has used this season.

Almstrom and Pisani are of particular interest, as both need to show marked improvement to solidify their spot on the roster and help Minnesota compete nationally.

Almstrom is one of four returners from last year’s NCAA Championships team and was expected to be a consistent fixture in the lineup.

While rotating players in and out of the lineup is common in the fall, when coaches try to give as many golfers as possible as much experience as possible, Almstrom was left off partly because of his poor performances this fall.

“He shoots a lot of scores between 72 and 75,” James said. “He just needs to understand that those scores at this level aren’t acceptable and what he’s capable of is a lot lower.”

The highly-touted Pisani seemed to be the logical choice for the Gophers’ fifth roster spot based on his stellar amateur career, but his slow start may open the doors for other golfers to grab the final roster spot.

His scores have been unimpressive thus far, finishing 26-over par and fifth on the team at the Gophers Invitational – although three teammates playing as individuals finished ahead of him – along with a 22-over par performance at the Ping Preview to finish fifth on the team again.

But James said it’s normal for an international golfer to struggle in his first few collegiate events, citing both La’Cassie and Turner as prime examples of that theory.

“Ben needs to take time to settle in just like every other international player does,” James said. “I’m very confident this week is when we’ll start to see some more of what Ben Pisani’s capable of.”

And a strong performance by Pisani will go a long way in helping the Gophers succeed at this event and throughout the season.

So far this season, there has been a big drop off in scores from Minnesota’s top golfers to its bottom golfers.

La’Cassie said that’s something that will have to change for the Gophers to be successful.

“We need to put in a solid tournament for a change,” he said. “Start getting the lower players on the team to start playing a little better and put some good scores together.”