Minnesota to face top-notch competition

Brian Deutsch

Two things make a golf team better, according to Minnesota men’s golf coach Brad James: competing with the best teams in the country and playing on the best courses in the country

And this weekend, the Gophers will do both as they compete at the Administaff Augusta State Invitational in Evans, Ga.

The three-day event, which is being played at the Champions Retreat Golf Club, begins Friday with 8 a.m. tee times and lasts until Sunday’s final round, which is also scheduled for an 8 a.m. start.

Seniors Bronson La’Cassie and Niall Turner, junior Andy Paulson, sophomore Victor Almstrom and freshman Ben Pisani will compete for Minnesota.

Like most of the tournaments the Gophers have played this year, this weekend’s competition will be filled with a plethora of potential contenders for the NCAA Championships.

Of the 18 teams participating this weekend, 10 are featured on Golfweek’s list of top 50 collegiate teams, including Minnesota at No. 28.

“We’ve all got to play well this weekend,” La’Cassie said. “You’re not going to win this event by putting up scores of 75 or higher.”

Besides the steep competition the Gophers will face this weekend, the team will also have to deal with a trio of courses designed by three of golf’s most legendary players, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.

Last year at the Invite, Minnesota recorded a fourth-place finish – 12 strokes behind tournament champion Coastal Carolina.

This year, the Chanticleers will try to become the first team to repeat as tournament champions since host school Augusta State won four straight events from 1998-2001.

While some teams will try to rekindle their past this weekend, the Gophers will try to prevent theirs from repeating itself; this weekend will be Minnesota’s first action since its 17th place finish two weeks ago at the Schenkel Invitational, the team’s worst finish all season.

Most would see the Gophers’ performance earlier this month as a low point in the season, but James doesn’t see things like that.

“It’s good to get a result like that sometimes,” he said. “It gives the guys a chance to look in the mirror and say ‘Is what I’m doing getting me to the next level?’ “

The next level is where Minnesota will have to play if the team hopes to repeat its performance from the 2004 Invitational. That year, the team placed first with a 3-under 861.

“The big thing will be getting the fourth and fifth guys to contribute,” James said. “You can usually count on Bronson and Niall, but we need everyone to do their part.”

One Gophers’ golfer that needs to put up a solid performance this weekend is Paulson, who, according to James, is competing with junior Clayton Rask for the team’s final roster spot for the Big Ten Championships in two weeks.

Though James was not definitive about his Big Ten lineup, he did say that La’Cassie, Turner, Almstrom and Pisani were near locks to make the squad, while Rask and Paulson were the two most likely candidates for the fifth and final spot on the Minnesota roster.

The Gophers will need a strong showing at the conference championships April 27-29 if they hope to return to the NCAA Championships, where Minnesota finished third last year.

“We are definitely moving in the right direction,” Turner said. “We just need to solidify the top five spots on the roster now.”