Three top-25 teams to play for Gopher Invitational title

Nick Heronimus

The Gopher men’s golf team will begin their season this weekend at Spring Hill golf course in Wayzata at the Gopher Invitational.

The tournament includes a gaudy list of participants as it features three teams that finished ranked in the top 25 of the final World/Nike Golf Coaches Association poll. No. 3 Lamar, No. 9 Minnesota and No. 23 Michigan State will all compete this weekend for the Gopher Invitational crown.

The rest of the 12-team field includes Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Notre Dame, Southern Methodist, Georgia Southern, Arkansas, Princeton and San Diego.

Head coach Brad James said the field this year is deep.

“It’s a great field this year,” he said. “And the golf course brings out the best in individuals and teams.”

The golf course James is talking about is the 72-par, 7,020-yard Spring Hill Country Club. Numerous challenges await Minnesota, but the greens are especially difficult, according to senior Clayton Rask.

“Spring Hill isn’t your everyday course; it’s very up and down,” Rask said. “The greens are like putting on a sheet of glass.”

Along with the difficulty of the course, the Gophers will have to replace the contributions of last year’s key players Niall Turner and Bronson La’Cassie who graduated last year. However senior Patrick Datz said the team is looking to use it as a springboard for this season.

“Everybody realizes they need to step up to replace those two guys,” he said. “Everyone will elevate their games.”

Others that will help to fill the voids left by the graduation of last year’s seniors will be sophomores Thomas Campbell, Ben Pisani and junior Victor Almstrom.

“When you lose two best players from last year,” James said, “it opens up many spots for incoming players and current players who haven’t played.”

Rask said a goal for this weekend’s tournament will be to gel the combination of new and old players.

“(I’m hoping) the team comes together and we see ourselves finding our five and getting comfortable together,” Rask said.

The new combination of players will have much to live up to – past year’s teams have performed well at this tournament, winning in 2005 and finishing second a year later.

A win at this tournament might be a good omen for the Gophers.

The past Gopher Invitational champions have both went on to have extremely successful seasons. Minnesota won the 2005 tournament and placed third the following spring at the NCAA championships. Stanford won the 2006 tournament and then won the following spring’s NCAA championships.

James is confident his team will show up ready to compete and win.

“The guys are performing well and they are ready to play,” James said.

The players also have confidence entering this tournament and expect to continue the traditions of teams past.

“From a team standpoint, we expect to win this tournament, Datz said. “The talent level is here to win.”