Minnesota advances to NCAAs in Virginia

The team thought their season was over, but they recieved good news over lunch.

Mark Remme

Not much of a celebratory feeling surrounded the Minnesota men’s golf team as it sat at Chipotle on Saturday in Sugar Grove, Ill.

After a disappointing three rounds at the NCAA Central Regional, the Gophers had lunch knowing there was a thin mathematical chance – hardly worth mulling over – that their season would stay alive once all teams completed their final rounds.

“We were so down in the dumps,” senior Niall Turner said. “(Fellow senior) Bronson (La’Cassie) and I looked at each other and thought our collegiate careers were over.”

But something incalculable happened while team members dined. Despite a weekend of golf that Turner described as “terrible,” the Gophers received word that Texas A&M sat tied with them for the 10th and final berth in the NCAA Championships May 30 through June 2 in Williamsburg, Va.

And the team took full advantage of the news, beating the Aggies in a one-hole playoff by a single stroke – advancing their season while sending Texas Tech home empty handed.

The turn of events in a span of mere hours left junior Clayton Rask at a loss for words.

“I don’t know how to put it,” Rask said, whose plus-15 overall score landed him tied for 50th overall on the weekend. “We left to get lunch thinking we were done, and the next thing we know we’re in a playoff.”

So the team patiently awaited the arrival of its golf clubs, which were already sent home to Minnesota, and went back to the course to finish what it started.

Despite La’Cassie’s solid plus-8 performance, which tied him for 14th overall in individual efforts, the team yielded less than favorable results due to inconsistent weather and difficult course conditions.

“The course was playing tough; the rough was long and it was windy,” La’Cassie said. “If you hit the ball on the fairway, it wasn’t tough. When you got off the fairway, that’s when it got hard.”

Across the board, team totals dipped considerably from the first round to the second, most of which can be attributed to the change in weather from day to day.

And, unfortunately for the Gophers, Turner said they didn’t take advantage of the unstable forecast.

“The weather was poor, but also, we played really poor,” Turner said. “We had a big advantage because a lot of times, southern teams don’t play as well when the weather gets cold.”

Still, luck played a role in the final round’s outcome, and Minnesota will begin practice this week for its 27th overall NCAA Championships appearance.

And in the process, it will try to build on its “new life” mentality in order to perhaps eclipse its third overall finish at the NCAAs last year.

But the instant 180-degree emotional turn that the team encountered on Saturday needs to be coupled with a change in play if the Gophers expect to succeed in Virginia, Turner said.

“We played terrible this week, so if we don’t pick it up we’re not making the cut at nationals,” Turner said. “Everyone’s gotta look at themselves and figure out what’s wrong in their game.”