Men’s team confident in ability to take home a Big Ten Championship

C.J. Spang

For a season that has seen Minnesota’s men’s golf team play at both ends of the spectrum, only one result will satisfy the Gophers at the Big Ten Tournament this weekend – a win.

“It’s been our major goal all season to win this tournament,” junior Niall Turner said. “Everything up to now doesn’t matter. It’s all about this week.”

If Minnesota wants to win its first Big Ten Championship since 2003, it will have to conquer a tough field at the par-71 Conway Farms Golf Club in Lake Forest, Ill.

Indiana is the hottest team at the tournament having won two of its past three tournaments. The only hiccup in that span was a second-place finish behind Northwestern at the Kepler Intercollegiate two weeks ago.

“I don’t think they’re (Indiana) the favorite at all,” coach Brad James said. “I think it would be between Northwestern and us as the favorite.”

Along with a tough field comes a tough golf course, although some changes have been made to the course that should benefit the Gophers.

Conway Farms is playing about 400 yards longer than the last time the team was on the course for the 2004 Windon Memorial Classic, which, according to James, will be an advantage to his long-hitting squad.

“It’s a great golf course for us,” James said. “It’s definitely an opportunity to win a championship.”

Another change that might benefit the Gophers even more is the switch from a 54-hole tournament back to a 72-hole event.

From 1946 to 2003, the Big Ten Championships were a four-round event, but the past two seasons the tournament used a three-round format.

“I think four rounds is going to be a lot better for us,” junior Bronson La’Cassie said. “I think if you look at our team, we are the best team, so (in) four rounds the best team should rise to the top. In the past it’s only been three rounds, so I feel that’s been a disadvantage for us.”

While the coaches and golfers might agree Minnesota is the best team at the tournament, some of the Gophers’ results have been far from spectacular this season.

In the first tournament of the spring season – the NCAA Shootout – the Gophers took 17th out of 18 teams.

Minnesota seemed to turn it around in its next three tournaments, finishing sixth, third and fourth, respectively, against some of the top teams in the country.

Then, at the Boilermaker Invitational in early April, Minnesota finished last, losing to Indiana by 43 strokes.

Last weekend the Gophers rebounded with a second-place finish in their final regular-season tournament, losing to Indiana by four strokes at the Fossum Invitational in East Lansing, Mich.

“We haven’t really had a tournament where everyone has played well,” La’Cassie said. “There’s always someone not playing well, so hopefully this week everyone will play well.”

While it undoubtedly helps if everyone plays well, James quickly pointed out one golfer who will determine where Minnesota finishes – senior Josh Persons.

“He has the ability to shoot very low,” James said. “He either shoots very low or very high, there’s really no in between for him. And if he shoots high, it’s very difficult for us to win.”

James said last week was a perfect example, as Persons had two poor rounds, a 6-over par 78 in the first round and 7-over par 79 in the final round, to go with a stellar 3-under par 69 in the second round.

“That’s perfect Josh Persons,” James said. “And if Josh would have shot three low rounds we would have won by 15 shots, instead he shot two high rounds and one low round and we lose by four.”

Even if the Gophers do get the rounds they need from Persons and the rest of the team, it still won’t be enough.

“Our goal is to win the national championship every year.” James said. “A Big Ten Championship is part of the prize.”

Women’s golf to Indiana

Minnesota’s women’s golf team travels to the Big Ten Championships this weekend at the Indiana University Golf Club in Bloomington, Ind.

The Gophers have finished last in all four of their tournaments this spring, but coach Katie Hanneman is optimistic about what her young team can do.

“We actually played much better last weekend,” Hanneman said. “So I would hope that that’s kind of an indication going into this tournament that hopefully we’re kind of getting some momentum and moving in the right direction.”

Three freshmen, one sophomore and two juniors will make the trip for Minnesota, with the pressure falling on junior Samantha Braschler.

“Sam’s played here before and actually been under par,” Hanneman said. “That’s probably my indication for what I think she can do and what she has done here on this golf course in the past.”