Van Rooyen peaking as NCAAs, pro career loom

Erik Van Rooyen tied for second at the Big Ten championships.

Nickalas Tabbert

Erik Van Rooyen is a professional golfer in a Gophers uniform.

The senior on the men’s golf team has been one of the program’s best golfers since he first set foot on campus. He plans to turn pro after the NCAA tournament this spring.

In January, Van Rooyen earned a spot in the Sunshine Tour, a PGA Tour affiliate based in his native South Africa.

But he has at least one more tournament to play at Minnesota — the NCAA regional starting May 16.

A victory in that tournament is the only way he can advance  to the NCAA championships May 28.

Van Rooyen began this spring with a pair of wins in Big Ten match play. He said he carried a lot of confidence from those wins into the rest of the spring.

But the last few months have been what he classified as a “roller coaster ride” marked by inconsistent play.

He tied for 46th at the Linger Longer Invitational on March 24. He then tied for ninth at the U.S. Intercollegiate six days later.

One reason for the struggles was the bad weather. Gophers coach John Carlson said poor conditions early in the spring forced Minnesota to stay indoors for all but one day before the Big Ten championships.

“There were some factors of my game that usually would be some of my strong points that almost just lacked some confidence,” Van Rooyen said, “just because I haven’t been able to practice and see those types of shots outside.”

The last month has been different.

Van Rooyen strung together top-10 finishes in three of Minnesota’s four tournaments, including a tie for second place at last weekend’s Big Ten championships.

Consistency and confidence are among the more valuable skills Van Rooyen has developed since he cracked the Gophers’ lineup as a freshman.

He played nine of the team’s 11 tournaments his freshman year, but he had only the seventh-best scoring average.

“I remember my very first tournament,” he said. “I was shaking on the first tee being so nervous.”

He said he still has those nerves but handles the pressure better.

“You know your [own] game so well,” he said, “that you know where you’re going to miss [a shot] if you’re going to miss it.”

His consistency improved noticeably his sophomore season as he played in every tournament and finished second on the team in scoring average.

He hasn’t missed a tournament since, and he’s led the Gophers in scoring average the past two seasons.

Van Rooyen also said his mental strength has helped him succeed. He said he’s improved his consistency by facing high-pressure situations over the last few years and getting more repetition with his swing.

“I’m usually more of just a feel player,” he said, “and [I know] that if I’m strong mentally, things will go well.”

Senior teammate Robert Bell said Van Rooyen has improved at course management over the years.

“He was a very good player when I first got to know him,” Bell said, “but he’s become more mature, he makes better decisions on the golf course, and his swing has become more compact.”

Van Rooyen relies on his driving and putting to play consistently. With two weeks to prepare for his third NCAA regional, he said he thinks he can win the tournament if the two defining parts of his game work well.

“Everything is just going to have to come together at the right time,” he said. “I’m going to have to play confidently and freely and see what happens.”

Van Rooyen said he hopes to play professional golf in the United States someday and play on golf’s biggest stage: the PGA Tour.

The next step toward achieving that goal would likely be earning a PGA Tour card through the Web.com Tour qualifying tournament, which is regarded as the dominant pathway to the PGA Tour.

“I think the possibilities are endless if he keeps working hard at his game,” Bell said.

Women miss NCAA tourney

The Gophers women’s golf team failed to make the NCAA tournament for the second straight year.

Sophomore Carmen Laguna, the team’s top performer this spring, also missed the tournament, per an NCAA release.