Men’s golf set for NCAAs

Brett Angel

A month ago, David Morgan narrowly won a playoff against teammate Ben Greve to determine the fifth and final spot on Minnesota’s men’s golf team.

Last weekend at the NCAA central regional in Manhattan, Kan., he proved he deserved it.

With a berth in the NCAA championships at stake, Morgan had his best tournament of the season, shooting three rounds of even-par 72 at Colbert Hills golf course to lead the defending national champion Gophers to a tie for seventh in the 27-team field.

By finishing in the top ten, Minnesota earned a trip to the NCAA finals for the sixth straight year.

The Gophers, ranked 15th in the country, will now set their sights on defending their national title at the Karsten Creek golf course in Stillwater, Okla., beginning Wednesday.

“It was some of the best golf I’ve played,” said Morgan, who finished tied for 27th overall and tops for Minnesota for the first time this spring. “I hit the ball really well the whole week.”

Will Schauman and Justin Smith tied for 43rd at three-over-par. Simon Nash ended up at six-over and Matt Anderson was 11-over to round out Minnesota’s scoring.

The Gophers found themselves in 11th place after the first day. But Minnesota got back into the top 10 led by Morgan’s stellar play in tough weather conditions during round two.

The Gophers finished with a three-round total of 870 (+6), just two strokes ahead of 11th place Kansas State, which failed to qualify.

“It actually wasn’t as close as it seemed,” Minnesota coach Brad James said. “We had some breathing room going into the last holes.”

The Gophers made it clear their top priority at the regional was simply to qualify, not necessarily to win.

“It doesn’t matter if you win regionals,” Morgan said. “You want to play well, but you don’t want to put yourself into any risk-taking positions.”

The seventh-place finish also shows there is room for improvement before Minnesota competes in the NCAA championships.

It’s something the team views as a positive.

“We didn’t play up to our potential,” Schauman said. “But that just shows how good we are.”

Last year, Minnesota became the first northern men’s golf team in 23 years to win a national championship. This year figures to be even tougher.

The NCAA finals will be played on No. 5 Oklahoma State’s home course. The Cowboys ran away with the central regional title, finishing at eight-under par and winning by five strokes.

But as James points out, that means less teams will be focusing on the Gophers.

“It puts a lot of pressure on them,” James said. “I’d be very surprised if they won it.”

Minnesota competed in the PING/Golfweek Preview at Karsten Creek in September and finished eighth out of 15 teams with a team score of 38-over-par.

The same five golfers who won a national title a year ago will be teeing it up for the Gophers again this year. And this time, everyone in the country knows what they are capable of doing.

“We feel we’ve got the most solid one through five in the

country,” Morgan said. “The expectations are probably a little higher than last year, but once we tee off that won’t be in our heads.”

Minnesota has proved its depth so far this spring. Each of its top five golfers has finished first for the team in at least one of the Gophers’ seven tournaments.

And on a course as difficult as the par 72, 7,290-yard Karsten Creek, that depth could be a definite edge for Minnesota.

“A lot of teams have two or three good players,” James said. “We have five. All we asked for was an opportunity. We’ve been given that. Now we’ll see what we can make of it.”

It will also be the final collegiate competition for three Minnesota seniors – Schauman, Nash and Anderson.

“It’s exciting,” Schauman said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun. We all want to do really well and it’d be a great way to go out, with another win.”