Successful season earns Minnesota tourney invites

by Robert Mews

It was just more than a month ago that the Minnesota men’s golf team wrapped up its season with a third-place finish at the NCAA Championships.

That finish has earned the Gophers a pair of invitations to two high-profile tournaments next season – the Callaway Golf Collegiate Match Play Championship and the 2006 Golfweek/Ping Preview.

“It’s an awesome honor to be able to go to these tournaments and to play against some of the teams we’re going to be playing against,” junior Clayton Rask said.

Both tournaments are well represented with some of the nation’s best collegiate golfers and teams.

All 16 teams invited to the Callaway Golf Collegiate Match Play finished in the top 20 at nationals last season, and the Golfweek/Ping Preview features nine of the top 15 finishers at the NCAA Championships.

“We’re playing against the best teams,” senior All-American Bronson La’Cassie said. “So, it’s only going to make us better.”

The timing of the tournaments also gives the Gophers an edge in preparation for another run at an NCAA Championship.

The Callaway Golf Collegiate Match Play is scheduled for Oct. 29-31 at the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, and the Golfweek/Ping Preview is scheduled for Oct. 2-4 at the Golden Horseshoe Golf Club in Williamsburg, Va. – site of the 2007 NCAA Championships.

“That’s a time where I’ll throw in some of my younger kids in the heat of things where they can play against some of the best players and teams in the country,” coach Brad James said. “So they get used to it for the spring.”

That experience may go a long way for the younger Minnesota golfers in the years to come. James said Minnesota hasn’t played in these high-caliber tournaments since 2004, after the team went to nationals in 2003.

But even the current juniors and seniors view these tournaments with excitement, as it’s a bigger stage to showcase their talent.

“I guess I need a big year if I’m looking at playing golf after college,” La’Cassie said of next season’s schedule. “So there’s no better way to do it.”

La’Cassie, already a three-time All-American, will have plenty of competition in both tournaments.

The Callaway Golf Collegiate Match Play features three Ping First-Team All-America selections, three Ping Second-Team All-America selections, two third-team picks and 12 honorable mention honorees.

Rask said he likes the competition, but it won’t change his approach.

“I don’t know if you change your attitude about how you play,” he said. “You just go out there and play. You probably get more comfortable playing with people closer to your caliber.”

James said the team should already be prepared for the level of play they’ll see in the two high-profile tournaments.

“A number of (the Gophers) played in the U.S. Amateur (tournament), and I’ve always classified the U.S. Amateur as the biggest amateur event in the world,” he said. “And they’ve played in those, so they got a lot of experience.”