Gophers try to defend Big Ten title

Minnesotas Jose Mendez plays in the Gopher Invitational at Windsong Farm Golf Club on Sept. 8, 2013.

Daily File Photo, Chelsea Gortmaker

Minnesota’s Jose Mendez plays in the Gopher Invitational at Windsong Farm Golf Club on Sept. 8, 2013.

by Brad Bobel

No one gave Minnesota a thought going into the Big Ten championships last year, but the Gophers came away with the title anyway.
This year, the target will be on its back as Minnesota looks to defend its title with a much younger team than last year’s championship squad.
“We’ve gotten better every tournament,” sophomore Jose Mendez said. “Guys are playing well at the same time like last year, and we’re going to try and defend our title.”
The Gophers posted their lowest team score all year in their season finale last weekend, with Mendez placing third overall.
“We can take a lot from last tournament. It’s great to play well before Big Tens to get that confidence,” Mendez said. “You feel like, ‘I can do this now.’”
The big takeaway from the season finale is the duo of performances from the fourth- and fifth-spot golfers, freshmen Riley Johnson and Charlie Duensing.
The coaching staff has been searching for players to step up and fill the two open spots and make contributions to the team.
Johnson did just that, posting the second-best score on the team last weekend and finishing in a tie for 17th.
“That’s what we need. The fourth guy has to be consistent, and it will have a huge impact on our tournament,” Mendez said.
The Gophers will send the same lineup as they did last weekend, after they finished with their best performance. 
Minnesota will only have a few days to rest as it goes from 54 holes in two days last weekend to 72 holes in three days this weekend.
“We are going to rest a little, as 54 holes is a mental grind,” head coach John Carlson said. “But we are going to go back to practice to enhance what we are good at.”
Mendez, who has been solid all season, will look to lead the team again after sharing the individual title in the Big Ten championship last year.
With such a young team, Mendez’s leadership and experience should help tremendously.
“Jose has been grinding his butt off, and that shows with his finish,” Johnson said. “It gives confidence to the rest of us.”
On and off the course, Carlson has seen Mendez’s poise grow day in and day out.
“Confidence is something that drives him, and the team feeds off of his confidence,” Carlson said. “Last year [in the Big Ten championship], since he did well, our team did well.”
Mendez understands his role on the team and the pressure that comes with it.
“If I play well, then the team will play well. It’s nothing that I’m not used to,” Mendez said. “I did it last year, and I can do it this year, too.”
Mendez will be defending two titles — team and individual — but he has grown since his freshman year and knows what he needs to do to repeat.
“I need to try and avoid the rookie mistakes. No dumb mistakes,” Mendez said. “There are a lot of good players in the field, but I’m confident that I can go out there and play well.”