Minnesota takes third place at National Invitational Tournament in Tucson

by C.J. Spang

The attitude has changed on Minnesota’s men’s golf team.

Last week, coach Brad James ripped on his team’s lackluster performance this spring, but after the Gophers’ third-place finish at the National Invitational Tournament in Tucson, Ariz., James was much more pleased with his team.

“I thought everyone stepped up and played well,” James said. “Amongst a very, very strong field we competed at a high level.”

Minnesota carded a 3-under-par 861 in the three-round tournament, finishing 11 strokes behind tournament champion UCLA and four strokes behind second-place finisher Arizona State.

The third-place finish was a huge improvement over the Gophers’ next-to-last finish at the Puerto Rico Classic and their sixth-place finish at the Schenkel Invitational.

“We’re improving all the time,” junior Bronson La’Cassie said. “We got off to a rough start and we’ve improved.”

Junior Niall Turner led the team with a one-under-par 215 to finish tied for 16th individually. La’Cassie followed with an even-par 216 to finish tied for 23rd and freshman Andrew Paulson carded a 1-over-par 217 in his second-career collegiate tournament, putting him in a tie for 28th.

“It was OK,” Turner said of his round. “It was nothing special.”

But everyone was pleased with Paulson’s surprising round.

In his first-career round at the Gopher Invitational in September, Paulson finished 23-over-par in 53rd place.

“It just gives us some depth now,” La’Cassie said. “We know we can rely on some other players instead of the same ones all the time. I guess it takes a bit of pressure off the rest of us.”

Not only does Paulson’s performance benefit the team, but also it helps him individually.

“In that type of field, to come in and just say, “You know what, I belong; this is my spot,’ – that’s what he showed this week,” James said. “That this was his spot and it’s for the other guys to take it off him.”

Along with the self-gratification of improving their scores, the Gophers take pride in beating the Southern schools, which, they admit, they are at a disadvantage to.

“We always get the jokes, ‘You must be freezing your ass off up there,’ and everyone’s laughing at us,” Turner said. “So it’s good to go down there and show them that we can play and that we can beat most of them.”

Despite the obvious improvement, Turner and La’Cassie are pleased with how they’ve played this season.

“I definitely feel I can do better,” La’Cassie said. “My game’s been pretty bad for the whole year actually … I’ve just been working on some different stuff so hopefully it will start to pick up soon.”

Said Turner: “I don’t look to finish 16th. I look to be winning tournaments and finishing in the top five. When I consider the last two tournaments, I suppose I can be somewhat happy with 16th but it’s definitely not what I want.”