Minnesota’s men’s golf team entered the NCAA Central Regional over the weekend with bags full of awards and a good chance of qualifying for the NCAA Championships.
But after falling one stroke short at the end of the three-day regional Saturday, the Gophers were forced to pack their bags early for the first time in seven seasons.
The Gophers traveled to West Lafayette, Ind., as the fourth seed, but finished 11th with a three-day total of 911. The total was one stroke behind 10th-place Kent State University. Kentucky University won the regional with a score of 882 (18 over par).
Despite finishing only six strokes behind seventh-place finisher Purdue University, the Gophers fell short of the championships for the first time in seven years because only the top 10 teams are allowed to advance from each region.
Despite playing well throughout the season and earning a high seed, the Gophers had a difficult time battling wet- and windy-weather conditions on the long course.
Although the weather was difficult for all the teams, senior Justin Smith said it quickly exposed teams and individuals that were not hitting the ball very well.
“In conditions like that it really amplifies your bad shots,” said Smith, who tied for 21st with an 8-over-par 224. “It also makes it really hard to get back the strokes you lose on the course.”
The next best finish by the Gophers came from junior Ben Greve, who fired an 11-over-par 227 and tied for 30th.
Freshman Bronson La’Cassie and senior David Morgan tied for 51st. They both shot a 15-over-par 231.
Sophomore Ryan Paulson rounded out the scoring with a 20-over-par 236, good for a tie for 84th.
Despite high scores and inclement weather, the Gophers finished close to qualifying, making the finish even more difficult to take.
“We missed by one stroke. What more can you say?” Coach Brad James said. “It was a good year, but we came up just short.”
The Gophers’ good year included team victories in four out of nine tournaments, Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors for La’Cassie, and All-Big Ten awards for Smith, La’Cassie, Greve and Morgan.
Departing seniors Smith and Morgan admitted that the finish at the regional was a tough way to end their careers. But with two Big Ten titles and an NCAA Championship in their four years, they said they can’t complain about the finish amongst quality competition.
“Even with how it ended, I’m happy with the year and my career,” Morgan said. “I felt like we really left it out there, and beyond that there really isn’t much more you can do.”