Gophers look to repeat at Gopher Invite

Minnesota won the first Gopher Invite because of an unsigned scorecard.

The Minnesota men’s golf team will kick off the fall season at the Gopher Invitational this weekend. The

Gophers have never lost this tournament, and Saturday, they will defend their perfect 1-0 record.

The 15th-ranked Gophers will host the second annual tournament at the Spring Hill Golf Club in Wayzata Sept. 16 to 17. The tournament features three other ranked teams: No. 20 Lamar, No. 21 Stanford and No. 24 Northwestern.

The Gophers will look to maintain their undefeated streak at the Gopher Invitational, where last year they not only took home the team championship, but Minnesota’s Niall Turner was the individual medalist at the inaugural tournament. He shot a 1-under par 215 to win his first collegiate event by one stroke over teammate Josh Persons, Georgia State’s Mark Haastrup and Washington’s Alex Prugh.

The team title didn’t come without drama, though.

With a par on the last hole, the Gophers tied Washington but won the tie-breaker, which came down to an unsigned Huskies’ scorecard.

The tournament was just the beginning of a successful season for the Gophers.

They took second at the Big Ten Championships and tied for third at the NCAA Championships.

Junior Clayton Rask said that last year is in the past and this year, nothing is for certain.

“We can’t get distracted by the fact we finished better than expected last year,” he said. “We have to keep working on improving our game.”

Minnesota returns four starters from last season, including two All-America Honorable Mentions, senior Bronson La’Cassie and Turner.

La’Cassie, who was selected to this year’s preseason All-America second team, had an electrifying summer of golf.

The senior won the Western Amateur, which boasts such winners as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Jack Nicklaus.

After advancing through the stroke-play portion of the tournament and three rounds of match play, La’Cassie advanced to the championships match against Oklahoma State’s Pablo Martin, last year’s men’s Player of the Year. La’Cassie beat Martin 2 and 1 to take home the prestigious title.

He followed up that performance with a tie for fifth place at the U.S. Amateur Championship.

His performance over the summer elevated his amateur ranking to a tie for sixth in the world with Martin.

La’Cassie said that this summer has given him more confidence for the upcoming season.

“(Our outlook) is great,” he said. “We only lost one starter, so I think we’ll be fine.”

With all of La’Cassie’s experience, several of the younger Gophers, like Rask, are able to learn from him.

“Bronson is fortunate enough to be well-rounded in every part of the game,” Rask said. “We can go and ask him for help and he is always willing to give out pointers.”

Junior Andy Paulson and freshmen Ben Pisani and Justin Kaplan are the likely candidates to make the top five along with La’Cassie, Turner, Rask and sophomore Victor Almstrom.

With that solid group of returning players and a few more-than-capable golfers trying to crack the top five, coach Brad James said deciding who will play will be one of his biggest challenges.

“I think you’ll see at least one of (the new team members) play in the starting five, and one or two may play as individuals,” James said. “The biggest question will be deciding who to send.”

Women ­­head to Michigan
The women’s golf team heads to Michigan this weekend to play in the Lady Northern Invitational. Last year, the Gophers finished the tournament in last place, 67 shots behind Purdue.

In last week’s Wisconsin tournament, the Gophers finished 10th out of 11 teams, a slow start to assistant coach Kristine Paulson’s career, as she fills in while coach is on maternity leave.