Despite erasing eight strokes off a 14-stroke deficit going into the final round at the Big Ten Championships, Minnesota’s men’s golf team was unable to make a final run at the title.
The Gophers took second place with a 33-over par 1,169 in the four-round event at Conway Farms Golf Course in Lake Forest, Ill., finishing nine strokes behind tournament-winner Northwestern.
“Obviously we were going there to win,” coach Brad James said. “We didn’t win, but second place – it was a good finish.”
Minnesota was well within reach going into the final round trailing by six strokes, but poor conditions made it difficult for the Gophers to mount a comeback.
According to James it was raining sideways, extremely cold and the winds were blowing about 30 mph.
“We were in perfect position with 18 holes to go,” James said. “We played well today, but Northwestern just played better.”
Part of the reason the Wildcats played better was the improved conditions on the course.
“It never rained and there was hardly any wind for them the last six holes – and the conditions dictated how everyone played for the entire day,” James said. “So they definitely got the better deal, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
Individually, Minnesota had four golfers finish in the top 20 – the only team to do so.
Junior Bronson La’Cassie used a strong finish to help him into fourth place – a new career best in three Big Ten Championships. His previous best finish was a tie for fifth as a freshman in 2003.
La’Cassie birdied the final three holes to card a three-over par 74 for the final round and one-over par 285 for the tournament to finish five strokes behind Big Ten Champion Chris Wilson of Northwestern.
La’Cassie’s second-round three-under par 68 was the best round for Minnesota in the tournament.
With his finish the two-time All American became the fourth Gophers golfer to win the Les Bolstad Award, which is awarded to the Big Ten golfer with the lowest season stroke average.
“I didn’t really know what it was until today, until someone told me I won it,” La’Cassie said. “Obviously it’s something to be proud of, so I’ll take it.”
Sophomore Clayton Rask set new career highs with a fifth-place finish and third-round two-under par 69. He shot a five-over par 289 for the tournament.
His fifth-place performance was the second-highest finish by an underclassman in the tournament.
“With everything coming down to the end Ö just knowing my game’s good right now and knowing that it’s only going to get better the next couple weeks, it’s a good feeling,” Rask said. “Knowing that I did this right before regions gives me a lot of confidence.”
Junior Niall Turner and senior Josh Persons were the other two Gophers in the top 20, finishing in a tie for 18th and a tie for 20th, respectively.
But the season is far from over for Minnesota with the NCAA Regionals and NCAA Championships still on the docket.
“The last two tournaments we kind of came out of our shell,” Rask said. “We finished second in our last two events and before that we hadn’t done anything really spectacular.
“We’re definitely in the mindset of having to get things done and we’re motivated and ready to play.”
Women’s golf places last
Minnesota’s women’s golf team finished in last place at the Big Ten Championships in Bloomington, Ind., this weekend.
The Gophers shot a 111-over par 1,263 in the four-round event, finishing 84 strokes behind Big Ten Champion Purdue.